Time Stops

I spent forever studying the clock. It seemed like time had nearly stopped. The moments between the ticks of the second hand were agonizingly slow. She asked the difficult questions: the ones that begin with “why.”

A trauma is like a full stop in the middle of the sentence of your life. Neither a pregnant semicolon nor a breathy comma, a trauma is a period. Next comes a long run-on sentence of things to be done and matters to be sorted out; a Faulknerian monstrous birth of roller-coaster highs and lows preys on every moment of your attention. No matter how many times you take the ride, you always stay queasy.

Watching the ticks, I can’t stop calculating several moves in advance. But thinking about the spaces between the moves, I think about how good life has been. Not much drama, just quiet glances and times of looking into each other’s eyes. There isn’t any time for anxiety. In the space between the second-hand moves, I think about the moment described by Wordsworth in “Tintern Abbey,”

In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affectations gently lead us on,—
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

A friend of mine, several years ago, highlighted these lines when he was about to go into open-heart surgery. The procedure involves being “suspended” by lowering your body temperature to a level near death. He was excited by the prospect. I can only think with each tick of the clock that there is a frozen moment in there. There was a time when I looked at those moments and didn’t see joy or harmony. At least I can see those now. Life is better.

Sitting in the surgical waiting room yesterday looking at the display, I knew the procedure underway was much simpler. More like a mechanical job really, screws and plates—maybe I could think of it like the changing of a tire. This hospital is nicely state-of-the art. The abbreviated lines give you an indication of when the patient is done, along with a nice digital display of the time of each stage. When the data on the PC display changes, it shines a little apple symbol. Strange that the apple would signify progress, and that the obviously Microsoft network would use someone else’s trademark. But even before the apple signaled that the surgery was done, the surgeon himself came out to see me. Things are nicer here.

But I’m not a big one for asking “why” these days. I tend to concentrate on “how.” It was comforting to figure out after I got home last night just how good this hospital is. It came as a bit of a surprise when, researching things as I always do, I found out that the lowering of body temperature for open heart surgery was developed in this hospital in 1952. Makes sense in a weird way; if the people up here know about anything, they know about cold.

It was also comforting to figure out that time wasn’t really dragging. The second hand on my clock moves in two-second jumps when the batteries are low. I changed the batteries. Things are much better now. Time isn’t stopping as much.

Her laptop battery should be charged by now so she can use it as a DVD player as she sits her hospital room, and I should go back bringing DVDs and magazines.