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"...when we don't live with birds or weather or waves we lose the opportunity to think hard about ourselves, to discover from nature important facts about human nature."
(excerpted from Nancy Lord's, Fishcamp)

Hospital Lessons

May 3, 1999.

It's Monday, May 3rd. I'm in Keweenaw Memorial Hospital. For the past several days my early morn has been greeted by the arrival of a large bird on a tree branch outside my window - its dark shape and that of the branch upon it is perched silhouetted against the brightening dawn of the new day. I believe it was a fat robin, but without my contacts in I can't distinguish a robin from a crow. My visitor seemed to be keeping watch over me, staring intently at the human form stretched out on the bed just inside the hospital window.

I, in turn, watched the bird, wondering if he/she grasped the irony of the human, not the bird, in the gilded cage. As the town began to stir, my feathered friend took flight; apparently satisfied that all was well.

I know little of birds. They have always struck me as a happy-go-lucky, industrious, yet wary lot. I envy and marvel at their flight, a feat which man, despite eons of evolution from swimmer to stalker has never been able to master without aid of contraption. The urge to emulate my visiting bird and take flight from the constraints and isolation of hospital increased as the days piled up.

I write of this as I await the "honorary discharge" papers my doc promised on this, the last of my seven-day stay. If you have been in hospital, you know today's routine. At 6:30 a.m. the doc says you have been a good patient, his and the hospital's insurance companies agree the risk of letting you fend for yourself is tolerable, and as soon as we get a little paper work cleared up you can join your feathery friend out on the limb. By 7:30 I'm cleaned up, back in my civvies, fending off the arriving shift who think it's just another day. It's now 11:30, and my friendly and omnipresent care givers of the past week are keeping a wary distance - I'm sure convinced that I'll bite their head off if they intrude upon my space with anything short of the "go" papers. (They're right!)

So I've hauled the "central stores" clipboard off the wall, ripped off a few of the forms hospitals use to keep track of your indulges in everything from toothbrushes to Band-Aids, and am marking time by squiggling this little account of thoughts about my stay on the form backs. (I wish they would put prices on these central stores parts lists, but I suppose if they did, patients might resist the $10 box of Kleenex, and the $12 sock slippers.)

I'm unsure if these ramblings will become a Harbor Journal entry. Certainly the reality is that life at the Harbor, like everywhere else, includes some down days. Additionally, folks considering retirement in Eagle Harbor might be interested in what one might expect if you get sick up here.

A week in hospital isolation, battling the sudden onslaught of a severe bout of strep pneumonia, is not a pleasant experience. Filling lungs scream for relief, raging fever dulls the brain, and nausea is constantly on the edge of explosion, converting the normal sensory delight of food and drink to revulsion. Needles, tubes, skin and body hair tearing tape, the steady hiss of life giving oxygen, the clatter and chatter of care givers - all crowd about and upon you. Time is endless; its intervals marked only by the vitals checks of the three daily shift changes, the movement of sunlight across the room, and the seemingly unending and restless dark nights. One gradually gravitates from person to object.

However, there have also been some brighter moments, the small but meaningful gestures of kindness and acts of caring competence one might expect in the "we're all family" environment of a small hospital in a small town. A soft squeeze of the hand or assuring stroke over the brow by a caring staff member lingers long after their leaving. Observing and marveling at the competence and sensitivity of a night nurse installing another dreaded IV, as careful and caring for you as she would be if you were her child. A perky respiratory therapist, making you laugh and thus beneficially cough up the debris gathered in your lungs as she pursues the laborious task of restoring your breathing. A chatty housekeeper with beguiling accounts of roof snowmanship in the winter past and the grasshopper plague about to beset us. Sharing the joy of a young nurse eagerly anticipating the birth of her first born and bubbling with thoughts and questions of child rearing and the prospect of home schooling. Eagerly anticipated early morn chats with my straight-shooting and thoughtful doc (he arrives as my bird takes flight), patiently responding to the scores of often-inane questions generated in the sleepless night. (I've noticed that in small town hospitals, docs stay for a "sit", not the quick "bed walkabout" of their larger hospital brethren.)

Indeed, my week confined to the isolation of space designated for those of us antibiotically at risk to ourselves and others, while quite unpleasant at times, especially in the early going when survival was in doubt, has also been an unusually rich opportunity to seriously contemplate my priorities and responsibilities. I passed the time, especially the nights, making mental lists of "must do's" and "should do's". It's a long list. The first few "central stores" forms now bear witness to this take home prescription. I'm told my recovery will be slow - perhaps God's way of assuring that this medicine, the lessons of the week, have a chance to settle firmly into my conscientious before the temptations and distractions of my temporal world once again have an opportunity to have their way with me.

A crowd just arrived in my room, collectively transmitting my walking papers and wishing me well. You can't see it, but there is a tear on this page.

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