Tuesday, 16 February 2016
Une Semaine de Bonté: A week at Papworth
My dearest friend in Hungary, on hearing that I was to have a mutiple by-pass advised me to read a book, one he had translated from the Swedish into Hungarian by the Hungarian-born oncologist, immunologist, cell biologist and essayist, George Klein. I already had the book since he had sent it to me with a warm recommendation some months before, but I had only nibbled at it. Do read two particular essays, he said, the one titled A New Meeting with Peter Noll and the one at the end of the book, titled A Third Meeting with Peter Noll.
Who was Peter Noll? He was a Swedish professor of law, known to Klein, who, learning that he had cancer of the bladder, decided not to have it treated or operated because, as he wrote in a book in the time available, he believed that knowledge of the certainty of death gives the life remaining extra dimensions, more sheer content. Trivial things no longer mattered. One spent more time with those one loved and less with those one didn’t. As Dr Johnson once remarked, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully. Noll operated on the same principle but there is a difference. Johnson’s remark was made while he was in a healthy condition. It also took more dramatic form. Noll’s was a more deliberate way of proceeding: a conscious facing of death and walking directly into it.
Klein tells us how much he admired Noll for this, then goes on to relate his own experiencce with by-pass surgery as an emergency procedure. It was an emergency far greater than mine since he had onlya few days notice before the operation. The meeting with Noll that Klein refers to is between himself as a man and his late admired exemplar. To meet Noll is, in essence, to meet the prospect of death. Noll is the symbol of that prospect. Klein’s account of his operation is minute in detail, philosophical in nature, and beautifully written (or translated). It is a pleasure to read. If I begin with Klein it is because my friend did and because, in some respects, his case and mine are comparable. I too was so much involved with international travel that I had to cancel three events at short notice. I too wondered what I might squeeze in before the necessary operation.
Beyond that Klein and I differ somewhat. I found the whole hospital experience fascinating. It was less my personal mortality as the lives of others around me that took my attention. This is an account of that experience. I record it for the pure curiosity value - to me at least - of recording it, not just as a personal experience but as a social and institutional one.
I hav written most of it, with only a final section to go but will wait to write that until most of the present material (over 7,000 words) is up.