In Their Memory

I cannot find a title that encapsulates what has happened at my hospital without being alarmist. This is all about death. 

In early January 2021 my hospital was overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases as the second wave of infections hit our coastal holiday town with devastating force. 

The senior emergency doctor contracted the disease and was unwell. The remaining doctors were stretched to cover the extra load. Our infrastructure was stretched. My measure of how we were coping was based on a few rough gauges: 

How many people were lined up outside the emergency department on oxygen? 

How many people were in the emergency department waiting for a bed at my or another hospital? 

A few weeks later I added another measure: how many people were waiting for ICU? 

We were stretched, no doubt. So I went to see how I could help. 

The nurses and doctors knew what they were doing, but it seemed chaotic just because of the sheer deluge of ill patients. We had a ward that was empty and accessible to those needing urgent care for Covid-19 symptoms. But we did not have the staff.  

As I walked through the ward I discovered the real measure of how overwhelmed my hospital was. There was a dead body in each of many rooms. Out of respect for the departed our staff were leaving the dead alone in a room. Their desire for those in the afterlife was to rest in peace with space. 

I am not at liberty to give the statistics as they are part of the information that the Department of Health disseminates. But I can tell you how it affected us. 

To make space for sick patients I seconded a porter and we started moving all the dead bodies into one room. A holding area. As we did this I met some of my operating theatre staff who were delivering a shrouded body to the new holding area. Beds in the ward were at a premium so it was more efficient to move the body to a holding area where the many professional undertakers have taken them away timeously. 

4180. 

That is the switchboard extension the ward staff call to get the RIP (Rest In Peace) team from theatre to prepare and move the body.  

The RIP team is made up of skilled theatre nurses, scrub sisters, recovery and anesthetic nurses. Once they get the call on extension 4180 they go to the ward where the patient has demised. They check the paperwork. They ask the family if they want the clothes left on or removed.  Then they wrap the body in two layers of plastic, each layer with three patient stickers identifying the body. Then they shroud the body with a white bedsheet. The remains are respectfully transferred to the holding area. 

We managed to staff and open the ward the next day and take patients from outside on oxygen and put them inside in a bed on oxygen.  

The odd thing is the number waiting outside remained the same for many days.  

It was sobering that number of dead arriving in the holding area was much more than we ever anticipated. 

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

Conversations about Memory

My father had an excellent memory that he exercised often.  He remembered dates, figures, names and faces, events and patterns. What was amazing was that he had an excellent memory of his visits to Greece, where he spent six or eight weeks a year. These memories filled his life.

He was a good conversationalist and a good story teller. Not that he wanted to be the centre of attraction, but he was when he told a story. I suppose this blog is about those stories.

But his good memory was more than that… He created or precipitated or anticipated the event that would create the memory. He would gather as much information as possible about the event and people before hand, and then he would participate in the event, retell the story many times afterwards, so that it was committed to memory.

I suppose one of the other aspects of his good memory is that he never allowed poisonous people to drag him down. He just cut them off, and did not see them nor speak to them. There were not many people like that, a handful perhaps. There were many people that he had disagreements with; sometimes they agreed to disagree and still things worked out.

He had another unusual aspect of memory. One does not see that around much today: the inherited memory. He had this huge repository of information of the village in Greece from his father, Uncle Piet and his mother. His other cousins who came out later from the village also helped  create this vision of Arcadia for him, so that when he went there for the first time in his thirties it was almost like he knew every church, every family and even the position of the headstones in the small cemetery on the hill, surrounded by tall cypress trees.

His memory would be expanded at the kafeneio, when he sat and caught up the previous day’s events, or when they played cards in the evening, and he used the numbers and suites to sharpen his mind. A great repository of historical memory came from Old man George Simbonis. He was really my father’s best friend, even though he was a generation ahead and was almost a contemporary of my grandfather. My father would see him every day he was in the village, and spend an hour just chatting. Going over the details of some past event, of current Greek politics, of world politics or of family politics. The Old Man always had a sparkle in his eye and knowingly raised his arthritic finger to his temple, his sharp blue eyes close, when he made a point, with a sweet smile that was almost feminine but probably came from an Arcadian forebear called Diotima.

Yes, memory can extend that far back, to the ancients, in our collective unconscious. Not all of us can tap into that power. The noise of modern living distracts us from the roots of the past and we easily lose our way.

Surreal Sea