Ten Types of Hospital Visitor
The first enters wearing the neon armour
Ceaselessly firing all-purpose smiles
At everyone present
She destroys hope
In the breasts of the sick,
Who realize instantly
That they are incapable of surmounting
Her ferocious goodwill.
Such courage she displays
In the face of human disaster!
she does not stay long.After a speedy trip round the wardIn the manner of a nineteen-thirties destroyerShowing the flag in the Mediterranean,She returns home for a week- With luck, longer -Scorched by the heat of her own worthiness.2The second appears, a melancholy splurgeOf theological colours;Taps heavily about like a healthy vultureDistributing deep-frozen hope.The patients gaze at him cautiously.Most of them, as yet uncertain of the realitiesOf heaven, hell-fire, or eternal emptiness,Play for safetyBy accepting his attentionsWith just-concealed apathy,Except one old man, who criesWith newly sharpened hatred,`Shove off! Shove off!`Shove… shove… shove… shoveOff!Just youShove!'3The third skilfully deflates his weakly smiling victimBy telling himHow the lobelias are doing,How many kittens the cat had,How the slate came off the scullery roof,And how no one has visited the patient for a fortnightBecause everybodyHad colds and feared to bring the jumpy germInto hospital.The patient's eyesIce over. He is uninterestedIn lobelias, the cat, the slate, the germ.Flat on his back, drip-fed, his faceThe shade of a newly dug-up Pharaoh,Wearing his skeleton outside his skin,Yet his wits as bright as a lighted candle,He is concerned only with the here, the now,And requires to speakOf nothing but his present predicament.It is not permitted.4The fourth attempts to cheerHis aged mother with light jokesMenacing as shell-splinters.`They'll soon have you jumping roundLike a gazelle,' he says.`Playing in the football team.'Quite undeterred by the sight of kilosOf plaster, chains, lifting-gear,A pair of lethally designed crutches,`You'll be leap-frogging soon,' he says.`Swimming ten lengths of the baths.'At these unlikely propheciesThe old lady stares fearfullyAt her sick, sick offspringThinking he has lost his reason -Which, alas, seems to be the case.5The fifth, a giant from the fieldsWith suit smelling of milk and hay,Shifts uneasily from one bullock footTo the other, as though to avoidSettling permanently in the antiseptic landscape.Occasionally he looses a scared glanceSideways, as though fearful of what intimacyHe may blunder on, or that the wallsMight suddenly close in on him.He carries flowers, held lightly in fingersThe size and shape of plantains,Tenderly kisses his wife's cheek- The brush of a child's lips -Then balances, motionless, for thirty minutesOn the thin chair.At the end of visiting timeHe emerges breathless,Blinking with relief, into the safe light.He does not appear to noticeThe dusk.6The sixth visitor says little,Breathes reassurance,Smiles securely.Carries no black passport of grapesAnd visa of chocolate. Has a clutchOf clean washing.Unobtrusively stows itIn the locker; searches out more.Talks quietly to the SisterOut of sight, out of earshot, of the patient.Arrives punctually as a tide.Does not stay the whole hour.Even when she has goneThe patient seems to sense her there:An upholdingPresence.7The seventh visitorSmells of bar-room after-shave.Often finds his friendSound asleep: whether real or feignedIs never determined.He does not mind; prowls the wardIn search of second-class, lost-face patientsWith no visitorsAnd who are pretending to dozeOr read paperbacks.He probes relentlessly the natureOf each complaint, and is swift with suchDilutions of confidence as,`Ah! You'll be worseBefore you're better.'Five minutes before the bell punctuatesVisiting time, his friend opens an alarm-clock eye.The visitor checks his watch.Market day. The Duck and Pheasant will be still open.Courage must be refuelled.8The eight visitor looks infinitelyMore decayed, ill and infirm than any patient.His face is an expensive grey.He peers about with antediluvian eyesAs though from the other endOf time.He appears to have risen from the graveTo make this appearance.There is a whiff of white flowers about him;The crumpled look of a slightly used shroud.Slowly he passes the patientA bag of bullet-proofHome-made biscuits,A strong, death-dealing cake -`To have with your tea,'Or a bowl of fruit so weightyIt threatens to breakHis glass fingers.The patient, encouraged beyond measure,Thanks him with enthusiasm, not forThe oranges, the biscuits, the cake,But for the healing sightOf someone patently worseThan himself. He rounds the crisis-corner;Begins a recovery.9The ninth visitor is life.10The tenth visitorIs not usually named.