Monday, January 17, 2011


It's been a long time since I had a vantage-point like this: four stories up, facing west, overlooking a cold, dark, sleepy town in the foothills, staring up at the starless sky, waiting for the sun to arrive. Well, I have no assurance that the morning will be sunny, not gray and overcast or foggy, as early mornings here in the hills and valleys of Central Pennsylvania can often be. But I'm hoping for sun.

I've gotten up early and moved my bed – tilted it askew actually – so I can see out the prow-front double window of my room: room 452, Good Samaritan Hospital, Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

By seven a.m., I've already had blood drawn, had a nebulizer treatment, have had two of the myriad intravenous antibiotics prescribed for the pneumonia, and have phoned in my selections for breakfast from the "Room Service Dining" Menu. Now, I'm sitting here upright, watching the sky pink up and waiting for first sun and that steamy bowl of Cream of Wheat, when it suddenly occurs to me, I am breathing again.

And now, as if on cue, the sun crests somewhere behind me, over the eastern ridge. I can't see it, but I know it's happening: all the windows of the row-houses below flash like brightly-burnished mirrors and their twilight-dulled colors leap into rich barn reds, dove-grays, burnt golds, Williamsburg blues, and that late-70s Dusky Rose that's come into fashion again across the country. I can distinguish again the lush evergreens from the bare-limbed oaks and maples and sycamores. The street below my window is thrumming now with morning traffic and the large, wooden, burnt-umber cross on the church across the street comes into sharp relief against its ochre-colored clapboard and rusting steeple spire. The house to the left of the church – one half of a two-family house – has greenery wreaths tied with big red bows in celebration of the holiday season. Maybe tonight, I'll be lucky enough to see this town transformed again by street-light and holiday-light before someone arrives at the appointed time to pull the heavy drapes into place again and turn down the room-lights.

I can make out the brickworks and glass of the old steel foundry building and its tall, rust-eaten water tower midway across the valley and I am reminded of how much steel once meant to this state and the hard economy of loss that followed as production shut down, foundry by foundry.

* * * * *

Midmorning now and the clouds are moving in from the west, damping the blue morning sky and throwing into shadow the whole sun-bright town, and my IV monitor (Horizon® Nxt – Modular Infusion System) starts pinging like a mad devil of sonar and is flashing red digital letters across the front: OCCL. . .OCCL. . . .OCCL. . . . An occlusion somewhere in the line. And though I am at the farthest end of the hall from the nurses' station and have promptly rung my call bell, as instructed, it will be a while yet before anyone comes to reset the beast. I know this because I can hear several other things pinging and ringing down the hall.

So here's what I'll do. I am going to sit here at my fourth-floor window breathing again, in and out and in, without having to will my lungs to expand and contract – blissfully ignorant again of the mysterious workings of my ancient reptilian brain - enduring the annoyingly loud, fouled mechanics of modern medical technology while I look westward, to the foothills and ridges beyond Lebanon Valley, watching the snow-clouds move in, feeling my whole body pinging with a strange happiness at being right here, right now, in the world and of it. . . .

photo courtesy of