The following letter was saved for posterity by our typesetter, Phyllis Tyne. She had applied it to a gas ring, in order to light the revolting stuff she puts into a clay pipe – we haven’t quite caught up with the smoking thing. At the last instant, she realised that the communication might be of interest to some readers. No-one here knows how we came by this item, nor (barring receipt of a confession) are we likely to find out, as the top of the single page was singed by the flames, which obliterated the writer’s name and address, and the signature was unreadable. Anyway, here it is:
Dear Mr X
I write concerning the letter sent to you some time ago by my GP. Regrettably, I do not recall the exact date, as the matter has been obscured by intervening festive seasons, anniversaries, family birthdays, annual holidays, etc., from all of which I infer that you are indeed as overburdened as my doctor feared. You may recall that the problem is a cyst on my right knee.
As it is clearly necessary to alleviate your workload, I have decided to perform the operation myself. I have little medical knowledge, but have been fortunate enough to procure a copy of a book entitled ‘Surgery on the Hoof’, written for the inhabitants of the American Frontier. Although the work was published in 1802, I imagine that basic procedures have not changed much in the meantime. I have assembled almost all the required equipment, much of which, being an average householder, I had to hand. My wife has provided an extra-large ironing board, not dissimilar in shape and size to an operating table. I shall use this as my base, since I do not wish to incur the wrath of the distaff side by possibly defacing our teak dining surface.
My other items comprise an excellent horn-handled knife – a family heirloom – and a small silver mustard spoon. Here, I would have preferred stainless steel, but we do not live in a perfect world. The knife already has a keen edge, but not wishing to leave anything to chance, I shall hone it thoroughly and afterwards dip it in hot water – essential because the oilstone I intend to use has been lying open in my toolbox for over twenty years.
As the offender is at the back of my knee, I am setting up an array of three angled mirrors, in order to, as it were, let the dog see the rabbit. I have conducted a dry run and have found the procedure less complicated than I had first thought. It is rather like reversing an articulated vehicle with more than one trailer. I propose to start by making an incision of about two inches, to expose the growth, which if necessary – you will appreciate that there is an exploratory element here – I shall puncture with a smaller cut, then remove most of the nasty stuff by (a) manual pressure (b) the mustard spoon and (c) a wall-mounted vacuum cleaner. That done, I shall snip away what I assume will be an empty sac. I may be wrong about this, but no matter, as I am very inventive and confident of my ability to handle what comes up. Still, I would not trust myself to complete the excision at an earlier stage.
Up to this point, I do not anticipate much difficulty. However, I am concerned about tying-off and wound closure. My understanding is that catgut is still widely used and as I have none, I wonder whether you could supply me with a short length – a foot or so should do the trick. If you do not have any, please do not put yourself out, as my daughter has offered to lend me an upper E-string from her guitar, which I think would suffice.
Finally, lest you should think that I am adopting a less than completely rigorous approach, let me say that I shall have by me throughout the operation, for internal and external use, a large supply of the strongest product from the house of Smirnoff.
Yours sincerely …
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