Editor’s note: the following is a Dada essay, raw images and all.
I chose this photo to emphasise the architectural quality of the hospital of Izola, which was designed to look like a passenger vessel. Berthed on the second to last promontory in Slovenia, the hospital overlooks Izola (in this photo, Izola compares a genuine vessel with the elegant one above) and on the other side, Koper, Trieste, and mountains ranging from Podnanos to Triglav and Krn to the Tirol and deep into the Dolomitis.
The brilliance of the design extends beyond the external location, and you can take that in the darkest way if you like, the hospital being the place for many a man’s final journey–women, too, but I associate ships with wandering fools, who throughout history have more often been men. But most journeys are more pleasant, like cruises were meant to be, trips from illness to health. When I got mowed down by a car while riding my bicycle, I had an eight day journey in this boat that never moves–and what a journey it was! Saving the first leg, what I will refer to as the long existential embarkation, I spent about 36 hours with a dislocated shoulder–try sleeping in that condition–and a broken arm, while the medical staff, sharpening their instruments, waited for my blood density to come down (I take blood thinners, a result of a voyage about 18 years ago). I’ll never forget my boss visiting me, knowing that what I needed was to get out on deck where I could smoke, the pain being a constant so that whatever effort was necessary was all to the good. The surgeon who fixed me happened to be the former head of surgery; he lost that position when he was sued for operating on the wrong hand of a teenager who didn’t actually need the surgery in the first place. A few months after my surgery, my surgeon and I experienced a very moving scene in his office when I went for a final check with him, the poor man, an excellent surgeon, admonishing me to work hard to get back to normal to help him with his reputation…or perhaps more accurately to prevent his reputation diminishing further.
This latest voyage began when I suspected my urine had some blood in it. I took a glass into the toilet with me and the result was astonishing: it was the color and density of refošk, our earthy, fresh native wine.
I chose this picture, I admit, for the reader to imagine what readers might. I don’t actually have a photo of that first sample.
Light cannot be seen through a good domestic refošk.
I was surprisingly calm holding that warm, loving glass in my hand. Most likely I had lost control of my blood thinner and now it was way too thin. I would merely have to go a couple days without tablets and everything would be fine.
I checked the medical dictionary, the search engine that needs no free advertising, and every site suggested that the problem was indeed likely to be unthreatening. But they all said go get it checked immediately. As it was a Saturday, I had little inclination to do so, but soon I was having absurd philosophical turbulence regarding whether to show the glass to my wife or not.
So within minutes we were on our way to the hospital’s emergency room.
It didn’t occur to me that I might have to stay there.
I was extremely lucky, I soon realized, that I had thrown an extra book into my bag, anticipating an hour or two of waiting. I was about fifty pages into a biography of Tristan Tzara, and I nabbed the bag, half-conscious that another book on Dada, Andrei Codrescu’s The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess in Zurich, was already in there.
Dada cannot change the hospital that’s holding you, but if your hospital is built to look like a ship, a swim in Dada is a highly recommended remedy for every facet of your hospital voyage–and of course every stage of an institutional experience is in need of human revolt, which can be accomplished invisibly by a mind steeped in Dada.
Three Dead in Izola Hospital Shooting
As I lay there hoping there was no tear in an inner organ, that the problem was simply that my blood had gotten too thin, I naturally compared the medical situation in the US with that in Slovenia. I had for the moment forgotten that last August ‘A 70-year-old man shot and killed a police officer and a doctor and seriously injured another police officer at the Izola general hospital on Monday. The shooter died as the police attempted to prevent him from fleeing the crime scene.’
The attempt, by the way, was successful. The guy stopped fleeing as soon as he was dead.
Throughout the world, the deranged US gun habits are a dark marvel. How do you imagine cities where hundreds are murdered every year? How do you imagine a nation that is unmoved by public massacres of children? Especially if you live in a town like Izola, where the murder rate doesn’t exist? About 9 years ago, we read about one Macedonian stabbing another in the ass in a bar frequented by Macedonians. Recently the police chased an Albanian gangster through the old town down to the sea, where the guy flung his gun. Yet of all places, Slovenia’s first American-style gun event occurred in the Izola hospital. Apparently the shooter was upset about waiting times or something…I just read the article I quoted from: the doctor he killed was a urologist. Today, when I was told I could go home as soon as the urologist checked my results and decided what to do, I asked how long it would be and was told there was no telling, as he was the only urologist in the region. Now I know how that happened.
