Thursday, April 07, 2005

Leeches and Paper Cranes

Well, the talk is prepared in all its gore, and Sarah Salway, author of something which is classed as chick lit but I think is something deeper and more intelligent than that (ABCs of LOVE in the US and SOMETHING BEGINNING the UK) suggests that sick bags would be an unusual but appropriate prop. I briefly considered it, even thinking about putting a picture of the cover on the outside but then decided there was something symbolically wrong with the concept so I have abandoned that one.

I have pictures of leeches, spinning chairs, scarifyers, galvanism, instruments for blood-letting, cupping...all the so-called tools for ‘heroic medicine’ and some of these are still going strong today.

My great uncle Jimmy, for instance , was the heavyweight champion of Wales some time in the first half of the twentieth century in Swansea. Of course he used to come back home with some pretty impressive black eyes - the remedy for which was leeches - one or two to an eye, apparently, used to be very effective. The descendants of these leeches are still being used in medicine today - there is a leech farm in Swansea that supplies hospitals world wide. I went to see some as part of my research. They are kept cold and immobile in the pharmacy until the doctor, usually a surgeon, writes out a prescription for them.

‘Two paracetamol and a couple of leeches.’ I imagine it says...

The leeches are ideally designed to extract blood. They have mouths like the Mercedes symbol on cars so the wound doesn’t shut and they inject a special anticoagulant chemical so the patient keeps bleeding after the leech has had its fill and dropped off. They are used in plastic surgery - apparently it is quite easy to reattach thick-walled arteries but not so easy to join up veins so sewn on bits after burns and reconstruction are liable to become engorged and would fall off if it were not for the help of the wriggly little creatures. I actually think they are rather attractive - on your hand they attach one end very firmly and then search moving like the wax in lava lamps - but in water they ripple like black bands of tagliatelle.

Ah, enough already...maybe I ought to finish with something literary. I recently replied to an academic who is looking at books we read in childhood and whether it influences what we read and write as adults. My favourites were the CS Lewis Narnian tales with THE LAST BATTLE the one I liked the best - a common choice apparently - but I also liked the science fiction trilogy THE TRIPODS by John Christopher and THE CHILDREN OF THE PAPER CRANE: THE STORY OF SADAKO SASAKI AND HER STRUGGLE WITH A BOMB DISEASE edited by Masamoto Nasu and translated by Elizabeth Baldwin. This book haunts me still.

Fantasy, Sci-Fi and historical fiction - pretty much what I am interested in today - but then that is quite a wide canvas.



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