OPINION Jane MacNamee

NWR Issue 105


Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that / they have no tongues, could lecture / all day if they wanted about // spiritual patience?
Mary Oliver, ‘Landscape’, New & Selected Poems

Proof of land as medicine can be found in the view from the vast three-paned window on the orthopaedic unit of Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor. I found myself there, aged thirty-eight, after years of surgery from childhood, some minor miracles, some utterly botched – waiting for a total hip replacement. I’d lived and walked in the hills and mountains of Wales for ten years and, I am ashamed to say, had not seen the sunrise over Snowdon consecutively for more than two days. That week, in a place where only the dead and comatose actually sleep, I was gifted with its vision every day, lilting a soft pink, and with it, left the overpowering smell of anaesthetic, urine and stale sweat behind and drifted off to sweeter tranquil places, to deep-rooted memories of walking those ridges without pain.

On the morning of the operation, the sunlight was so strong it reflected prismatic off that ancient rock face and flooded the ward with indigo and vermilion rays. At that moment I would have melted happily through the glass and been lost forever, but I lay there, leaden, grounded, stuck to the nylon fabric of my operating gown and the hot, cloying plastic of the hospital mattress, a disturbing shade of sickly, institutional green. Opposite me, Dot, who was waiting for a new knee, winked her encouragement. We’d become friends already and would be joined later by Val, also waiting for a new hip – the three of us brave, terrified and resigned, would wince and puke in trio, during the following few days.

A couple of hours before my trip to theatre, I received a visit from the anaesthetist, a tall, gaunt man, who perched corvid-like at the end of the bed. He asked me whether I would like to take the option of local rather than general anaesthetic. ‘You are joking,’ I responded. He smiled back serenely. ‘No thanks,’ I stuttered, ‘I’d like the full works. And by the way, when do I get the pre-med?’ The pre-med injection, I knew, from past experience, was the only sound way to get anyone with a slightly nervous disposition anywhere near an operating table. ‘Oh, we don’t do that anymore,’ he told me. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.’ Breathe deeply, I thought, very deeply...

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