These waiting lists are one of the reasons Slovenia, a very small and poor nation, is ranked so low among the world’s nations when it comes to health care that it usually is tied with the US. That’s how bad it is.
The good part is that everybody has health insurance and no one gets turned away. Emergencies are treated like emergencies and, in a case like my own this weekend, they do everything possible to be sure that they’ve not overlooked anything. In the US, I probably would have been sent home and told to go see the urologist at his office, to make an appointment. Or they would have decided that as the problem was relatively clear, there was no need to go so far as to have a, a…cistoskopija, a cocktastrophe…Dada is against gratitude…
We would prefer that you stay
Even when tests showed that my blood was indeed extremely thin, I was not allowed to go home. Not without tolerating some persuasion. The doctor, who after all has more authority throughout the world than any other weaponless creature, politely convinced me to stay when I told her that I could just wait until Monday and see if the blood had thickened sufficiently as I would simply stop taking the blood-thinning medicine.
I didn’t have a toothbrush.
My blood was so thin they wouldn’t wait for it to thicken on its own–they gave me medicine right away. Maybe they wouldn’t have let me brush my teeth anyway.
There was no telling what would happen.
I was taken to NEPHRO BUNKER 5, a five bed suite with a private toilet, as the two occupants were diapered.
Adult diapers are a much better invention for the clergy than for the ranks of nurses.
Gospod Mislimović was in the first bed on my left. He displayed an exhausted curiosity toward me that proved he was alert.
Godpod Govorović was in the last bed on the right and would be my neighbor. Little of what he said was intended for sustained communication. His teeth were not in the room.
Does smoking kill? If so, when?
At this point in time, smoking can no longer be managed on the balcony off the room, though I would have tried had I been alone in the room, or incarcerated with another smoker.
Hospitalized in NEPHRO BUNKER 5, should I have been considering smoking at all? Fuck off. This whole voyage actually began five days earlier, on my hundredth day without alcohol (I refuse to leap to the easy conclusion that sobriety is bad for the health – the experiment is still in its infant stage). Besides, I am smoking about half a pack a day, and often even less. Snatched, in a sense, from my staid existence and taken on this voyage unprepared, it was a lucky strike that my wife had a full pack in her purse and I had a lighter in my bag.
Being unable to brush my teeth is one thing, forced to go without smoking is another.
Humans would be a step closer in wisdom to the apes if they never considered such things, but from what we know, for several thousand years humans have tried to find ways to bang their brains against the walls of their skulls in order to determine who is the captain of the vessel I was on. We can more or less decide that the patients are the passengers, and the nurses, doctors, and all the rest, including the guy who left the french fries from lunch out on their own gurney overnight, are the sailors, keeping the ship from foundering.
Which one are you? Right: these are your only choices.
Nurses probably have the most control over the success or failure, the actual nature, of the voyage. We know that no institutional voyage produces extraordinary sailors; the piranhic nibbling of the quotidian is impossible to defend against. Yet we know that certain attributes of the society where the voyage takes place can affect the constitution of the sailors. The nurses, therefore, in the United States, are known to be – on average – less empathetic, imaginative, and intelligent, than those in most countries that are not currently having a war fought in their territory. In Slovenia, this context includes Titoismus, the, in real terms untermable, the unquantifiable yet very very real, in all terms real and otherwise process that took place after World War II in Yugoslavia, by which a land ruled by a dictator who was at times brutal, at times whimsically nasty, at times downright unfair, nibbled away less of the finer nature of the resident humans than nearly any country on Earth during that time AND to such an extent that many decades after Tito’s death, after a savage war that allowed savage interventions, the rending of Yugoslavia itself into things like Slovenias, the people still retain more of the finer nature of the human than in almost any place on the globe.
I know, enjoy it while it lasts.
