Companion to Robert Buchanon’s Story.

1. Medevac


A cobalt sky slowly grows lighter

above the quiet Spanish airport

and the edge of dawn reveals

the silhouette of a Learjet

primed on the tarmac

to receive the stretcher

that supports what I have

suddenly become.  I am dazed

by intravenous Ativan, barely able

to focus on those who hover

with resuscitation gear

in case I code

before I find home,

whatever the cost.   

In the airport, my wife surrounded

with our luggage and many people

who only partly speak her language,

collapses in tears on the floor. 

Botched reservations left her

with no way to get home.

A woman from Japan

reaches out to help.


2.  Spain 


I began dying in Madrid. 

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

We were going to visit the Prado, Toledo,

the Alhambra and dine at sidewalk cafes.

Then my body locked me

in the seizures of a rare disease.

My central nervous system under attack,

I later learned that I could soon be blind and paralyzed.

There is no known cause, no cure.

I fell further and further into the unknown

places in my soul.


3.  Mayo Clinic


The best medical care in the world

kept me stable.  But even after months

of practice with damaged nerves,

I wobbled on unreliable ankles

and knocked over glasses

and furniture. My trembling

hands struggled to turn pages

and I couldn’t feel

where my left leg was.

I was slipping into the private hole

of my dying, isolated

in my anger.


4.  A Year Later at Mayo


The entire afternoon

problem solving, vocabulary, pattern

recognition—things I’m good at.

Then memory.  I am read lists

of twenty words.  I repeat

as many as I can remember.

Drum.  House.  Ocean.  Voice.

Window.  Hand.

I never get more than eight.


5.  At the Care Center


Silence descends at our dinner table as

Samuel approaches with his walker,

a dull aluminum frame with plastic wheels

that click with each of Samuel’s tiny steps,

Samuel with his old beige pants

loose on flattened buttocks,

Samuel, told by doctors he would

always need a wheelchair, who

works doggedly in physical therapy. 

He seems to be a miracle

walking on water without his wheelchair. 

He reaches the table,

      slowly sits with gentle help, 

and quietly weeps.


6.  Loss


I lost my independence

and all that gave me identity.

I lost my ability to travel by myself,

or far from expert medical care.

I lost my youth, becoming an old man overnight.

I became too much to live with. 

I lost my marriage.


7.  Surrender


Eventually, it opens the door

to a different kind of love

where humility is a friend. 

I see there will be time to understand. 

There will be time to reflect

on the sustaining compassion

and generosity that occur in the world.

There will be time throughout my humbling moments

of helplessness for joy, to love

and be loved.


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