Halfway Between

Last night or early this morning, several times when I was halfway between sleep and waking, I thought I heard the rumble of distant thunder. But the sky remains too dark to see storm clouds—if, in fact, they are present—even though pink and orange hues creep up into the southeastern horizon, shedding a little light on the edge of the morning.

If I wait a minute or two, the speed of the sunrise will provide an answer to my questions about the state of the sky; I’m impatient, though, so I write my thoughts without bothering to turn to look. Some days—today is one of them—I am too wrapped up in thought to simply observe the world around me. I make assumptions based on flimsy evidence, failing to use my powers of observation to verify or negate my theories. It occurs to me that almost all of us do that. We confuse opinions with facts, beliefs with unverified conclusions; when confronted with reality opposed to our positions, we bend and stretch our sensibilities to mirror our desired evidence. We create alternate environments; the sort of dimensions in which the properties of gravity and light obey our rules, not the laws of nature.

I would like to control reality. I want to bend steel with my mind. Restore strengths with my wishes. Cure illness with a sweep of my hand. Cleanse the air and water of pollutants with a nod of my head. Restore civility to public discourse with a glance. Eliminate poverty by willing it gone. Reality is laden with pain, both physical and mental. Pain cannot be extracted from reality because it is part of it. Like salt dissolved in water, pain becomes impossible to remove without a total transformation; only when the water evaporates can the salt be recaptured, but by then, the water is gone.

The shades on the windows raised, I now see a clear blue sky. No sign of clouds. No remnants of storms that might have produced thunder. So, maybe I was dreaming. Or maybe my thoughts ricocheted inside the emptiness in my skull, their echoes creating the illusion of the sound of thunder, sounds that rattled me partially awake.


I visited my wife again yesterday in ICU. Yesterday was much like the day before. The doctors and nurses still were attempting to get her blood pressure to stay within normal limits without IV medications. Some success, but not enough to warrant moving her to a regular floor of the hospital; she needs more attention and closer monitoring than can be done on the regular floors. I learned that, in addition to hypotension, septic shock, and a urinary tract infection, her heart rhythm was not normal. In addition, I learned that she had Clostridium difficile infection or C.Diff, an intestinal infection she first had while she was in the rehabilitation facility; there is a question as to whether it is not a recurrence, but a continuation, of the infection she had before.  My wife should not have to face all of these health challenges; no one should, though. The nurse told me that infection does not require hospitalization, though, so when the other problems are under control, I should be able to bring her home; I will just have to administer to her even more pills than she takes now (the number I have been giving her each day is approximately twenty).  Ach! I asked her primary care doctor whether the number could be reduced; she said all of the pills are needed to address various issues.

I will go back to the ICU this afternoon at the beginning of visiting hours (unless I learn that she had been moved to a regular floor beforehand, in which case I will go earlier). Assuming I go the ICU, the probability is that I will spend most of my time watching my wife sleep, interrupted only by a short time trying to coax her to eat a fraction of the lunch left on her overbed table. But maybe, like yesterday, I can get her to watch a little television; yesterday, she watched portions of a couple of episodes of Bones. I don’t think I’ve ever watched that show; I found it more entertaining than waiting for my phone to alert me to incoming email.


As usual, my evening last night was spent watching another couple of episodes of Bordertown. My immersion in the Finnish crime drama has prompted me toward a shallow exploration of the city in which the series is set: Lapeenranta (called Villmanstrand, in Swedish), Finland. Lapeenranta, located on the shores of Lake Saimaa (Europe’s fourth largest lake), is less than twenty miles from the Russian border and about 120 miles from St. Petersburg, Russia. The city’s population is roughly 72,000. According to Wikipedia, Lapeenranta is the second most-visited Finnish city, after Helsinki, by Russian tourists. Again according to Wikipedia, the city is the site of Lappeenranta University of Technology and Saimaa University of Applied Sciences which, together have approximately 13,000 students from 68 countries.  I wish I could upload an image of the city’s coat of arms, but WordPress is being uncooperative.

Watching television series and films set in other countries, especially in countries and cities generally unfamiliar to American audiences (at least to me), is an illuminating experience. I think Americans often think of other countries as being less advanced than the U.S.A. when, in fact, many of them are far more advanced in many respects than we are. A relatively small city (compared to most “major” American cities) like Lapeenranta is quite sophisticated and is a hub of commerce and tourism. I gather many shops include signs written in Cyrillic letters to encourage and welcome Russian tourists. The city actually is closer to St. Petersburg than to the capital, Helsinki, by a few miles. I’ve written before (I think) about our one-day excursion into Helsinki, following a conference in Stockholm. We took an overnight cruise ship from Stockholm to Helsinki, spent the day walking around the city, and then took the cruise ship back to Stockholm that night. Another one of our too-quick explorations of distant destinations.


It’s nearing 7:30 and I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee, now cold as ice. Still unshowered and unshaven, I define slovenly. Eventually, I’ll get around to looking and feeling more presentable. But I wonder whether I will feel it. Yesterday, as I was nearing home from my hospital visit, I noticed how brightly colored many of the trees were. And it struck me that even though I noticed their brilliance, they still seemed somewhat dull, as if their brightness and color was not enough. That’s how I feel this morning; even after I shower and shave, I won’t feel clean and fresh and ready for the day. But maybe I can change that dismal attitude if I force myself to think about all the things for which I must be grateful. Yes, I’ll attempt to force the issue and make today worth experiencing.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Halfway Between

  1. Bev, Janine has been extremely tired and not occasionally confused; signs, I am sure, of her infections. The antibiotics, as necessary as they are, can cause problems of their own, resolvable only by the use of other antibiotics that can have additional side effects. Our bodies are incredibly complex organisms that we do not fully understand. In some ways, medicine truly is a “practice” in search of perfection, or some semblance thereof. I am taking reasonably good care of myself, though my eating habits could stand significant improvement. That will come, in time. I hope. 🙂

  2. Bev says:

    Unfortunately, all of these infections – C. diff and UTIs, etc, are a real problem for people with chronic health or autoimmune disorders. They can make someone well and truly ill. It’s good that these have been dx and are being treated. You can’t really get well when you’ve got some kind of systemic infection happening. My mom had a lot of trouble with several infections that are typically found in people who are spending a lot of time in a hospital, or having invasive treatments like kidney dialysis. Fortunately, we were able to knock these back with antibiotics, but they were pretty challenging and were the reason she had to be hospitalized repeatedly (for IV antibiotic treatments). Anyhow, here’s hoping for a good outcome — that the infections can be cleared up. People who have serious infections are usually very tired, often delirious, lack an appetite, and sometimes act in very odd ways. Sending healing thought to Janine. I’m glad you are taking breaks to watch tv, etc.. You need to take care of yourself – eat well, rest, sleep, and really watch out for touching things at hospitals. My brother and I both carried bottles of hand sanitizer around with us and washed our hands so many times when we were anywhere near the hospital that it’s amazing our hands didn’t dissolve and fall off! 🙂

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