One manifestation of Titoismus is that nurses are often on the side of the smoker against the blind absolute dictatorial edict of the hierarchs of the ship. The problem I did not foresee when a smiling nurse indicated she understood my need for a smoke (it had been many hours and I had smoked but two or three earlier in the day–I just needed one to satisfy the addiction) was that the hospital had undergone a great deal of reconstruction since my last lengthy voyage and I had, as it turned out, no idea how to exit the building. Luckily, I was not alone
I had my five-legged rolling drip for a companion. We were on the third floor, went down to 0, where the action gets hottest during the day and where most doors are, but it turned out the former entrance was now just a couple sets of closed and inoperable sliding doors. They were near the emergency entrance, but since construction of institutions and other large buildings such as airports in recent decades has emphasized mystery, preventing the uninitiated from understanding the overall of the operations, the emergency entrance was impossible to reach from the inside for non-sailors.
The hospital is huge, but we had not yet worried about this. Obviously there would be an entrance and exit on the other side of the building. By the time I found it, it was after 10 p.m., which may have meant nothing, but the area was abandoned and the doors did not work for us. I later found that they had been having troubles, so it is unjust to conclude that I had been locked in.
Though I had effectively been locked in.
Here we find a test of humanity. Those who relent at this point are beyond saving. We were not. The first or second floor was an option if we could find an empty room and open the balcony doors, but it seemed a better idea to try -1, which, I figured, might not be entirely underground.
Nor is it. But that does not mean there was an unlocked exit down there.
We had walked some number of kilometers by the time I decided to look not for an exit, but for a safe place to smoke. That, of course, would definitely be found, if anywhere, on -1. And naturally we drifted toward the farthest corner we could reach, finally coming upon this:
We had just passed ‘Garderoba 2,’ the door of which was slightly ajar…I kept that in mind but moved on. Perhaps there was an exit in this forlorn corner of the building.
But this seemed to be the end. Look: no handle, no middle slice to indicate sliding. But now look at this:
The sliding was up and down! Not only that, it was so rapid that there was a sign warning of it. I think it was to the right on the picture above this one. It was so fascinating we went through and back twice (I knew it was some risk going through the first time, there being no guarantee of being allowed to return…but the smoker is a bold species. Perhaps they would find me in the morning, or on Monday, the pack empty, shivering, out cold, at the point of no disembarkation…My friend stoic beside me.
The door shut behind us, this truly was the end of the line. Heavy aluminum doors with one locked handle. To the left you can just make out a dumbwaiter.
There was a great pulse of enormous industry ground to a halt about this space, not unpleasant under the circumstances…rather like a more typical vessel passing at night so close as to nearly scrape against the rock-walled castle that did nothing but provide a theatre for slaughter after slaughter…
I sat next to the dumbwaiter and enjoyed a cigarette.
Can you see it?
right down to the filter.
I suppose I philosophized a bit, took stock of ‘things.’ One interesting aspect of the metaphor attending to the journey is that the light was not at the end of the tunnel, but back by the danger door.
Back in the room
I reclined and to my surprise, felt what is best described as the apex experience of the opium addict, the moment of optimal combination of perceived clarity and wellbeing.
I don’t know
I guess time
becomes a lazy contortionist
And there’s the night nature of the vessel itself that appears during the day when things that cannot happen do not and things that can cannot, while the few impossible become
like, verifiably untrue was the fact that I received a message from my Uzbeki acquaintance Arslan Levantinov that night, mysteriously reassuring me that I had not been poisoned ‘…I mean in case you have already received by what we call camel my letter regarding the country of your birth.’
Because the thing is
I did not have my telephone with me that night. I recall thinking of it when we left for the hospital and deciding ‘for what.’ It was only the next afternoon, when my family delegation arrived that I had my phone. So the message must have come on the second night.
but in a hospital during the quiet of night the metaphor becomes hyper-real, things underwater stand on the ground
and what is more perseveringly disconcerting than not knowing who your friends are?
