Things fit together, said I. That’s what they are supposed to do, said K. If only we have faith, said I—in the right things, of course. We were having our morning tea in bed while doing the cryptic crossword, where things always fit together, if you puzzle over them enough. The clues fit the answers and the answers fit each other (by intersecting), perfectly every time, like the counties of England and Ireland. The border of one exactly fits with its neighbours. She’d just got the answer to “County party with right clique (6)”: it’s Dorset (do-R-set). Then I got “Nobleman accompanying unknown girl somewhere in Ireland (6,5)”: it’s County Clare—y, like x and z, being a symbol for unknown.
And as for the idea of the counties fitting together perfectly, it derived from England, England, by Julian Barnes. My daughter gave me it a while ago but I’d never got on with this author, left it on the shelf for months and hoped she wouldn’t ask about it. But then its time came, and I found it to be a magnificent satire, about one of my favourite places. A jigsaw puzzle of the counties of England runs as a leitmotif through this tale, in which a big businessman somewhat reminiscent of Donald Trump buys up the entire Isle of Wight to run as a theme park for international tourists, so that the sights worth seeing can all be bunched together, instead of separated higgledy-piggledy across the often dreary stretches of mainland.
Thus imagery can coalesce in our minds, in dreams or daydreams. Perhaps it embeds cryptic clues, symbols of truth that would stare us in the face, if we didn’t unwittingly blank them out. Perhaps things do fit together, exactly as they are supposed to. Fortunate then, are they who have “. . . eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell How great is God Almighty, Who has made all things well”—to quote from Mrs Alexander’s children’s hymn. Especially when we grow out of childish ideas about God.
Yesterday we were at the hospital for nearly six hours, for an investigation. There was some waiting, then an ultrasound scan, which turned out not to be good enough. At first they suggested we come back the next day for the CT scan, for it hadn’t been booked. Then they were able to rearrange things, and I was scanned both sides, front and back, from neck to groin. After this I lay for a long time on the scanner, no sound in the room but the roaring of the machine, a bit quieter now that it wasn’t moving. I guess they were studying the scans, looking for the best spot, avoiding blood vessels. They could see these because they’d put in a dye through a tube in my arm. It made a warm feeling spread to various parts. “Now you know what it’s like to have hot flushes,” said the nurse.Finally, the biopsy needle was inserted. A small piece of flesh was extracted and put in a little jar for analysis, so that I can go back next Wednesday, and hear the good news. Then I was wheeled to the Recovery Room to rest for a couple of hours.
I’m confident in saying “good news” because these people in Stoke Mandeville Hospital are so completely on the case, so dedicated, kind, caring & professional, that I put myself in their hands without reservation. Some of those hours were boring, others uncomfortable. Yet I refuse to call the visit merely an investigation. It was positively therapeutic. Trying to grasp afterwards what could have happened, how boosted I felt, I momentarily wondered if that dreaded biopsy needle, which I never saw and barely felt, could have unwittingly performed acupuncture on some vital meridian, & triggered a cure. Who knows? But I don’t believe that, same as I don’t believe that the curtain which gave us privacy in the recovery room had magic qualities of its own.
Or do I? In a way, it was magic, because it had a design showing the undulating Chiltern Hills, amongst which we live. Dotted around this landscape were places of interest that we know and love, such as the Guildhall, whose cupola supports the weathervane on which my Centaur avatar rides. Next to it was the Falcon pub, unrecognized at first because I saw the pattern back to front. And there was the Church of St Lawrence with its Golden Ball—even the Mosque with its dome and minaret, a few yards from our house! Nurse said I must lie on my back & not move. So I gazed at the curtain, which conveyed to me that I was not far from home. In fact, it was home, in a kind of extended sense.
The curtain was constantly being moved, whether for someone to peep through, or close tight, or adjust, or brush past as they walked the narrow space behind. And there were such conversations on the other side, between each nurse and her recovering patients! One was clearly Jamaican from her broad patois. She chattered and cajoled without cease and I think she could have brought a smile to the lips of a coma case. Mine was from the Philippines: quiet and tender-hearted. I pretended lightly to disobey her, but she stood firm, and I learned the risks of haemorrhage and infection from the procedure I’d undergone. She must be obeyed, and her rules extended for the next 24 hours.
How does everything fit together? Corridors, theatres, waiting areas, gyms (we saw patients in a “spinal gym”), all these people in various uniforms, moment by moment encompassing the unexpected with carefully rehearsed life-saving routines; rearranging schedules, opinions, diagnoses in real time; skilfully avoiding piercing an artery . . . I don’t know how they do it, only that they must be in receipt of inspiration, and find themselves enfolded into a team by common endeavour. And you’d think in situations of emergency that our politicians and their voters also would know how to co-operate. Whereof I do not understand, thereof I cannot speak.
So when I go back on Wednesday, assuming the appointment isn’t shifted, I know it will be good news because I’ve entrusted this body’s welfare to them, and they’ll have looked at the angles, & worked out a plan. And all that’s demanded of me is to stay positive, and see a pattern where everything fits together, I have no idea how.