I came to love my Danish country hospital and its reassuring routines; now it is being closed downby Sally Laird / July 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
I suffer from an illness called erysipelas. It attacks once or twice a year: I get a high fever, then a fiery red patch starts spreading down my leg. These days I know what to do. As soon as my teeth start chattering, I set off for Grenaa Centralsygehus (central hospital). The drive, down country lanes, takes about half an hour. If the hospital isn’t too busy, I will be wheeled within an hour into one of the medical wards on the ground floor. There I will spend the next week hooked up to a penicillin drip, until the fever subsides and the doctors declare I am ready to go home.
My home for the past ten years has been in Ebeltoft, a small town on the east coast of Jutland, but I come from London. It is a peculiar experience for a foreigner to spend a week in a Danish country hospital.The first time I stayed in Grenaa, I experienced its most innocent procedures as an assault on my person. I resented being identified by my social security number instead of my name, and being made to wear underwear stamped Aarhus Amt (county). I did not like having a thermometer poked up my arse and I wanted curtains around my bed, like we have in England. I felt as if my body had been nationalised by the Danish state, which was now free to display it, or insert things into it, just as it wished. And I refused point blank to eat øllebrød for breakfast. It’s a porridge made from rye bread (featured in the film Babette’s Feast) and seemed to me to have the colour and consistency of fresh liquid manure.
But an odd thing happened to me on my most recent visit to Grenaa. When I entered the main doors, I saw a handwritten notice was stuck to the glass: “Long Live Grenaa Centralsygehus!” I felt an unexpected pang. In an economy measure by Aarhus Amt, Grenaa is soon to be “amalgamated” with Randers hospital 60 miles away. Most of its own wards will be scrapped. Perhaps this would be my last visit to the hospital. I found myself hoping that I would stay in one of the wards I liked best, with the tall windows overlooking the trees. I realised then that the hospital had ceased to be a strange Danish institution; it had become my…