Who turned the page? When I went out
Last night, his Life was left wide-open,
Half-way through, in lamplight on my desk:
The Middle years.
Now look at him. Who turned the page?
If ever Yeats’ admonition to cast a cold eye on life, on death, was obeyed, then the series of essays the late Christopher Hitchens wrote for Vanity Fair after the diagnosis of his cancer, is its most admirable literary exemplar. The first of this series of meditations, describes his “deportation from the domicile of the well to the land of malady”.
Today a poem about the kind sentries who man this boundary between the two lands and offer the first welcome upon ones resettlement into the land of the sick. I should say here that I’ve thought often about this poem, having been ill and in-and-out-and-back-in to the hospital several times over the past year. Unlike Hitchens, however, my illness is not of much consequence to the rest of the world, and more importantly, hardly as dangerous for me or my loved ones. However, a protracted encounter with paramedics, nurses, medical technicians does fill me with enormous respect for them. There is no dearth of expressions of admiration for doctors or for the forbearance shown by brave family members, but what of the nurses and the hospital staff who, forever as the supporting cast in all the drama of suffering and/or recovery, carry on most unselfishly? Whether in the delirium of an unusually resilient fever and hostage to a potentially-deadly infection or half-crippled with anesthesia, their lifting me to lower me for healing, dressing my wounds, changing my clothes or offering to bathe and cleanse me, were no minor benefactions. For the sick, this familiarity, this “having known him all along” is the first touch of healing.