Next to me, Govorović began to grow talkative. Looking straight up, he spoke too garbled for me to make out much–at one point he did say ‘porco dio,’ but without stress, and he did say quite a lot. My mood was light for a philosopher, so I was not disturbed by these night declamations, not even when I had my head on the pillow, was turned to foetal left, and
I answered, telling him how sometimes you have no idea when you’re a writer, if you’re talking to anybody, in fact I have a book I finished last year, the best work I’ve ever done and what’s frustrating is the satire is playing out every day and the book is being seen by no one, nor
and he was silent as if in listening response.
and he spoke again
Thinking of the cigarette adventure, I tried, ‘NO SANCTUARY,’ and he seemed amused enough in my imagination that I tried it a few more times, and I was sleeping so I can’t remember all the good lines, but we spoke of the communication of birds who needed no language, so no no don’t get me wrong, please go on, but from a philosophical view is language really
a missing leg*
The device to be used to call a nurse hung above my head like a proto free range telephone, and as if factoried in, I awoke at 4:30 to see that my dripping bag was ipso facto not as it were empty and I pressed a button that summoned the nurse who replied “4:30” and when I pointed to the empty bag disconnected it and connected the backup bag factotumtorily.
That was a hospital voyage alarm clock, which is, like the very sea–that’s what I had been…getting my sea legs–fluid, even if most of us have our flimsical psychotropic moments when we are certain this or that, probably that, is behind the timing of everything, with particular and astute attention paid to that which is least what cannot be said.
One trick I learned: In the declared morning, when it is dark outside, all glass between inside and out is covered and all lights are on. In certain parts of the declared daytime all glass between outside and inside is covered and all lights are on.
Above is the kidney, something like the bladder, and, highlighted, the stomach, which is shaped like a kidney, or kidney bean.
Bluntnosed rhino rhamming kidney rhemoved from site.
Much ado is adone.
Nurse in false dawn
drip dripped new drip
rhino attack and rhoaches parading in stomach at same time, scissors
on knees hugging friend
nurhses disappear, frhiend remains tenacious as fiend
3 to -1 roundtrip on canvas-assed wheeled chair, bobsledder expert sailor running the vehicle, manikinned poses in pain beyond typology
relief, records, parades called off for second scan
Kidney stopped, or had stopped
Tune in tomorrow. Remember, this is sunday. The lecture on simultaneous bleedout, constipation, stomach rhazor roach march, kidney exeunt, bladder blow full stoppage was last weekend
“So, you mean I have to wait until tomorrow morning to find out? What time is it now?”
“So, I have to”
“we’re afraid so”
What were they afraid of, exactly?
So I told the family delegation
And then there were one.
” I looked at him he looked at me all I could do was hate him ” but I couldn’t tell who was pogueing who
point properly proposed
please proceed to probables: pick yer paisan: porpetto prose: pure purplyred to pink to painless, a mere gasp of a kidney
prognosis precedes diagnoses:
At the meeting no one ratted.
The pains is gone. The pain are gone.
THE PAIN ARGON
Can we move in for a close up of the anti-climax here? Just a little closer.
Add endum: shit, man, I forgot about the fourth guy in the room, the one they wouldn’t feed and who they feared was spreading something airborne that might put us in quarantine who, Gospod Canonović, who, under the conductorship of Mister Mislimović combined with Mr. Govorović to render an extraordinary midnight concert I woke up to just as it finished, the first, and perhaps last, performance of Gospod Mislimović and his A Capella Night-time all-Nephro Trio!
Rick Harsch hit the literary scene in 1997 with his cult classic The Driftless Zone, which was followed by Billy Verite and Sleep of the Aborigines (all by Steerforth Press) soon after to form The Driftless Trilogy. Harsch migrated to the Slovene coastal city of Izola in 2001, just as the Driftless books were published in French translation by a French publisher that went out of business a few years later. Rick is also the author of Arjun and the Good Snake (2011, Amalietti & Amalietti), Wandering Stone: the Streets of Old Izola (2017, Mandrac Press), Voices After Evelyn (2018, Maintenance Ends Press), Skulls of Istria (2018, River Boat Books), The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas (2019, River Boat Books) and Walk Like a Duck: A Season of Little League Baseball in Italy (2019, River Boat Books). Rick currently lives in Izola still with his wife and two children.