from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 22 February 2013

once more into the nude, dear friends, once more

Where I'm directed to sit in the maxillo-facial corridor of the Outpatients' Department of Torbay Hospital there's a huge red and blue sign above my head:

                           MESSAGE FOR STAFF
This department practices naked from the elbow downwards.

I'm not sure which is more worrying – this, or the third question from the receptionist (after address and date of birth) as to whether I've agreed to donate my organs.

As far as I know, I'm only in here for the soft palate of my mouth to be looked at, as there's been for two or three months now an infected swelling that my dentist can't explain.

I don't know whether to be disappointed or relieved when my consultant turns out to be a fully-clad woman. I have the same mixed reaction when, after several more X-rays than I'd have liked, she tells me with the kind of air that seems to suggest I'm a hypochondriac or someone with too much time on their hands (I wish!) that she can't find anything.

OK, I sound off about prophylactic use of allopathic medicines, including antibiotics, on any occasion when I get an opportunity. I used to be smug about the fact that my daughter, who never had antibiotics as a child, also hardly ever missed a day of school, while friends' children who seemed to be put on them at a sniffle were always away from school. I know this. In this case, though, I say to both my dentist and the consultant that all I need is a dose of anti-bs: I have less than a dose per decade, roughly. Neither takes any notice. Two hours and a bit more radiation later I'm back out on the street none the wiser. Who would choose to spend a morning getting to, hanging around in and getting back from a city hospital ('English Riviera' in February) when they didn't need to?

I've seen the inside of a hospital more times in the last 9 months than in my whole life put together (though it's true I have also fractured a number of bones in my life, often though not always as a result of my foolhardiness with horses, and therefore have had more radiation than I'd like). Carcinoma inspection, carcinoma op; heart misbehaviour = Accident & Emergency x2, and now this – all since last June. Anybody'd think I'd had a lot of stress and/or am getting old. Come to think of it…


A bonus is, of course, Radio 4 in the car. At home, I like either silence, or to actually listen to – as opposed to have on in the background – music.

I should qualify that by saying 'that is, when there is no good conversation forthcoming'. In our household, that 'good conversation' mainly takes the shape of my apparently having unknowingly thrown down the gauntlet, or toga – or whatever the ancient Greek equivalent is – with an innocent and passing comment on something relatively innocuous, as far as I can see – and stepped inadvertently into the debating forum and Socrates' line of vision, and a full-scale round of what feels like gladiatorial combat, in which I lose my marbles, my equilibrium and usually the argument. Er – 'debate'. You'd think I'd have learnt by now. And I never thought I would crave the kind of argument  that goes something like 'It's your turn to do the dishes!' 'Oh no it's not – I did them last night!'; or 'You wouldn't know a vacuum cleaner if it tripped you up' (which, should TM say it to me, would be self-evidently true and therefore justifiable). Anyway, there are other times – that's what I was getting at – when I might also perhaps choose some soothing classical music.

This morning, a programme on emotions, specifically the art of weeping. I learn that 90% of people interviewed admitted crying at certain music. 60% said the same in relation to poetry. Many fewer responded with a 'yes' to visual art, sculpture or architecture. (It's true that it's been a long while since I passed anyone weeping at a building. Especially in Torbay.) They mentioned film and theatre, but gave us no percentage.

Here's a nice little detail: chickens, when played a snippet of Mozart, seemed unaffected, but the same hens all ruffled their feathers in unison in relation to an excerpt from Pink Floyd. (The composer told us this, and forgot initially to mention it was chickens he was speaking of – I thought 'ruffled their feathers' was a peculiarly English euphemism to use for crying.)

And yes, of course, far more women than men admitted to tears. And both boys and girls cry equally until about ten or eleven, then boys on the whole stop. This seemed to cause some mild puzzlement. Nature or nurture? they asked. Well, I'm not a scientist, but a combination of the production of testosterone and its connection with increased aggression at puberty coupled with a society which still says 'Only sissy boys cry' might lead to that outcome, yes…

I think the research was all undertaken in the UK, and the rationale for all the above is that our culture doesn't encourage weeping, especially not in public. Well, that's a surprise. Unsurprisingly, though, both the psychologist and composer interviewed said that they felt music had an important part to play in the catharsis of relaxing suppressed emotions – and apparently the beneficial effect is more marked if released in public.

Has weeping a survival aspect? Quite possibly. I don't want to think about how they managed to ascertain this, but researchers say that mouse tears contain pheromones. So the Prof heading that research collected up a few thimbles of human tears to test them too. Seems that volunteers sniffing someone else's tears, when measured (the volunteers, not the tears), showed a drop in testosterone and also in sexual arousal (one wonders what stimulus they were given before?). The provisional conclusion is that tears, in this context, have the effect of toning down aggression in another.

I think I missed the segue, because suddenly we were talking about speech, valves and membranes (that's 'they', not really 'we'). Perhaps it was a different programme; I had after all got out to look at a few camper vans in between. This time, another Prof said, in relation to language, that it's not obvious why we use our mouth for making sounds to communicate with another rather than, say, our butt instead (he was American). Both, he said, use a valve and a membrane. Well, I can think of several answers, but one might be that as two-leggeds we more often find ourselves face-to-face with another than butt-to-butt. Speaking personally, of course. Plus maybe faces on the whole are more expressive? – Ditto.


  1. I really enjoyed this post and will be re-blogging as it is a good reflective piece to use for nursing students. have you see this as another view of waiting rooms?

  2. Thank you, TQotH! I'll check that link out. It should be said that I really did get the wrong end of the stick - spent several hours (on and off) puzzling as to why the sign said 'elbow' instead of 'waist' - which is after all at roughly the same height - before realising that they were actually talking about the forearm between elbow and fingertips... Oh. I'd like to say it's because I'm a poet who thinks laterally but I suspect it's sheer idiocy, really... ;-)


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