Green Hills Literary Lantern





Being in a hospital ward—perhaps except a maternity unit and plastic surgery department—must ignite more serious reflections, especially when everything you can see from your hospital window is a graveyard. The elevator trip in your new velvet pajamas under the gown does not help either, if what you have in front of your eyes are buttons marked “mortuary” or “emergency ward.” Nobody here is even trying to hide that it is not Magic Mountain and no one will invite us to taste Maria Mancini cigars. An intravenous drip, some pills, a bedpan and (if you’re lucky enough) sweet narcosis—those are everything you can count on at hospital.
There is, however, one thing you should not miss there—it is spare time. So you are a steady resident of a mercilessly slow-dragging timespace and your own bed! But even if you try to turn your head away from the window, cringing at the sight of the granitic tombstones, the graveyard demons will not let you free. The situation is not ameliorated by the regular visits of the priest, who, not losing his hope, several times a day pops his head through the door gap and asks: “Confession? Communion?”
Prevention is better than cure, and one should think twice before he rejects such a noble chance of entering Heaven, and (you cannot deny!) the grain of doubt has been sown: “Is it the time? This very time?” You start to wonder because, after all, you would like to finish the game, just like the most eminent, in a distinguished—why not literary?—style, with all the exclamations and question marks, suspense and climax, in a noble and decorous way.

Let us take Leo Tolstoy, who even in that last time was devoted to his literary fantasies and in the very moment of his death is believed to have said: “But the peasants . . . how do the peasants die?” And for me, this kind of utterance is professionalism—a real literary quotation-like obsession in the face of death eventuality! Or Victor Hugo: “This is the fight of day and night. I see black light”—how romantic and how French! Similarly, Gertrude Stein struck the same poetic tone when even on her deathbed, she was still cracking her mind upon: “What is the answer?” Leaving the question without any response, she was modulating her voice in a poetic manner: “In that case, what is the question?” she added and passed away in Alice Toklas’ arms. Goethe, no less poetic, was burbling: “More light.” But the Germans, we know, they always want more and more. The situation takes a different course with the British and Americans. Even in this final set, they are always practical, level-headed and precise. Such as Aldous Huxley when he ordered his wife laconically: “LSD, 100 micrograms I.M.” or Lewis Carroll, who, as if worried about scarce bed sheets, was supposed to have said: “Take away those pillows. I shall need them no more.” Washington Irving suffered from a similar pillow phobia: “I have to set my pillows one more night, when will this end already?”
To be honest, for myself, I would prefer something more spirited than a remark about a pillow or a request to fetch my glasses. Lying in bed and pondering about all that, I was suddenly awakened by a nurse who came to connect me to an intravenous drip. “Morphine,” she said without any emotion and put the plastic bag onto a metal hanger. “But it did not have to be so bad,” I thought, losing my last straw of hope. Just a second later, it came into my head that, also, if we consider the literary potential, morphine is mediocre because how would that last golden thought sound: “Sister, morphine please?”
I closed my eyes with the intention of searching for some golden thoughts uttered by men of letters. Borrowing some of those enlightened ideas seemed to be the last chance for me. In that state of mind, in that hour. Unfortunately, except for some Coelho’s enlightened sayings that loiter on Facebook pages, nothing came into my head. And at that moment, I felt that someone was bending over me. Still full of fear, I opened my eyes. And when I was nearly sure that it was pastor Martin Luther King or James Baldwin who hurried in that moment of artistic block to support me with some proper apothegm, something strange happened.
“I am sorry, madam, but this morphine is not for you. I must disconnect it,” said (with a smile on his face) a Swedish medical apprentice of Chadian or Congolese origin. Still bewildered, I gazed at his sunny smile and remembered what Thomas Mann was alleged to have said: “Peculiar. Life is peculiar.”


Iwona Partyka was born in Poland in 1970. She graduated from the University of Gdansk, English Philology Department. In 2012 she won a literary contest, which resulted in publishing her novel Faber. She was a book reviewer; now she is writing and publishing articles and her own blog. She lives in Gdansk, Poland. In her free time she loves riding horses and playing with her three sons.