Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Monday 1st March 1943

The mad Scots lad, leaning far out of his window, is shouting, “B-E-T-T-Y... and L-E-N-N-I-G-A-N! That's Betty Lennigan. And I want her right here beside me. That's in the Middle East Force...”

Medical Officers' rounds here are informal affairs. He comes in smiling, accompanied by a Sister and an orderly. The patients, mostly laughing and grinning, stand or lounge by their beds. (With the exception of the Leading Seaman, although I have seen him laugh once, at Ginger's instigation, and the other day he smiled wanly, at me.)

The Killicks reply to the MO's enquiry is almost indistinguishable. The the MO says, “You are much better today, aren't you?” and the Killicks lips just move, again. Next, the Russian Jew, Purzitts, who also seldom smiles, usually standing, stiff' worried and earnest beside his bed. “You – good man?” asks the MO “Yes,” says Purzitts sternly. “That's fine, just keep on being good!” Taffy is the next, still in bed. The MO lingers here a bit, checking up on temperatures etc., although Taffy looks very bright and cheery.

But after that, all seriousness vanishes, for the next call is genial Ghandi. I can't describe his beaming smile and mass eye-rolling and confidential winking as the MO approaches! The MO and all his retinue begin to laugh; also the patients. Ghandi's scarlet cigarette holder and mirror are examined, then the MO re-arranges Ghandi's cap at an even more incredible angle. “Naice!” giggles Ghandi.

Coming towards me, now, the entourage stops opposite the sanest nigger, (I think his name is N's'outoo) who gives a flashing smile in reply to the usual query, with mass white teeth. Next there is the recently recalcitrant darkie, whose name is unpronounceable, but we call him “Joe Louis”. “Bad” mumbles Joe, clutching his stomach, but on receiving a request for a smile from the Sister, his face crumples and he smiles coyly. Hamad of Beisan is a different proposition. He is already smiling, and now gives an exaggerated salute and claps the back of his head. “How are you today, Hamad?” invokes a question in reply. “How are you, doctor?” “I am good, Hamad.” “And you, Sister?” “Good also, Hamad.” “I am same. You good, also I good. I want please to go back to my company.” “Soon Hamad!” “Always you say soon,” smiles Hamad, smacking his head again, “Tomorrow, same. After three years I go back, maybe. Finish brains.”

I am next and am naturally looking pretty happy by this time. “You alright Dawson?” “Yes, fine sir.” “How do you like the way we've arranged the beds today?” he asks humorously. “Quite OK today sir.” “Ah, good!” The last call is Jock, in his little enclosure. A few minutes earlier, he might have been eating the fluff of his blanket, standing on his head, or giving one of his monologues. But he is usually subdued and sounds normal, when he sees the MO. “Och, I'm a'richt sirr, thank you. Very happy the day. Just richt,” he says very quietly.

Normally, in other hospitals, I would dread the formality of doctors' rounds, but here it is something to look forward to, each day. And the above is the theme, but with variations.

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