After you pass a whole series of companies and car dealerships, the village reveals itself to you quite picturesquely. The Van Weel-Bethesda Hospital has been built in so tightly that its visitors don’t get to see it until the very last turn-off in the village.

The first thing that drew my eye when I entered the hospital was Psalm 39:8, which had been written on the wall in pretty Gothic font. “And now, o Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.” As a non-patient, I thought it was an impressive statement of an ideology, rather than a reflection.

The secretary sat proudly in her chair, and the moment I was given the key to the place where I was to stay was an intimate and formal occasion. A warm light lit the situation just about well enough for me to realise that the people of Dirksland are proud.

“What specialty do you intend to choose?” the senior surgeon asked me. “Psychiatry,” I answered, more determined than I had in mind. “It takes a more holistic approach.” The senior surgeon’s face stayed bland and emotionless. He went on typing with just his two index fingers, clumsily and venerably. “I wanted to become a psychiatrist myself,” he said, “until I did the psychiatry part of the foundation programme.” I stopped wanting to be a psychiatrist on the spot.

I had just firmly applied proper tension to two hooks sitting in a wound that was the gateway to a hip needing replacement when I asked: “By the way, how did this hospital come into being?” The orthopaedic surgeon looked at me. “What, you think small hospitals don’t serve a purpose? Hospitals such as the ones in Gouda or Hengelo? No, I’m serious. I mean it. You probably want all medical services to be centralised, just like [Minister for Public Health] Kuipers.” I was so stunned I relaxed my grip on the hooks. “I didn’t mean it that way. I was just wondering how this hospital first came to be opened.” But the damage had already been done.

The patient had thickened skin in the palm of her hand, which caused her to enter the examination room with an index finger that curved and hurt. Her eyes were full of suspicion. She pulled back her hand. Every question I asked was a question too many. However, by now I understood what was going on, so I said with a smile, “There’s no need for us to perform surgery on your hand, ma’am. We can give you painkillers, as well. The choice is up to you.”

One evening I climbed the roof of my home in Dirksland. I watched the people in their small Dirksland homes, who were all having dinner while vacantly staring at their TV sets. The wind was fierce. Sand was whooshing by. Roof tiles were being ripped from the roofs and thrown through my neighbours’ windows, meaning the wind in Dirksland carried shards of glass in it. Debris from buildings and people that had collapsed came at me from the East. My vision got a little cloudy. The last thing I saw was Dirkslanders solemnly declaring that no, they would not eat all the food they had on their plates.

Pride is a curious emotion, isn’t it?

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