Friday, 24 July 2015
Eye to eye
Another day goes by and once again the vexed question of the Israeli occupied territories pops up in the news. I mean, they called it the six-day war but here we are fifty years later and still the occupation is disputed. The names are common currency even if you have no dog in the fight: the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula are known throughout the world and guaranteed to stir emotive discussion. Of course, as far as Israel is concerned the property rights and the dispute go back not just decades but millennia. The news this time is about the EU’s drive to progressively boycott Israeli businesses operating from the territories, imposing sanctions much the same as were imposed on South Africa during apartheid.
Stern stuff. Now, I rarely involve myself in the Zionist/anti-Zionist conflict because, frankly, I don’t understand it and it bores me, but every time Israel is in the news I’m reminded of an old friend of mine, Samuel, who was himself born in 1967. A little younger than me, and a funny-looking kid, I first met him at university where he was studying engineering and headed for a first. His was an intriguing story because as a direct result of the six-day war his parents flew to Britain for pioneering surgery which was just not a priority during the ‘disagreement’.
Sam was born prematurely – to this day his mother blames the shelling – and oddly was born without eyelids. Laying in the incubator his softly-focused eyes stared unblinking out at his visitors and attendants while a battery of tests were performed. It was soon apparent that, despite the physical deficit, his cognitive functions were unimpaired. This took some time to establish as a number of the diagnostic techniques back then depended somewhat on the blink reflex for feedback. Soon he put on weight and was released into the care of his mother but the bonding process didn’t go as smoothly as you would hope; it is one thing for a baby to stare into his other’s eyes but unnerving when, even in sleep, that eye contact is resolutely maintained.
She took him back to the hospital and soon it was agreed that something would need to be done; if Sam could scare his own mother like this how would he be accepted by his future peers? It was decided to try something never before attempted. Eyelids, you see, are made from a quite specialised type of skin cells. Much more flexible and softer than most other parts of the epidermis and unsupported by the usual thick layer of dermis beneath, the only other part of the body with comparable skin properties is the genitalia. Never let it be said that the Jewish people would willingly overlook the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
Ground-breaking new skin graft techniques were pressed into service as immediately after the circumcision ceremony, for which the rabbi had unusually worn surgical gloves, Sam was rushed into surgery and his freshly removed foreskin was deftly shaped into two delicate eyelids. For many months, during which time he was thankfully unaware of his bizarre circumstances, the baby Samuel was in and out of hospital as the specialists carefully teased and stimulated the tiny amount of transplanted skin to grow into fully-formed lids, but finally the gauze was removed for the last time and the young lad emerged, literally blinking into his first normal day.
What are you looking at?
After that he lived and progressed just as any other kid and following his successful time at university went on to become a top-flight engineer. I caught up with him recently and he has gone on to acclaim, recently becoming a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. In middle age of course, like we all do, he has developed a bit of ‘spread’ but he still has the features that made the girls swoon back in the day. Oh yes, he turned out to be a good looking fella, but if you look closely enough you can see, even after all these years, he’s still a little bit cock-eyed.