By Judy Salz
The deep voice brought the old man back from somewhere. He didn’t know where he’d been or where he was now, but his name had sounded like a command. His mind and body felt disconnected. He had neither voice nor movement. What was the order he couldn’t obey? If he could have moved his lips, he would have smiled. He was beyond their reach, and it felt good. Peaceful. No responsibility for anyone, for once.
The voice was more insistent now. Louder and closer. He reluctantly began to take stock of what faculties he had other than thought. He obviously could hear. He listened for other sounds but heard only a steady beep and intermittent hissing. Unable to open his eyes, vision wasn’t an option. He became aware of a vaguely familiar pungent sweet aroma, but he couldn’t quite place it. Where am I? He was curious but not concerned about his whereabouts. He was comfortable. Neither cold nor warm. In no pain. And in no hurry. Like suspended animation, he thought. Waiting, but for what? Or whom? His thoughts drifted. Snippets of his favorite symphonies came and went, as did fleeting glimpses of Monets and Rembrandts and Michelangelo’s David and Rodin’s Thinker. Surrounded by beauty, he rested.
“Crane, wake up.”
I’m not sleeping. I’m in Never Neverland, like Peter Pan. Leave me alone. I’m happy here, wherever it is. When he became aware that his back rested on something firm, he relaxed into the support and added touch to his mental list of senses. With touch came an awareness of soreness in his chest. Not pain, just a dull ache. He tried lifting his hand to touch the source of his discomfort, but his hand didn’t move. Still no muscle control, he realized. A bright light shined through his closed eyelids and he squeezed them tighter shut.
“Ah, Crane. I saw that. Open your eyes.”
The voice was softer and more encouraging now. And he recognized it. Markham, a fellow surgeon and friend. His eyelids fluttered open. Markham stood over him, wisps of grey hair escaping from the edges of his surgical cap, his mask pulled down to reveal his moustache and smiling lips.
He listened while his old friend told him the same things he had told so many patients over the years. You’re in recovery. You did fine. We did a quadruple bypass, and it went well. You’ll be back to work in no time. Only this time he hung on every word as if his life depended on it, because it did. He tried to speak but only set off the alarm on the respirator attached to his endotracheal tube.
“The tube will come out soon, Crane. Just relax.”
Relax. That was an order he could obey. He closed his eyes and listened to the sounds that had been his working environment for thirty-five years. The source of his satisfaction and stress. The monitor’s beep and the respirator’s hiss created a syncopated rhythm. The music of the recovery room. The music of life. Only now it was his body creating it. Benzoin. That stuff used to keep bandages stuck to the skin. That was what he was smelling. It was holding his incision together and, in a sense, his existence. My life, he mused. How did I get so old so fast? Wasn’t it only a year or two ago that I began my career as a surgeon? Young and newly married to Georgia, the love of my life. Beautiful red-haired Georgia. She died way too young, leaving me to raise our two boys. Now they, too, are grown and out in the world. Relax. Yes, it’s time. He drifted into a dreamless sleep.