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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, January 23, 2005

In the waiting room of Mercy

A hospital waiting room
is a hard place to describe:
It can be as demographically
diverse as a train station
and as nervously giddy
as a loaded plane delayed
by an unforeseen storm.

But eventually…
a waiting room becomes
a quiet place where
the simplest rhythms of life
are synchronized with strangers:
Where breaths are collectively held
and sighs collectively let go.
Where hearts beat, eyes meet,
prayers ascend, tears flow,
and pent-up praise
is sung through silent smiles.

Thanks to all of you for being there with us from afar.
TRK (Written in the waiting room of Mercy General Hospital the day after my wife's unexpected open-heart surgery)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Day 4 continued: "The Ache of Joy"

It’s about a ten minute drive between hospitals. I couldn’t see the ambulance (which was probably a light or two ahead of me) and I felt strangely alone as I drove. A light snow was falling and the radio was playing Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” That’s one of those goose-bump songs that sums up the way students and teachers feel in those busy days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It occurred to me that we had missed the program practice on Tuesday for Thursday night’s school program. I thought back to all the Christmas programs the girls have been in and how last year Nat was one of two turtle doves (with both a turtle shell and dove wings—corny but cute). I started to sing along with the radio, and from out of nowhere, my voice cracked with emotion and a sort of sadness swept over me.

“Where did that come from?” I wondered aloud.

It was the first of several unexpected pauses in the days to come when happy recollections would suddenly seem too wonderful to bear, and rather than a smile they brought the ache of joy: a fragile awareness that life is a collection of mostly uneventful moments. They do not pass but gather; they are not spent but shared; and only rarely do we begin to grasp their value—or allow ourselves to think they will someday change—and when we do, our grip goes numb, like in a dream, just when it matters most to hold on.

That’s what I mean by the ache of joy. It’s not a passing feeling but the passing ability to sense what’s always there, the simplicity of life that is lost in the complexity of living. It catches us off guard because it’s stored not in our cherished memories but in moments that have passed forgotten. Out of nowhere it comes, this ache of joy, but briefly seeing life this clearly blurs the eyes. In my case that day, it also made it hard to sing as if nothing were wrong while following my wife’s ambulance. I was confident that ‘nothing was wrong,’ but I learned then that some involuntary part of me had seen through the calm face I’d been wearing since Monday.

I turned off the radio and began praying that Julie was alright and that she was not worrying about such things on the way to Mercy.

[She later told me that they tried to have fun en route. She had asked if she could turn on the siren to have something to tell her preschoolers about, but it was against the rules. Then the “trainee” was trying to take Julie’s vitals and finally said, “I can’t find a pulse on her.” The male EMT took Julie’s wrist to show the rookie how it’s done, but he also came up blank. “Does that mean I’m dead,” Julie joked. Then the driver rounded a corner and hit the curb. Wham!. “There, now you should find her pulse,” she shouted over her shoulder. Everyone laughed. Julie was surprised by their banter, but she was totally relaxed by the time they arrived at Mercy. I share this only to illustrate that it’s better to be in an ambulance with light-hearted companions than alone in a melancholy mood.]

Monday, January 17, 2005

Day 4: A Hard Night's Day

(continued from previous numbered-day entries)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004:
Dozing off the night before was a challenge. It was my first night in a hospital recliner since 1995, the night Natalie was born, but the chair wasn’t the problem. The lady behind the curtain had evidently been prescribed “TV sedation.” Her little wall-mounted tube had been on non-stop since checking in. With the help of a loud fan, we were able drown out the sound, but all night long the room flickered like the opening credits of The Twilight Zone, and from somewhere in that “dimension of sight and sound” we suddenly woke to the soft clap of a breakfast tray on Julie’s bed stand. A single bowl of oatmeal stared back oat Julie’s blurry eyes. In shadows on the curtain behind her, I saw someone delivering what must have been a sampler from Old Country Buffet. “Julie’s right,” I thought, “something’s wrong with this picture.”

A little while later, a male/female EMT team rolled in a gurney to take Julie down for her ambulance ride to Mercy. A young trainee followed them. They couldn’t have picked a worse time to arrive. Julie was fine, but just as they came in the lady behind the curtain sat up suddenly with an ominous groan, grabbed the large waste basket beside her bed and started re-serving breakfast in resounding portions.

Poor Julie’s mouth clamped shut and her eyes widened each time she heard the lady in bed one. She climbed on the gurney herself and helped the techs buckle her in, trying hard not to look in the direction of the eruptions as they rolled toward the door.

Those of you who know Julie know she is an absolute trooper in nearly all tests of personal fortitude. In high school, for instance, she was low man on the housekeeping totem pole of a nursing home and had to do chores that I still can’t believe OSHA allows at any pay grade —denim and lace, this girl!

There is one thing, however, that she just can’t stomach and that is when someone else looses theirs. Julie’s what I call a sympathetic puker—you know, the kind of person who never lets someone throw-up alone. I first learned this several years ago when some friends took us to a Barry Manilow concert at the Iowa State Fair. Some guy behind us in the grand stand had too much Barry or beer or both, and Woah! He hurled right in the middle of the “Copacabana!” Julie got that look, and I knew if we didn’t get her out of there this was going to be real a show stopper. An usher whisked us away in the nick of time and eventually showed us to some empty seats in the third row. By then, Barry was belting out the chorus of “Looks Like We Made It.!” Julie leaned over and moaned, “Just barely.”

I knew this was a similar situation and motioned the EMTs to the door. As they rolled past bed one, a voice said, “By, neighbor. Best of luck.” It was the lady!... with her head in the waste basket! It sounded as if she were talking through the heating vent between our basement and kitchen. Julie returned a sincere farewell and best wishes (which impressed me because until that moment she had found it difficult to appreciate the lady at a social level).

I took a moment to grab our belongings and began to leave. Wanting to thank bed one for her kind words, I looked her way for an instant. Her head was still down in the wastebasket between her legs. Any attempt to describe this image without sounding cruel is beyond my limited skills. Think “Winnie the Sumo Pooh” face-down in a honey pot. I felt really sorry for her.
“Hope you’re feeling better soon,” I said lamely. She only waved without looking up so I doubt I would recognize her if we were ever to meet again.

(Day 4 continued above...)

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