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This article is taken from PN Review 125, Volume 25 Number 3, January - February 1999.

Theory: Of Arteries and Images John Needham

The dutch-courage tablet I was given half an hour ago is responsible, I assume, for my euphoria as my bed is wheeled along the corridor; when the nurse tells me it was just a soporific I begin to panic; but it's too late, we're already at the door of the theatre and being challenged. Name. Date of birth. Yes, yes. Mr K's patient? Yes. Carotid endarterectomy? Yes. Which side? Left. Pass, friend.

The accuracy so far is reassuring; in this age of 'health restructuring' the daily news is fraught with hospital horror stories. I hope they get the practical part right too. In a moment the anaesthetist is manoeuvring me onto the table, strapping down my left arm and starting to do something to it. Steadfastly averting my gaze from whatever it is, I'm aware of figures in pale blue mob-caps and smocks hurrying about; the final image in my consciousness is the battery of arc-lights overhead, not yet switched on and looking very cold.

Having travelled to Wellington for the operation, I'd intended to stop by at the new national museum on the way to the hospital, to see an exhibition of contemporary British art, travelling under the 'Cool Britannia' banner (the catchcry sounds equally un-British and uncool). But my wife, with the sound judgement women have about important occasions, felt that buying a new dressing-gown was a higher priority. And how right she was. The hospital world (even this expensive private version) is ...

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