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Feather's Miscellany: Surgical Ward Trio

"Each time I enter hospital, (and I go three times a week to be dyalised) I seem to gain more insight into human nature; as if Im the observer of a pageant being played out where my fellow patients and the staff are the players,'' writes John Waddington-Feather.

At the beginning of June, I was admitted into hospital for an abdominal operation, which proved more complicated than expected. Consequently, I spent five days in intensive care and another couple of days in a surgical ward before I came home.

Each time I enter hospital, (and I go three times a week to be dyalised) I seem to gain more insight into human nature; as if Im the observer of a pageant being played out where my fellow patients and the staff are the players. Indeed, as I grow older life in general is becoming a pageant of sorts, as Shakepeares Jacques in As You Like It once observed; though I hope I never begin to view it through the cynical eyes of poor Jacques. Lifes too brief and precious to waste on cynicism, which we get bombarded with these days through the media and elsewhere. It drips on life like an acid on metal.

In the surgical ward there were six fellow patients. When I entered it, the men there seemed just ordinary guys; but as we got to know each other better a rich tapestry of life opened before me. Like myself my immediate neighbours were elderly. George had been an engineer all his life; John had been a police inspector and then a self-employed gardener; and Cliff had begun life at seventeen as a regular soldier before hed served his time and left the army to work as a farm labourer. All had had their share of tragedy, yet all were optimistic and cheery, making life more pleasant for those in their company.

John was a motorbike fanatic and knew all there was about biking. Thats what had landed him in hospital, for hed been riding a high-powered bike when hed been clipped by a hit-and-run driver. He couldnt remember anything about his accident till hed woken up in hospital with a fractured pelvis and broken ribs. He was in much pain but bore it stoically as we chatted in between rests.

Hed had an interesting career in the police force in Shropshire and Herefordshire before retiring back to his native Shrewsbury. There hed set up a gardening business for he was a keen gardener, till a heart attack had forced him to give up gardening. It was quite interesting listening to him and George talk about the different styles of gardening in Britain and Australia where George had spent many years of his life and was very knowledgeable about the flora and soil structure there compared with Britain.

George had ended up in hospital with a bladder infection picked up on the flight back from Australia where hed been visiting his nine children. Hed emigrated as a young married man and all his family had been born in various parts of Australia during the thirty five years hed lived out there; ten of them in Tasmania. Hed developed an interesting accent. When he spoke about things in general, he spoke with a pronounced Black Country accent, where hed been born. Yet when he began telling us about Australia he subconsciously switched to an Aussie accent. Some of his family had come to visit him in hospital and listening to them, you might have been in the middle of Sydney. He was in a similar position to myself with his family for I have two daughters living in Adelaide, which hed visited often. I asked him why hed returned to England. I like the climate better than the Aussie climate, he replied!

Cliff was the third fellow patient I got to know on the ward. He was a small wiry man bred and born in Shropshire and a Salopian to the core. Hed joined the army at seventeen and been all over the world with his regiment, The Kings Own Shropshire Light Infantry, now disbanded. Hed been an athlete and boxer in the army and had a fund of stories to tell us about his service life and afterwards when hed become a farm labourer. Hed had more than his share of tragedy for his first three wives had died young of cancer; then hed met a childhood sweetheart after thirty years and married her as his fourth wife.

After three days in the surgical ward I came home and had time to reflect on my hospital experiences. Id been superbly looked after by the nurses and doctors and Id met a wide variety of people. The longer I mused over these acquaintances, some of whom I would never see again, the more I realised how our daily lives are interlocked. No man is an island entire of himself, said Donne and how true that is. I and my fellow patients were all in the same boat; so were the lives of those who looked after us. The result was we responded warmly to each other and in the brief time we were together became good friends. What an ideal world it would be if that happened globally. The Kingdom of Heaven would truly be upon us. And on reflection, it occurred to me that that process of getting to know people well, no matter how briefly, had been going on all my life.

Now that Im nearing eighty, Im viewing life through the other end of a time-telescope; each phase of life merging with the next as the telescope slowly turns, till Im look through the eyepiece at my past life stretching out before me in a vast kaleidoscope. It cant be long now till the range of that telescope reaches a boundary when this life is done, and I move over a horizon into new dimension to meet again all those I have known and loved in this life.

John Waddington-Feather


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