I had to have a little operation recently. It was preceded by some blood tests in the nearest hospital, called Ospedale Buccheri La Ferla Fatebene Fratelli. The Sicilians are good at coming up with catchy names that way.
Buccheri and La Ferla are the names of the founders. The Fatebene Fratelli translates as “The Do Good Brothers”. Though they sound like a blues band, they are actually an order of monks, who lurk in the corridors annoying the patients.
They mean well, but they all have medieval-looking skin diseases that make you desperately hope they won’t come any closer. I’m sure they all have nothing worse than eczema or psoriasis, or maybe a few septic bedbug bites in the most severe cases. There’s just something about seeing them in their full-length, brown monks’ habits, and white cord belts with knots all along them, that makes you think of leprosy, scrofula and smallpox.
It’s like an intensified form of waiting to see the dermatologist. Nobody wants to handle the magazines, and everyone sits in a funny way to make sure no part of their bare skin comes into direct contact with the seats. You never know what could be catching.
The Do-Good Brothers dedicate their lives, in Buccheri La Ferla hospital, to urging the patients to join them in the hospital chapel for a brief spot of group prayer, Gregorian chanting and bible reading. They guarantee it will take no longer than ten minutes. They assure people they’ll only do one prayer, and that they can recite it really fast. They promise that the bible reading will be so short it will seem like a Haiku poem. Eventually they offer to skip the Gregorian chanting altogether. Yet still nobody wants to go.
Is it because the patients are scared their name will get called to have their X-ray taken while they’re off saying the Lord’s prayer? That they’ll miss their bone density scan in the middle of a Hail Mary, so they’ll have to book another appointment in a month’s time? Is it that they have already been on a pilgrimage to seek a cure for whatever disease they have, and reckon some extra last minute praying would be superfluous?
Or is it the angry-red, peely, exposed dermis on that Do-Good Brother’s hands, dotted with pustules, which may have recently come into direct contact with the prayer books in the chapel?
Finally, the Do-Good Brother gives up, failing to disguise the fact that he is exasperated and disappointed, and probably feels a bit sore and itchy inside his habit. He heads of for some solitary prayer. Again.
He probably consoles himself by fervently reciting prayers in Latin, whilst mortifying his flesh with a flagellant, an even scratchier hair shirt, and some really stingy iodine lotion.
I felt so sorry for the Do-Good Brother who invited me into his little chapel that I actually did go. He was so flabbergasted he actually hopped up and down a couple of times in his home-made macramé sandals.
The prayer he said for me was really very beautiful. He read from the bible, and then in a prayer he asked for my operation to go well. I sat in the chapel and felt myself filling with serenity and the sun slanted in through the window.
God must have been listening, as it all went fine. Thank you, Do-Good Brothers!