the fall


BRAIN SURGERY!!! I compared the Pace Maker insertion and aftermath with a walk in the park. Well, brain surgery and aftermath was more of a walk in ankle-high mud.

The ride from the doctor’s office to the hospital where the brain operation, if needed, was to take place was the same as the ambulance ride to where the Pacemaker was inserted was the same, except it took longer, and for the most part there was silence.

A few attempts at conversation was made by Gina, my wife, to our oldest son David who was driving. David answered in just a few words as possible. As for me, I was left to my own thoughts. Deep breathing and playing the radio in my mind.

An old time paratrooper taught me about playing the radio in my mind. Before the jump we would fly around an hour, maybe two. Packed like the proverbial sardines, couldn’t move. The noise of the plane so loud you couldn’t talk to the man next to you. If I managed to fall asleep, I would dream. See the trombone movie shot of the fall in the movie VERTIGO. Wake up in a sweat.

I noticed during the flight how Sgt. Estes would be sitting with eyes closed, breathing deep, bobbing his head, and tapping a boot. I asked him about that one night when we were having a beer in Fayetteville.

I listen to my radio in my head. You know how a song plays in your mind sometimes and it drives you goofy after a while. Well you can change the station. Think real hard on a song you want to hear and pretty soon it’ll come on. Do that and you won’t be thinking about what is going to happen outside that plane door.

‘Thinking about what’s going to happen gets you worrying. Pretty soon get you antsy. Doesn’t change the results any. Could cause you to make a mistake when you do jump.

‘Better to just breath deep and listen to the radio in your head and relax.’

So riding to the hospital to see about the fluid in my head, I listened to the radio in my head.

The year I graduated, 1956, the movie THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH premiered and the song that figured so prominently in it was a big hit for Doris Day. It also spoke to me at a time I was now in charge of making the big decisions of my life. It was old fashion music, far removed from the Elvis revolution; but I liked it.Still do. The cheerful styling of Doris Day. Her cheerful smile.

That was the song I tuned to in my mind as we went to the hospital.


What ever will be, will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera, Sera

Eyes closed. Deep breaths. Listened to the music and in my imagination I saw the noble brain surgeon, James Steward, working to heal me.

And wiping the sweat from his brow was Alfred Hitchcock dressed as a nurse, performing his required cameo in his movie.

My daydream helped relax me.

I had no more gotten into the hospital gown in my new room, which looked like my old room except it was a floor higher, than they transported me to the Cscan room. Nothing in the room had changed since I was here last, five weeks before, except the results of the scan. But the fluid had still remained the size of a ‘clemetine’ and had not grown to the that of a full blown orange.

Back in the room it was check the vitals time, but before I got in bed I went to the rest room. I didn’t see a ‘hat’ and went back out and told the nurse. She laughed and told me they didn’t measure output on this floor. Nice to get the ground rules out of the way. Then I asked if nurses went from floor to floor. When she told me no I was relieved. It meant Nurse Mini-Ratched would not be one of my problems.

My vitals checked out. And I didn’t catch diabetes since I was here last. I mentioned that I had not had breakfast or lunch. An aide called down to have some food sent up for me. I asked not to have a turkey sandwich butI wouldn’t mind a tuna sandwich, a couple cups of that green Jello,and a cup of coffee. No coffee was on my food approval form, I was told.

It was a cloudy day for me. I wasn’t in LaLa Land, but I wasn’t fully awake. I knew that the next morning Gina had to take a stress test in conjunction with her nose operation coming up in the fall. I asked David to take her home. Kissed her and wished her the best with the test. She didn’t look happy when she left, promising to come back as soon as the test was over.

I don’t remember much about that rest of the day and night. I know there was a ballgame on TV but I didn’t bother to turn it on. I imagine the night was filled with checking the vitals etc.. I woke up when Gina kissed my forehead. She said her test went well. My mind was cloudy. Que Sera, Sera. Then the darkness came.

And the bad dreams!

