Chasing your own ambulance
November 4, 2010 1:33 AM   Subscribe

Hilary Mantel's Diary
Three or four nights after surgery – when, in the words of the staff, I have ‘mobilised’ – I come out of the bathroom and spot a circus strongman squatting on my bed. He sees me too; from beneath his shaggy brow he rolls a liquid eye. Brown-skinned, naked except for the tattered hide of some endangered species, he is bouncing on his heels and smoking furiously without taking the cigarette from his lips: puff, bounce, puff, bounce. What rubbish, I think, actually shouting at myself, but silently. This is a no-smoking hospital. It is impossible this man would be allowed in, to behave as he does. Therefore he’s not real, and if he’s not real I can take his space. As I get into bed beside him, the strongman vanishes. I pick up my diary and record him: was there, isn’t any more.
posted by adamvasco (22 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Is it bad that the first thought to enter my head was: Oh no, she can't die before the sequel to Wolf Hall is finished?

I hope she makes a full recovery from what sounds like a terrible botch of an operation.

The piece is terrific, quite gripping. It remided me slightly of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold and perhaps Kingsley Amis' A Peep Round the Twist.
posted by Segundus at 2:16 AM on November 4, 2010

Thank you.
posted by krilli at 2:38 AM on November 4, 2010

... Beautiful piece. I won't have to peck at the Internet for anything more to read for the rest of the day.
posted by krilli at 2:43 AM on November 4, 2010

Wait, is this in regard to a current condition, or is it from earlier in her life? I know she had surgery for severe endomitriosis:
During her twenties she suffered from a debilitating and painful illness. This was initially diagnosed as a psychiatric illness for which she was hospitalised and treated with anti-psychotic drugs. These produced a paradoxical reaction of psychotic symptoms and for some years she refrained from seeking help from doctors. Finally, in Africa, and desperate, she consulted a medical text-book and realised she was probably suffering from a severe form of endometriosis, a diagnosis confirmed back in London. The condition and necessary surgery left her unable to have children and continued to disrupt her life, with continued treatment by steroids radically changing her appearance. -- Wikipedia
posted by taz at 3:20 AM on November 4, 2010

taz - by the dates I think this was recent as she was unable to attend this prize giving in June.
posted by adamvasco at 3:56 AM on November 4, 2010

I love this (and I think it's true): "I have an aversion to expressing pain, an aversion which in a hospital is maladaptive. You should squeal, flinch, object and ask for relief. But I have a rooted belief that if you admit you are hurting, someone will come along and hurt you worse."
posted by Faze at 4:39 AM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

taz - adamvasco is right, she's writing about this summer.
posted by Mocata at 5:38 AM on November 4, 2010

Interesting, but a little background would have been nice for those of us who don't know Mantel is.
posted by papercake at 5:53 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks, I enjoyed that.
posted by ghharr at 6:05 AM on November 4, 2010

It was both fascinating and frightening. Reminds me of my time in the hospital after I was hit by a car. My first night in ICU I hallucinated a lush jungle of foliage. Later I tried to tear out my IVs and suction tubes and walk away. This would have been a bad idea, since they had only just completed brain surgery and hadn't set my broken leg yet. I awoke the next day tied to the bed rails with multiple layers of gauze. When I asked why the nurse said I'd, "Been a bad boy."

Fun times.

Thanks for this.
posted by Splunge at 6:31 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Beats the heck out of dreaming about getting back with my ex-wife, tell you what.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:23 AM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

The last time I was in the hospital as an inpatient I had fever-induced hallucinations in the middle of the night. I ripped out my IV but had the good sense to cover the wound with paper towels before departing out into the hospital and winding up at a nurse's station in another area of the hospital trying to explain where I had come from and where I was supposed to be. I'm sure I was babbling incoherently but oddly I was able to discuss the medical aspects of it with perfect clarity. The next night they triple-taped everything into place but by then I was fine.

Earlier that year I also woke up from general anesthesia midsentence; the anesthesiologist had been asking me for contact infomation to get me to say things I was familiar with while I was being given the drugs. The first thing I said when they gave me the drug push to wake me up was the last few digits of my phone number; then I apparently flopped back down on the bed and started mumbling.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:33 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Beautiful writing. Simultaneously dreamlike and documentary, removed and painfully present.
posted by gallois at 7:42 AM on November 4, 2010

The diary section is always the best bit of the London Review of Books. That's why they hide it at the back after all the tedious guff about 19th Century politics.
posted by ninebelow at 7:49 AM on November 4, 2010

Interesting, but a little background would have been nice for those of us who don't know Mantel is.

Why? It's a fascinating account of one person's experience of illness--knowing that the author is a prize-winning novelist doesn't change that, does it?

also, Google
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:52 AM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Interesting, but a little background would have been nice for those of us who don't know Mantel is.

When I first scanned the FPP, I somehow read the name as Hillary Mantel as Hillary Duff and I was surprised (to say the least) to find that she was so articulate.

the tedious guff about 19th Century politics.

Much perferable to their tedious guff about 20th Century politics.
posted by Faze at 8:13 AM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

That was amazing, delightful, and inspiring. I have not read writing so vivid and precise in a long time. Thank you for posting it.
posted by Diablevert at 8:39 AM on November 4, 2010

Milly Thoroughgood! what a delightful name or sockpuppet.
posted by Cranberry at 11:35 AM on November 4, 2010

I was so astonished by that article, in all the right ways, that I spent the better part of the next few hours reading everything of hers that was available to non-subscribers on the LRB website. She's an amazing writer, and I hope she recovers from the surgery and its complications soon and completely.
posted by jokeefe at 12:04 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, Mantel has been blessed or cursed by hallucinations and visions her entire life; she writes that she first saw the Devil when she was five. Reading her accounts of "seeing things that aren't there" the same day that my copy of Kristin Hersh's Rat Girl arrived was an interesting moment of synchronicity-- Hersh has experienced auditory and visual hallucinations since she was a teenager, and it's a huge part of her artistic and song writing methodology.
posted by jokeefe at 12:10 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sounds like my father's life, as much as he could express it, as he descended into Lewy-body Dementia. Makes for good reading, but terrible living.
posted by davejay at 12:52 PM on November 4, 2010

Interesting, but a little background would have been nice for those of us who don't know Mantel is.

I just finished Wolf Hall on audiobook. Blew. My. Mind.
posted by Conductor71 at 2:28 PM on November 4, 2010

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