How to survive hospitalisation?

I posted this on Facebook but thought it was worthwhile for the blog too.

I / fate decided to have an alternative birthday celebration event: a visit to the hospital! An enduring problem with a certain outgrowth of my body (I’ll spare you the details) needed treatment. So my first hospitalisation happened to take place on my 45th birthday. An extraordinary gift, of course! I took it has a holiday (about two days off duty), but it wasn’t a vacation without pain of course. Fortunately I was well taken care off by the nurses, doctor and my dear wife.

As always, I paid attention to the sounds. First in the operation room. A deadly silence it wasn’t. I heard many Chinese voices, making jokes, talking busily, one conversation in that corner of my ear (and eye) and another behind me, invisible, or even three simultaneous, animated conversations that I could hardly understand or not at all. Perhaps it’s better that way… My limited sight did not prevent me to eye a short piece of translucent tube which stuck out above the sheets and towels covering me (in the operation room it was freezing about 5 degrees I estimate). After a while parts of my body and blood were started to be washed away through the tube 10 centimeters away from my eyes, giving me some kind of indication of the goings on.

Back in my room, many hours were spent lying flat. I could not move my head unless I wanted to have a really bad headache, that special one you get from a spinal injection  – no thanks. So what do you do? You listen. In my case, most of all to myself. Particularly during the dark hours when the anaesthesia stopped working, humming to myself at different pitches helped me to give a more positive focus on painful and other parts of the body. I have been doing this for twenty-five years, in good and bad times, and it remains a very interesting, comforting and highly effective experience to massage yourself inside out. Using different vowels and harmonics you can also give yourself a pleasant brain/skull massage.

Even better were the rhythmic jazzy bass lines I am practising with my voice: moderate to high speed, low pitched, melodic staccato pulses with mouth closed; jumping from place to place through the body’s organs and awakening motoric senses that are not stimulated otherwise. Each tone of these basslines reverberates at a specific spot along the skeleton (through a process called bone conduction) so that I am really ‘punching’ my body from left to right and high to low. At the same time, this is a great exercise for an upcoming gig at the Oorsprong Curator Series in Amsterdam that I am very excited about (I’ll play with Mark Alban Lotz and Bram Stadhouders, Monday 18 November, details t.b.a.).

We did not forget about distraction number one: the TV. I rarely watch TV, and now I did not watch at all. I just overheard the films while June was watching. What you may notice already when you pay attention carefully to the sound while watching a movie, becomes all the more striking when you don’t see a thing. The abrupt reduction of the volume of the soundtrack when voices come in, and its reappearance when the voices stop – even for a short moment. The result is like a drunk DJ playing a senseless game with his faders to annoy his audience. I pity the composer who creates some of his best melodies and finds it cut up into more or less random blurps erupting out from speech – but no, most composers who earn a living with film scoring keep their most inspiring ideas for other occasions, thus accepting a much smaller audience for the stuff they put their soul into. And a good movie director will let the composer have his way to score the film after the final edits.

I almost forget to mention the majestic tree, hidden from outside view on three sides by the 5-story hospital. The walls form a narrow, echoing bulwark where hundreds, no, I think more than a thousand birds retreat for the night. At 16 o’ clock they come and sit on the edges of the roof, at 17 the gigantic tree is shaking when the birds start taking their seats with happy twittering, and by dusk the swarm produces a screeching, ehmmm, noise.

Lastly, I took to my headphones to listen to a fascinating Coursera course (History of Humankind by professor Harari from Hebrew University in Jeruzalem, highly recommended and you can still join!). For falling asleep, having to endure increasing pain and uneasiness, I listened to incredible stories that Michael Vetter told me some years ago. And that’s where the hospital-sound journey of my birthday ended: I fell asleep!

Thanks for listening!