They came after the operation. They came when I was slowly coming out of the anesthesia. General, not local. No LaLa Land.

Thanks goodness I don’t remember most of them. The two I remember are bad enough. Nightmares!

One was that all the dreams I was having were on a film loop that would play over and over. Every time I fell asleep from here on.

And the one that really got to me was the cougar attack!

When I mentioned a dream about a cougar, naturally one of my sons laughed. I told him not the kind of cougar he was thinking about.

This was an attack by a cougar, puma, mountain lion, catamount, panther, painter- a very big ferocious pussy cat. I heard the painter scream! It came flying through the air at me! I smelled blood on it’s breath. It stopped, suspended in air, inches from my face.Then it disappeared into the darkness.

I must have had some very bad reactions to that dream because I could feel hands on me and hear Gina’s voice telling me ‘Relax, relax, it’s just a dream, nothing to worry about.’

‘Honey,’ I warned her, ‘Please get away from me. If the cougar comes at me again, and I have to fight, I don’t want to accidentally hit you. Please get away from me!’

Naturally, she didn’t heed my warning but continued to try and sooth me. The cat didn’t come back and I did not have to fight it off.

The nightmare was perhaps triggered by a cougar out west attacking two bicyclist, killing one and injuring another a few weeks before. But the cat in my dream was not the recent killer, but one from my past, my early years, the Autumn Cat.

This particular cougar had been sighted around Mendota in the early fall for several years, always leaving behind a partially eaten carcass of a calf, once a spring colt. It was always about the same time of the year that it’s migratory circle brought it back to Mendota.

I had heard it called many things, cougar, puma, painter, panther, catamount, so one day I went up to the room in the Grandpa’s workshop where Fred LaBatte lived. Fred was a French/Dakotah old-timer who worked sometimes as a hired man for Grandpa. I told him all the names people were calling the Autumn Cat, and wanted to know the right one. Fred told me the animal went by all those names and more.

To the East, the Old People have a name for it that means, ‘Fire Cat that screams from the bottoms of Hell’. The animal does not growl, only screams. And, young Donnie, if you hear the painter’s scream, it may be too late already.’

It was an early fall eve. I was bringing a sauce pan of warm milk to the ferrets we had in four cages in the old barn down in the far corner of the barnyard. Hobo, my dog and my shadow was walking beside me; but he started acting strange as we neared the old barn, low growls followed by whimpering, hitting his body against my leg. Walking along the said of the shed, he actually stood in front of me and growled when we got close to the Dutch door. I peered around and saw the top half was open and the bottom half was hooked shut, as usual. If there was something inside it had to be an owl or maybe a hawk, something that could fly in the top of the door.

I kneed Hobo aside and was about two feet from the door when I heard the most godawful scream’! Both Hobo and myself turned to stone.

A large tawny blur erupted though the open part of the door. I felt the wind as it flew past my face. The Autumn Cat! I had heard the painter scream and prayed it wasn’t too late already.

It hit the ground running. It cleared the fence by a good two feet and kept going across the hay field, disappearing in the woods on the other side. Thank goodness!

Hobo had given out a little bark and took a step to chase it but I yelled ‘Stay’! He looked up at me and wagged his tail. I think he was thankful I had given him a reason not to chase the cat.

Had the cat waited a beat or two before it screamed, I would have been standing in front of the door when it leaped out.

I opened the bottom door and waited a bit for my eyes to adjust to the dusk. When I did see what the cougar had done, I went outside and vomited and Hobo whined.

All four cages were ripped apart, destroyed, and on the ground were the remains of the ferrets.

The cat continued to make it rounds for several more years; but I never saw the cougar nor heard it’s scream again…Until my nightmare!

It was nine hours from the time I left my room until they brought me back. It wasn’t until the early afternoon the next day that I was able to sit up and carry on a conversation. Oh, what a relief to know I could carry on a conversation. It was one of the things I worried about ever doing again prior to the surgery.

‘You sure talked a lot when you were coming to,’ Gina told me. ‘Loud! And sometimes you were even funny.

