A great afternoon out in Aberdeen !

Or; a funny thing happened on the way to the theatre.

I’d never envisaged a situation where I would encounter a sculptor with a scalpel; well, perhaps becoming the object of a sculpture is taking the analogy a bit far, but it certainly involved phenomenal levels of skill, imagination and attention to detail. In life we rarely become part of the ‘installation’, but this is the best image I can conjure of a surgical team. I felt at the time that I was absorbed into the cosy collaboration of a dedicated repertory theatre group in a spirited rendition of a favourite performance for them, but an important one for me.

Appreciate the NHS
Appreciate the NHS

To clarify; I just had another short stay in hospital, with many of the reliably expected features I have previously outlined in an article from last November (www.amateuremigrant.com/carry-on-doc), about my stay in Dr Grays hospital in Elgin. What was different was rather than lolling about having intravenous drips (various flavours), I was in for a fairly commonplace ‘procedure’, an angioplasty (see Google), for which I was to be fully conscious, not to say hyper alert !


It all started very predictably, exact same bed in a new location, very similar cast of characters in the ward staff, and the customers. I now could imagine hospital wards must all have a resident trio of elders (65-80 years old) for whom the golden age is never the present one; arguably only one of these may recognise this as the bitter irony of those who will always be a little bit lost in the present. Some even appear bizarrely to resent the changes in routines and procedures that may have changed since the last time they were in for the same problem. Why is it that one of the most adaptable species on earth can have such trouble with changes ? As I myself age, I have become more aware of being less able to do things; walking quickly, walking uphill, then walking at all, not being able to read as well, hear as well, becoming accustomed to pain. But I am also aware that if I (we) continue to do things the same, then we will get the same outcomes. How does our convenient amnesia mean we overlook our current ability to survive, even thrive in situations where our recent forbears would simply have died ?


Looking for inspiration
Looking for inspiration !

But to return to the point, my ‘minor procedure’ involved a bit of scouring out and relieving pinch points in clogged and ageing blood vessels – in my case the left thigh. This would involve a very small incision to allow the insertion of small ‘wires’ which would be a bit of a hit and miss endeavour if not for the technology that enables us to closely monitor the progress of the wire through the blood vessels and the obstacles encountered along the way.


It is said, (certainly by me), that we learn most in a crisis, but I must disavow this opinion as being immutable. I actually had one of the most enjoyable afternoons I have had in ages, yet I felt I had learned so much. I feel myself to be a pretty effective communicator, able to instil confidence in slightly nervous groups in a strange land, able to demonstrate seamless organisation through pleasures or hazards while maintaining an unruffled, even light-hearted approach as a tour guide. It is from this standpoint that I can say it is possible to learn well when having a good time too !


The largest blood vessel in the body is the aorta coming direct from the heart; this then splits into the two major (femoral) arteries sending blood to the legs. The femoral artery in my left thigh was somewhat clogged, meaning unacceptably slow healing of injuries, cold feet, some skin problems, pins and needles and discolouration of the shin and calf. If unattended this could result in sepsis, even gangrene in a limb, leading to amputation in the last resort, which in turn leads to a huge escalation in dependencies and co-morbidities. So I did need this minor procedure.

A stitch in time . .


The trip to the theatre went on for ages, laying on my hospital bed, watching the lights and the square ceiling tiles, feeling as if I had suddenly been dropped into ‘The Matrix’. On arrival in the small room, crammed with gizmos and people in scrubs and showercaps, the small team was introduced to me and the surgeon team leader went on to confirm that

  • everyone knew who each other was,
  • everyone knew what the methods for the task involved,
  • everyone knew their role in the theatre,
  • everyone knew that the equipment they would need was on hand and working correctly,
  • everyone knew that they should raise any issue instantly at any time, and that of course included myself.


To say that this was a well oiled team effort is true, though an obvious cliché, possibly even in the pejorative sense; one team member from the island of Harris expressed a fondness for gin in a slightly wistful tone. (Perhaps she felt guilt, coming from a culture steeped in the lore and lilt of uisge baugh !)


I re-read recently a favourite story by Barry Lopez, entitled ‘Flight’, about travelling on cargo planes for days on end through time and through space. He reports many hours of untrammelled calm routines, then a stark paragraph;


“We wait in Fairbanks until the Anchorage weather quiets and fly back, landing in slight turbulence. A 747 freighter taking off just after we land hits a wind shear and in less than two seconds accelerates from 210 to 260 knots. An hour later, on takeoff, we abruptly lose 20 knots of airspeed when a headwind collapses. We’re barely airborne when the departure threshold passes under our wheels. Two hours later our automatic pilot malfunctions. The nose plunges violently and we are in rapid descent. In one of the most assured and swiftest moves I’ve ever seen a human being ever make, the pilot recovers the plane and brings it back level before we fall 500 feet.”


This is the sort of feeling I have about these people. They are not the sort to brag about how much dangerous stuff they have been through. These are people in whom it is difficult not to endow your entire trust. Not because you imagine their powers miraculous, but rather a strong admixture of intuition, a sense of responsibility, duty and steadily acquired skills with speech and with the knife.

You know and feel, that they feel and know exactly what they are doing.


Of course, there is a wider, equally critical, background of care and attention that enables these incredible moments to occur, and this comes, as ever, largely from women. Those who disinfect the floors, toilets, wipe windowsills and bedframes, those who change the beds, serve meals, attend to schedules, give quiet words of encouragement and care to all in their charge. Even submit to an audience of humorous sarcasm while trying many times to find a vein for an unwanted cannula. (I never had one of those last time; I can’t sleep on that side. . . )

Best seat in the house
I have the best seat in the house

I too had an audience, of which I was aware throughout the operation. The lead surgeon had chosen to take the scenic route; going into my right thigh, up into my abdomen, across the junction with the aorta and then down my left thigh; an intriguing strategy with a conscious patient, but a great learning experience for junior surgeons acquiring experience and confidence on real living people. Trainee doctors were also attending, to better understand the purpose and procedures, hazards, effects and options for patients in their own futures. Behind screens the constant monitoring of pulse, blood pressure, the position and resolution of the scanners which enable the surgeon to be confident of the location of technical aids buried in my innards. In the background, too, the sense that if needed, a ‘crash team’ could respond in seconds to an emergency.


Everyone I encountered in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, at every level, did their best, by nature or training, to make me feel welcome, understood, informed and cared for. I was, and I am, tremendously happy to have such a service in my life, and in my country.


Thank you. Bob Cranwell Amateuremigrant XXX

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