Listening to Whispers

After six nights in ICU, and just after I arrived at the beginning of ICU visiting hours, nurses transferred my wife to a regular floor yesterday afternoon. Her blood pressure had stabilized enough, without the aid of IV medications, for the hospitalist (I assume) to judge her safe to remove from 24/7 close monitoring.

The process of readying her for the transfer was fairly lengthy, involving the removal of heart monitor lead wires from her. It also involved the extraction of a main line (the entry point for multiple IV drip lines) from her neck, among other wires and tubes tethering her to monitoring devices and sources of medication delivery. After she settled into her new—much quieter—room, she was able to order some food and drink, though not precisely what she wanted. Her diet is, for the moment, restricted to pureed foods and thickened liquids. The reason is that the muscles for swallowing have become weakened; until they regain adequate strength, she had a very difficult time chewing and swallowing food. So, for now, she can get roast beef, ham, beef patties, turkey, and other meats, but they are in the form of purees. And her cold tea comes, thickened, in a sealed container in response to the aphagia. I hope that affliction is short-lived.

I stayed with her well beyond my intended departure at 4:30, leaving around 6 or thereabouts. She watched a rather interesting baking competition program on the Food Network, apparently enjoying the efforts of contestants to create complex Christmas cookies and such stuff. We talked a bit, too, though I still have a hard time hearing her, because her voice is so weak.

Last night, as I was watching another episode of Deadwind (I’m taking a break from Bordertown), the land line rang. It was my wife, calling on her cell phone; a truly happy and unexpected event! As far as I know, she has not used her phone at all the entire six days she has been in the hospital (I took it to her a couple of days after her admission to the ICU), so it was a pleasant surprise to hear from her last night. She said she would call me this morning to let me know when she wants me to come visit (regular visiting hours are considerably longer than the hours available for ICU visits). And she wants me to bring some reading materials and her sudoku puzzle book. I hope this sudden burst of energy and interest portends the start of a strong recovery. Crossing my fingers.


The only downside of hospital visits these past six days has been the inability (and lack of energy) to plan nutritious meals for myself. I have not wanted to thaw food that I have neither the time or the energy to prepare when I get home, so I’ve been winging it. The pasta night before last was fine, but otherwise my meals have been either snacks or one-component dinners, like last night (a quick-thawed cube steak cooked rare on the stovetop). Several members of my church had planned a “meal train” which involves preparing and delivering a full meal several times a week, but my wife’s sudden trip to the ICU derailed that train (I should be punished for that) for obvious reasons. People still want to help, but uncertainty about when I will be home, among other things, makes food preparation and delivery impossible to plan. That notwithstanding, I need to get in the habit of organizing quick and simple-to-prepare and nutritious meals for myself. It’s not hard; I just have to get in gear and do it. A single short trip to the grocery store will enable me to get all I need. I think today is the day for that trip. So, it is done; the plan is in place.


One of the episodes of Deadwind last night introduced me to a phrase and a concept I find fascinating. The episode’s title is Whisper of the Stars. The phrase, in the context of the Finnish series, is an awfully macabre one, but its origin is not. A book of the same title, by Janine Scott, addresses the phenomenon. An article from Wall Street International Magazine has this to say about the experience, in relation to an exhibition held in 2014 at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill, London.:

The name of the exhibition, Whisper of the Stars, comes from Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in Eastern Siberia, where the extreme winter cold creates a strange phenomenon. When the temperature drops below the mid minus-50s Celsius, a soft whooshing sound can sometimes be heard, like rice or grain being poured. This noise is caused by the moisture in one’s own exhaled breath turning to ice crystals in the cold dry air. The native Yakut people call this the whisper of the stars.

The phrase, quite apart from the phenomenon it describes, appeals to me. For me, it conjures ideas based not in physical realities but, instead, in magical dimensions beyond my understanding; the idea tests my certainty about the physical world, suggesting a connection between the universe beyond me and the world I see and experience daily. It’s almost mystical, which flies in the face of everything I believe. Odd, that.


The word “whisper” has an odd appeal to me. I use it in such different ways, depending on context, but no matter the context, it has an inexplicable magnetism about it. Different words have had that same allure for me over the years. The words change; their draw ebbs and flows, but certain words seem to have an unusual charisma for me for a time. Eventually, their attraction fades, but for a while they occupy my mind and capture my attention in ways I cannot explain. I just find them attractive and thought-provoking. Whisper is such a word, for now. I’ll reserve the word to serve as a character name for a piece of fiction I will write one day. Whisper Kneeblood, perhaps. A relative of Calypso Kneeblood, the man I model after the man I sometimes wish I were. Maybe. Maybe not.


Though I did not wake up as early this morning as I did yesterday, I was awake long before I got out of bed at 5, though “awake” might be stretching it; I was between dreams and fantasies and wakefulness. I distinctly remember noticing that I had left the light on in the master bedroom closet; I distinctly saw a shaft of light spilling from the vertical gap between the door and the frame. But when I actually got out of bed, intending to go turn out the light, the closet was dark. I flipped the switch to make sure the light had not burned out; it came on. The light had not been on, but I saw it quite clearly in my threshold consciousness. But, obviously, I did not see it at all. One’s mind can play convincing tricks on itself.


Again, I wish I had made congee last night. I will add that to my to-do list for this evening; I hope to pay attention to it. I already feel the satisfaction of having a nice warm bowl of congee in t he morning. I’ll flavor it with ground pork, fried shallots, green onions, soy sauce, Sambal Oleek, and over-the-top amounts of freshly-grated ginger root. I could do it this morning, but I won’t, will I? No, I’ll probably poach an egg, instead. Or maybe soft-boil an egg. If I don’t get in gear, I’ll do nothing of the sort. So, enough finger pumping for this morning. On to tackle the day.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to Listening to Whispers

  1. Bev, Robin, and Meg: Thank you for your kind words and healing thoughts. I appreciate every one of them! And, Bev, I’m glad to know my New American Dictionary of Impoverished Emotions gave you a good laugh! 😉

  2. Bev says:

    It sounds as though things are looking up a bit. Good to hear that Janine is out of ICU. I hope she will gain strength and soon be ready to come home.

  3. robin andrea says:

    It is so good to read that Janine has been moved out of ICU and called you on the phone. Yes! I hope her recovery keeps on and that she will be home soon and in much better health. Thinking of you both.

  4. Meg Koziar says:

    Happy to learn that Janine is doing a bit better. When she’s better, you will be, too, I hope. Hang in there. Virtual Hug, Meg

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