‘Everybody laughed when you hollered, “If you can’t do your f…ing job, get a f…er that can do the f…ing thing.” Only you used the complete word. I was so embarrassed.’

The two women in white uniforms standing by the bed laughed.

‘Sorry, honey. But at least I didn’t hit you.’

‘Oh, no,’ Gina said, ‘But you sure scared me. You and your cougar nightmare!. You made me cry.’

‘You had me scared too,’ said the taller, younger of the two nurses. ‘I was trying to calm you down and then you warned us you might punch somebody.’ She had a soft soothing voice and a nice smile.

‘Oh, Don,’ Gina said,’ you never met Dr. Angelique, your brain surgeon.’

Could have floored me when the tall young ‘nurse’ smiled and took my hand. I would have pegged her for student nurse, maybe an intern; but never a full fledged doctor and a brain surgeon to boot. She looked much too young.

She must have been a child prodigy, the kind that 60 Minutes likes to do a piece on. The youngster that has enough credits for a BA, but not enough years to take Drivers’ Ed.

And if she was in civilian clothes a body would think she belonged on a fashion runway, or maybe walking down the Red Carpet…Never in an operating room.

Gina had thought the same thing when she first met Dr. Angelique. I had been prepped and ready to be operated on when this tall, willowy, woman walked into the PreOp room. She had on a reddish dress that certainly wasn’t something she could have bought off the rack at Macy’s. And she was wearing matching shoes with high stiletto heels. Gina first thought was what was a fashion model doing in this room. And then when this ‘model’ began to ask questions and give orders…

One of the nurses, seeing the look on my wife’s face, mouthed the words, ‘She’s the surgeon.’ Gina said all she could think of was the high stiletto heels and hoping the doctor would operate with different shoes on

And when Dr. Angelique went to change, the same nurse told Gina how lucky I was to have her as my surgeon. ‘She’s the best,’and another nurse agreed.

Standing there in my room, the surgeon explained she had three choices concerning the fluid in my brain: do nothing, drill holes and drain it, cut open my skull and take the fluid out. The first was out of the question. The second was iffy at best and prone to infection. So she took the third, drastic but the best option.

‘In a day or two, you can touch the staples I put in your head. I take those out in a week or so. The stitches I used will dissolve by themselves. Oh, l your Cscan shows all the fluid is out. The procedure was a success.’

Even though she looked too young to cut open my head, her voice was such I had complete trust in her judgment and her work. Her parents must have had a premonition when they named her Angelique…Little Angel.

I asked her how long it would be before I could have some coffee. She said right away and called down to the kitchen to bring me up some coffee. And she told them that from now I had no more restrictions on coffee.

Once when a young man was collecting my food plates he asked how the coffee tasted. I told him it was okay. He laughed and said that was good to hear. They were laughing in the kitchen about me ordering coffee when I was under sedation.

He said he heard I ordered it about three times and finally I hollered they could stick their coffee. It tastes like horse piss anyway.

‘Gosh, another embarrassing thing I said when I was under the gas. Tell them in the kitchen I really apologize for what I said. I shouldn’t have compared it to horse piss because I honestly never tasted horse piss in my life.’

I spent five days in the hospital all toll. Things were pretty quiet after the operation. The nurses and nurses aides were nice and caring. Dr. Angelique checked in often to see how I was doing, along with the hospital doctor du jour.

There were two physical therapists that worked with me a lot, a young gal and an older woman. The young’un smiled a lot and was content to tie a belt around my chest and we walked around while she held onto the belt in case I fell. The older one at first asked me questions and made me memorize things and tell her later what they were. She liked the fact my brain was functioning; but not as much as I did. If things had gone south on me, could tolerate physical problems, but not mental problems.

Both of the women wanted me to use the walker instead of my cane. I tried to explain that a walker was not the thing for getting around in our house. It has four levels with six or seven steps to navigate to a different level and none of the levels were big enough to warrant a walker.

