(Patsy Cline reference)
So. Here I am, your modern day Rip Van Winkle.
Instead of 20 years, it was 26 days. Instead of comfortable mountainside, I
slept in a hospital bed that moved on its own on a frequent basis until I
coaxed my wife, the nurse who selected those beds for that hospital for that
very reason, to shut off that ‘feature’ so that I could sleep once in awhile:
“I’ll risk the bed sores!” I moaned.). I did not hear the rumble of
bowling pins, but the robotic announcement of Codes throughout the hospital
from time to time(my wife explaining: “That one means someone is dying in
the lobby”; “That one means someone is getting violent”;
“That code means the trauma team needs to get ready, stat, because they
have a serious one coming in with multiple patients.”), and the somehow
frightening whirr of the helicopter rotors as the angels of mercy, the hope
flights, came hovering over and in on a less frequent basis, bringing to the
hospital the near-dead and those otherwise in need of the services of this hospital,
and, strange as it is, I knew, rationally, that every time I heard the blades,
every time I recognized that a bird was coming in it meant the chance that life
would be saved, yet I still came to think of the helicopters as Dragonflies of
Death, came to wince and despair when I heard them coming, even hated to be
awakened by their warming up in the dark morning, the two AM morning otherwise
filled only with bips and beeps and quiet feet, hushed voices in the halls.
Institutional psychosis perhaps.
I was not merely counting the tiles in the ceiling but trying to develop
formulae for how many would be required, width and depth, to be able to
completely and distinctively draw each letter of the alphabet. If it doesn’t
make sense to you, trust me, it made perfect sense to me, and I spent much time
in this endeavor.
And it all began with a ride in the wife’s Volkswagen bug from home to the
hospital on January 31, so very long ago, it seems now.
She chattered the entire way. That is the perfect word, chattered. It is not as
if her words, her sentences, had no meaning, but this is what she does to
handle stress, at least it is one of the things she does: she chatters. I do
not mean this unkindly. It is likely that part of the reason she does this is
to keep me occupied, after all, rather than preoccupied. She chattered, and I
learned more about my family, her family, our friends, her friends, her job,
than I was likely to want to know. But it was all good, because I was
preoccupied, with what I cannot remember. She asked, I know, and I answered
“Nothing”, which I am prone to do, like any teenager worth his or her
“Nothing.” Perhaps that was true. Perhaps my mind was just a sea of
nothingness, or, more likely, a river of everything: so many thoughts cascading
through my mind without resolution.
I do not remember. I recall billboards and buildings. I remember admiring a
vehicle now and then, examining drivers and wondering where they were headed or
what they were like. But I do not really remember what was on my mind. I was
not obsessing about the surgery, I do not believe, although I did ask my wife a
few technical things about the operation itself, so I was probably focused on
that most of all, all the while knowing I would be sleeping through most of it.
I tend to be concerned about pain more than about life or death. As far as I
know, life is attended by the occasional pain, and it is a goal of mine to live
for as long as I comfortably can with the least amount of pain, while death
means the end of pain, albeit with some other attributes that tend to make it a
lot less desirable than life. As I tell my doctors and nurses every chance I
get: I am allergic to pain. This usually draws a small laugh and perhaps a lot
more tender care — it is worth a shot at any rate.
It was both a very long drive and one of the shortest rides I have ever taken.
Before going on I will tell you that none of this next commentary is in
chronological order, necessarily. I lost track of time inside (as I now refer
affectionately to the hospital, my personal prison for nearly 30 days :)) for
one thing, and there is the truth that much of what came while inside lends
itself in my mind to chunks of subject matter rather than time-related events.
More importantly, I advise you that while inside, especially at the nadir of my
time, I came to scorn, albeit ever so briefly, the idea of “hope and
humor”. As I whispered to my wife on one particularly dark night, “I
am a fraud. I go on that chat site and preach, really, about having hope and
humor, and it is only because I had forgotten what it is like to go through
surgery and all of this. To he** with hope and humor! ”
I had thoughts like that, dear reader, on more than one occasion, trust me.
There IS some truth to it, too, but I am here to tell you today that while I
may have sold the idea short, I practiced it nonetheless from beginning to end,
and I ended up humbled and astonished by some of the kind words spoken to my
wife about me and even directly to me, especially concerning my attitude, while
I was inside. It DOES pay to carry that smile, after all, to make them laugh
whenever you can. It DOES make you feel better, and it DOES make them treat you
better, I am convinced. More on that later.