12 September 2022
A day in hospital in
Sheffield looking like
‘The Man in the Iron Mask’
I spent today in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, going through a procedure that is known as ‘gamma knife’ or stereotactic radiosurgery as a follow-up to my stroke (AVM) six months ago (18 March 2022).
It was an early start this morning, including a Covid test, blood tests, an angiogram and an MRI scan before the actual procedure itself.
As for the radiosurgery procedure itself, who can object to lying back and listening to Mozart for half an hour?
I was back on the ward early this afternoon. I thought I might need to stay in overnight, but instead I am back this evening in the patients’ accommodation on Beech Hill Road, close to the hospital, where two of us stayed last night too.
This evening, there are four ugly bruises or puncture marks on my head where the frame was fixed onto my skull for the procedure. I expect to have some headaches for the rest of the day, and perhaps even tomorrow. But two of us are looking forward to going out to dinner in Sheffield later this evening. Last night, we had dinner in Efes, a Turkish restaurant on Glossop Road, near the hospital.
This has been my fourth hospital visit since that stroke. For most of the day, I seem to have been the identical twin of Alexandre Dumas’s poor incarcerated Man in the Iron Mask – except this was no cruel treatment, no novel experience, no long-term imprisonment; quite the opposite, in fact.
Days like this fill me with awe, wonder, respect and thankfulness for everyone who works in the NHS and hospitals. Everyone was caring and kept me informed throughout the day. The care and attention has been kind, thoughtful and gentle, while remaining thorough and professional all the time.
I was conscious throughout the day not only during the procedures but also of the arrogance of politicians who play to the audience of some voters and business interests who would prefer tax cuts and tax breaks rather than ensuring the NHS gets the funding and investment it needs and deserves.
Walking between the hospital and the accommodation a number of times today and last night, I have passed a sculpted panel that bears the motto of the Medical School motto, Ars Longa, Vita Brevis.
The panel came from the Surrey Street building that housed the medical school from 1828 to 1888.
The motto is a Latin translation of an aphorism originally in Greek by Hippocrates (400 BCE), the Greek father of medicine. It means, ‘Art is long, life is short,’ or ‘skilfulness takes time and life is short.’
In fact, the familiar Latin translation, Ars longa, vita brevis, reverses the order of the original lines, but still expresses the same principle:
Ὁ βίος βραχύς,
ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή,
The lines that follow say: ‘The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants, and externals co-operate.’
In other words, in plainer language, it takes a long time to acquire and perfect one’s expertise in, say, medicine, and one has but a short time in which to do it. More generally, it may also refer to how time limits what we can accomplish in life.
In the first-century CE, Rabbi Tarfon, a member of the third generation of the Mishnah sages, said something similar: ‘The day is short, the labour vast, the workers are lazy, the reward great, the Master urgent’ (Pirkei Avot 2: 15).
In the 14th century, Chaucer observed the Parlement of Foules, ‘The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.’
A panel in Sheffield explains that this quotation refers to the difficulty in acquiring and practising the art of Medicine: the physician, patient, attendants and external circumstances must work together towards a cure.
Those external circumstances, of course, must include governments and politicians, ensuring the NHS is properly financed and resourced.