The younger one understood when I proved to her the stairs were no problem. There were handrails on each one. And she saw for herself when she took me in a ‘gym’ that had a seven stair mockup, which I had no problem going up and down. I explained I could get around walking upright with my cane better than walking hunched over using a walker.

Not so with the older therapist though. She demanded I use the walker instead of the cane. My explanations fell on deaf, stubborn ears. She thought I should go spend a few weeks in a half- way house to rehab before I went home. And I should sell my house and move into a one-level apartment.

Sell our house! Sure someday we will have to do what she says but now is not the time. I began to say something I would probably regret saying. She might insist I had to spend time to a half-way house before she would sign off on me. I bit my tongue and went along with her.

Sure, we would buy a walker. I knew they had them at the Good Will for a nice price. We could sell the house and move into a one-level dwelling. Then I could buy an exercise device. Something small, like maybe a Stair Master. I said I heard they were very good and asked what she thought about them. She agreed.

I wanted to say if that machine is so good to use, why aren’t the stairs in my house any different, but I caught myself in time. Silly ditz!

She stood there smiling while I told her what she wanted to hear. If I told her what I really was going to do she wouldn’t have been smiling.

She gave her okay for me to leave the hospital and didn’t mention anything about wanting me to go to a half-way house for rehab.

Both the hospital doctor and Dr. Angelique gave me the okay to go home on the 5th day. What a relief to go into my son’s car. The walk from the car to the house took a lot out of me, I’ll admit; but I was home. I sat at the kitchen table and drank a cup of coffee while I looked out the French doors.

I watched the rabbits hopping around and the squirrels climbing the trees. The small song birds flitting around. Looked out to the pond and saw wild ducks and geese swimming about. I knew if I stayed there long enough I would see the herd of deer that always came out of the woods and maybe see the flock of wild turkeys. An owl or a hawk would fly in and land on limb and the little birds and critters would hide until the raptor left. If the trees weren’t in the way I would be able to see the Nature Park and Mud Lake across the road. And to think the boss therapist wanted me to sell our little bit of paradise.

I watched JEOPARDY and while I wasn’t as good at it as I was say five years before, I was as good as I was before the fall. I made a request to Gina, would she make some of that green jello to go along with supper.

We both had a lot of doctors’ visits and tests, and Gina had her nose operation coming up, (She came out of it with flying colors. She’s tough. Sweet and loving, but tough.); but what the heck it looked like, thanks to my good doctors, that I was coming out of the fall only a little worse for wear than I was when it happened. Oh yes, I lost a lot of the summer, due to doctor appointments, and living in Minnesota, summers are precious times. Winter is coming and in Minnesota, winters are for the young. And come tomorrow, well… all I can say is:

‘What ever will be, will be.

End Act III. Curtain Closes to the sound of

Doris Day singing


24 thoughts on “THE FALL – ACT III

  1. Oh Don so sorry to hear you had to go through all that but is sounds like you comported yourself like a true stage hand while under medication

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. I’m glad you made it out of the operation safe and that your wife’s nose operation went well too – and what a comfort Dr Angelique and the younger therapist were! No substitute for a good and comforting surgeon with a pair of steady hands.
    Lovely reading about your home and the nature surrounding it too 🙂 so idyllic. Do take care! ❤ Thank you for taking the time to write this and share this with us.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! Your words are so heart warming. No one can tell stories like you! I can’t get that song out of my head now. (And that’s a good thing!)

  4. I thank God everyday you and Gina are in my Jamie’s and grands lives. Thank you for being you!

    Docs, hospitals, set in their old ways docs, etc. etc….esp in Fla. …… lucked out thank heavens and know how to play the game…….

    Sent from my iPad


    • Thank you, Ellie. All of us are so lucky to have Jaimie and the girls in our lives. Oh, and of course Dirk, the baby in our family.
      And we up here have great doctors and nurses. I can’t condemn all the
      doctors in Fla but one screwed up my brother-in-law and he has spent the last six months in a hospital up here and will undergo another colon operation next week.

