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Bring back the Sanatoria

Blog | By James Pembroke | May 31, 2017



In former times, when one was taken ill, one retired to bed.

If things got really bad, one was led off to the sanatorium. There was an entire comforting ritual about it: the curtains were drawn; the windows were left wide open at any time of year; the bedroom was dusted. And one was left with a pile of improving literature. Effectively, you were put in isolation. Get better or die.

At my prep school, we were led out of our dormitories to the san in silence, as if being led to Death Row. One last mournful look over the shoulder at Smithies and Waddy, who, as tradition dictated, made the sign of the cross, and then off to a room so far away in the school building that no one bothered hiding in it when we played Sardines.

The matron would hand us our white cricket jersey, as one would a straitjacket to a lunatic. We could have been handed our navy blue rugby jersey but this wouldn’t have shown the longed-for specks of blood from a consumptive coughing fit.

We revelled in the whole maudlin jaunt, certain in the knowledge that not a boy in the school wasn’t jealous of the inevitable box of tuck and comics en route from our parents. No Latin test for me. We prayed for TB.

Until the advent of the internet, adult illnesses and ‘sickies’ were improved by a visit to the video store. Then, getting better got worse. It is now impossible to recover fully from anything because we are never allowed to rest.

My wife has been ill for a while, yet there’s no keeping her still and calm. All day long, she keeps in touch with the planet via her smartphone which pings tweets at her all day long; she feels guilty about not replying to emails, and letting down her work mates; she shops from dawn to dusk on her computer. She bought 70 plants yesterday afternoon alone. Couriers arrive by the hour, requiring her to put on her dressing gown descend two flights and return to her lair.  Yet, when I beg her to relinquish these techno devils in disguise, she instantly falls asleep for two hours..

Twenty years ago, she would have recovered weeks ago; now, who knows? It would take a major power cut. Or the threat of a white cricket jersey.

JAMES PEMBROKE, @james_pembroke.