We always watch for the big monsters, the malignant melanoma or the airplane crash. The small puddle of water on the kitchen floor was a threat I had never considered.

I was in the living room sweating a seventy-five dollar electric bill when I heard the terrible thump. Mary was finishing some chores in the kitchen before bed, turned too quickly on the wet ceramic floor and lost her balance. When I found her she was face down in a growing puddle of blood.

As I knelt over her I experienced a kind of tunnel vision. The emergency operator was giving me instructions but they may as well have been in Swahili for the attention I devoted to them. Mary's stillness made me fear the worst, that in one minute's carelessness she was gone forever. When I rolled her over a small jet of blood spurted from near her right temple. I put a pillow under her head and pressed a towel over the wound. It had been about three minutes since I heard the thump and she didn't appear to be breathing.

We've all heard the stories about a devoted spouse following his mate into the abyss. A long time couple is separated by death or disease and the remaining mate simply withers away in their absence. In a recent newspaper article I read of an otherwise healthy man falling dead from heart failure hours after hearing of his wife's death in a car accident. At that moment I felt hollow and that my own heart might sputter and stop. I held little doubt that if my Mary was gone I was going in after her.

She was unconscious for the duration of the 911 call and was scaring the hell out of all concerned when the paramedics arrived. They took her to the hospital by ambulance and I followed by car not knowing if she was alive or dead.


Hospitals are different than they were when I was a child. The Hippocratic Oath now hides behind managed health care and the fear of litigation. The doctors reacted with alarm when they removed the first aid gauze and Mary's head spurted like a squirt gun. The blood soiled their clothes and the wall behind them when they jumped out of the way. Rather than moving to stop her bleeding, both went for the intercom to call a surgical team. After a small eternity one returned to cautiously replace the gauze. The doctors were visibly miffed, presumably fearing exposure to AIDS. For a moment I thought that they were going to berate her for the impertinence of her blood vessel.

We spent the rest of the night at the hospital having her coconut scanned for internal bleeding or loose marbles but neither was apparent. My heart sang when Mary joked that they would see cartoons if they gave her a CAT scan. When she was able to name our five pets, in order by size, I felt as though I had won the lottery. She wound up with a lump about the size of a golf ball near her temple but was otherwise no worse for wear and tear.

There's not much room for love at the hospital these days. Doctors and nurses are loathe to assume responsibility for anything and the comforts they offer are mechanical and minimalist. When the doctor told me that Mary should have some Tylenol I asked if they could give her a couple to get her started. Her head was throbbing and we hadn't so much as an aspirin tablet at home. The doctor looked at me as though I was a homeless person asking for the keys to his Porsche.

I explained to them that she was brought to the emergency room almost totally naked and they had to think about it long and hard before they let her go with their scrub pants and bloody gown. I had to remind them that it was February in Minnesota before they would part with a couple of disposable booties for her bare feet. Hospitals have come a long way from the days when they insisted on taking you to your car in a wheel chair. They simply said she could leave, without so much as pointing the way to the exit.

It is far better to avoid the nastiness altogether. We are now more attuned to the tinier catastrophes that wait for the careless. I have little doubt that the asteroid will strike while I'm wiping up a potentially deadly puddle on the bathroom floor but I am ever vigilant. Every day I remind Mary to walk like a duck because ducks rarely tip over. She is very precious to me and for the few moments I thought she was gone, I am forever affected.

For all of our guile and vitamins we are fragile critters and I am left to wonder how people can be so casually cruel to one another. As your bartender, I recommend that you hug your spousal unit like there's no tomorrow. I further recommend that you always walk like a duck.

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