  5. What an amazing story. It kept sending my mind off on tangential memories. I hadn’t realised you still had further surgery due after the fall, and such serious surgery at that. Writing such a comprehensive account, complete with humorous observations, demonstrates that no damage done to the faculties. Phew.

    I thought of you the other day when I was watching a DVD called Air Combat and one of the episodes was on paratroopers, covering the inception, the German blitzkrieg, d-day, Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, etc. It gave a good understanding of the developments in equipment and technique, the vagaries of landing in the right place, and hopefully all together, and also the use of paratroopers as ground troops when a drop wasn’t possible.

    As for Doris Day. In her later years the only way to communicate with my mother was through singing, and after exhausting my tolerance for Onward Christian Soldiers I began to remember those DD classics, and she’d join in. I knew she was cranky with me if she wouldn’t sing in the right places. She’d growl at me in How Much is That Doggy in the Window, for instance! LOL. We played Que Sera Sera at her funeral. Most of the mourners understood the context.

    • Oh, your story about your mother brought tears to my eyes. A half a globe difference but we all have so much in common.
      Aren’t we lucky to have music and lyrics we can enjoy over and over. Music that reminds us memories we hold on to. Lyrics we can understand. Maybe what passes off as most music today will mean something in years to the fans of it, but….
      You might enjoy a post I wrote a few years back about jumping into Normandy:
      D-DAY BRONZE STAR – June 14 under No Hands category

      • Thank you Don. I’ve now had the chance to read that linked story and have commented there. You will see I found it fascinating and relevant.

        My mother was in full time care for the last 32 years of her very long life. Over that time I saw many other residents in care come and go. One thing I noticed, even those with advanced dementia, the last thing to go is dance (if they can manage) and music. One fellow, who would never wear his clothes the right way around, or keep them done up, would always wear a bow-tie and played the piano divinely. Whenever I complimented him on it he told me to “bugger off”. 🙂

      • Wow, 32 years spent in full time care. How it must have worn on you the rest of the family.
        Love the story of the song and dance man. While he probably had no idea what his talent meant for everyone around him, he certainly provided ‘comic relief’ where it was needed.

      • Thank you for recognising that. My brother and I managed weekly visits, but it did become an endurance test with little reward beyond knowing we had “done the right thing”. And after all that, he only survived her by five years.

        And yes, we certainly needed every little bit of comic relief we could lay our hands on! My brother contributed one, actually. Mum always held an erroneous belief that she had a metal plate in her head from falling off a horse. One day, when she was rambling about it, my brother, in exasperation, asked her if this horse had a name.
        “no name, no name,” mum repeated.
        He paused for a heartbeat, and then he couldn’t help himself – “did you ride through the desert?” he asked. Talk about rolling on the floor laughing.

    • Thanks, Bonny. Your words always helps me to keep writing the blog. As far as the idea of the book is concerned hopefully I haven’t reached the ending. When I do, maybe one of the grandkids will put it all in a book.

  6. I was dolt for Doris! I still love her songs!
    Hell of a struggle Don. You show great courage.
    I’ve had some dreams like that too. I call them Fear Dreams. It’s not easy to turn and face the Beast as you did. But if you’re able, it often goes away. Easy to say.
    I pray you will recover well.

  7. Don as always you have a knack for storytelling but since they were so personal these were very touching. It is a reminder of one’s mortality but also of smelling those Rose’s and taking stock of family. You have lived a rich life, I would have you live it some more.

  8. Not the kind of story I will like you to go through again, but you are great storyteller, and all kinds of things come up, Paratroopers, Doris Day, Cougars, a young Brain surgeon dressed in red not from the rack at Macy’s , and many more occurrences that make you smile, even when you are going through all that hell, that’s courage, and telling things with a great sense of humor, when you are worrying about the worst.

    Thank you Don. 🙂

  9. Thank you for kind words. I guess Charlie Chaplin’s beautiful song SMILE says it best how to confront ‘the worst’. When I am facing fear I sing the lyrics in my mind and my shaking knees beat out the rhythm.

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