IT TAKES FROM Friday until Tuesday to move Martin to New England Rehabilitation Hospital. There are phone calls among nurses, social workers, and administrators, plus masses of paperwork for them all to fill out. Nothing happens over the weekend; in their worlds, Saturdays and Sundays don’t count. For us, every day matters.
On Tuesday, without warning, two medics appear in Martin’s room. They lift him onto their gurney and wrap him in blankets. Tom has left to rent the car we will need in Woburn. I stuff Martin’s few belongings and dozens of get well cards into plastic bags. The medics load the gurney’s baskets with all his flowers.
As when we moved him from the ICU, Martin appears to be asleep. Maybe this is his way of protecting himself from chaos.
The medics make everyone else get off the elevator and take us straight to the ground floor, ten stories down. Martin has already moved from the silence of the ICU to the bustling ward, but traveling on a gurney is even wilder than being in the ward. As the medics speed him through the hallways to the elevator and out to the waiting ambulance, his senses are assaulted by shifting light, temperature changes, different smells, wind, noise, and uneven pavement. He gives no sign of consciousness.
In the ambulance, one medic sits beside Martin, taking his pulse and blood pressure every few minutes. I sit by his head, my hands on his shoulders. I remember the pain of my ride to the Santa Fe hospital when I fractured my skull. In that ambulance, I was on the gurney, and Martin sat by my head. Then, he was saving me.
We pass Spaulding. “Almost everyone at Mass General wanted us to go there,” I say.
The medic says, “We take a lot of patients there, and we bring a lot of them back to Mass General a week later because of infections they get at Spaulding.”
Martin does not stir or open his eyes in the ambulance. When we arrive at the top of the Woburn hill and the medics pull the gurney out of the ambulance, I say to him, “Look up! There are trees, and clouds, and sky.”
He does not show that he hears me. He does not open his eyes. I hope we are doing the right thing, bringing him here. The air smells fresh and damp, of leaves and earth.
I REMEMBER THE morning I first saw my father after his head injury. My parents’ friends, Sherry and Bob, picked me and my baby up at the airport and drove us to their house. I left Sarah with Sherry, and Bob drove me to the hospital. On the back stairs to the ICU, where the sweet disinfectant couldn’t cover the sour smell of illness, I met my father’s doctor. His mannerisms were so formal and awkward, for a moment I wondered if he was trying to make me laugh. He was the doctor who had sent my father home a week earlier, giving my mother no guidance about signs to watch for that could mean trouble.
My father’s eyes looked huge beneath his bandaged head. They opened wide as I came in, and he told the man beside him, a handsome young Episcopal priest, “This is my daughter. She came from New Mexico.” He said nothing more.
They let me stay ten minutes. I was relieved to walk away from the whiteness of sheets and bandages and the sharp disinfectant smell.
My father loved gardening. In the spring and summer, he came home from work in the evening. “Let’s go make the rounds,” he’d say. We walked outside to see which plant had pushed through the earth that day, how many buds had opened, whether any fruit was ripe. When I was small, my job was to crawl under bushes to pick up pieces of paper that had blown there. In August, Daddy took baskets of bright zinnias and ripe tomatoes to his office to give away. When the Peace Rose was introduced in the early 1950’s, he thought its cream and peach colored blossoms exquisite. Because he had been a soldier, the Peace Rose’s name pleased him. Because Daddy had no sense of smell, he asked me to describe the new rose’s scent. Every winter, he pored over the seed catalog, dreaming of his summer garden. He loved finding new sources for manure, and he loved debating with other gardeners the merits of horse versus chicken fertilizer.
While my father lay in the ICU, Mother helped Sherry in the kitchen, and my baby slept. I sat on the patio watching Bob dig manure into the garden, getting ready to plant. Nothing ever smelled so good as that earth in the February sunshine, not until the damp leafy air on the hill above the Woburn lake.