The best conversation I ever had about the surf was also the shortest. And the quietest.
There are sounds common to every hospital, from
Sitting in an ICU bay for more than a day, I know I stopped hearing them, permitting me a quiet vigil. Except for the forty-five minute ambulance ride and the six hours during which she was in neuro-surgery, I had been at my wife’s side for over thirty hours, still wearing the clergy collar and tweed suit from Sunday morning. As the ER physician had told me she wasn’t going to make it, I had given her “last rites” at noon the day before [since most people know what that term means I’ll use it; I’ll leave it to pedantic bishops to point out that “last rites” is not technically correct]. At 6pm, now at a second hospital, I had anointed her with the oil of unction, as I had been told that she might make it, but there would be lingering disability. With therapy and care she might be able to speak or even walk again. “After a fashion”, said the neuro-surgeon.
It was now 6pm the next day; two days before Ash Wednesday. I sat in the chair next to her bed, holding her hand in the noisy silence, waiting to see what the free-ranging pocket of blood still left in her brain sac would do if it came into contact with healthy tissue. If it did, it would further disable her or kill her. Then again, according to the surgeon, it could just dissipate with no further damage. If she were able to speak sometime in the next day, it would be a sign that the blood was dissipating.
I spoke to her for hours, without response, about family, pets, the daunting labor of filling out college aid applications. When those topics were exhausted, I spoke of our vacations to the various beaches we had enjoyed during our six years of marriage; about sailing the Lesser Antilles the year before, about the vacation we would take once she had recovered, maybe to Aruba or
I knew that there had probably been more poignant words spoken in human history, but I really couldn't think of any. She could speak, and would in the months to come converse normally, regain her balance, walk, and return to work without any lingering effects from the sub-arachnoid aneurysm; and we would, after she was cleared by her physicians, begin to visit the beaches and coral reefs about which I’d spoken during those terrible hours of one-sided conversation.
And once, on a flight to the Palancar Reef, when we noticed that our row contained a vacant seat, we exchanged a silent smile.
[Excerpt from Reading Water, all rights reserved ©2011]