I’m vividly reminded of one of Peter’s several hospital trips in an ambulance after he fell on the bottom step of our cottage stairs. The situation was serious. In the emergency room Peter’s nausea was so severe he didn’t embrace my touch – the first time ever. Apparently Peter’s whole system had shut down. At one point I counted nine doctors surrounding his bed in a private room where he had been moved as the experts were trying to figure out the mystery. Sitting at a little table in front of a window looking out on tall trees and blue sky. I spontaneously called my literary agent, Carl Brandt. Confiding in him as my confidant, I told him this was a “toughy.” Without a pause Carl chimed in, “Sandie, read your books.”
We live life moving forward. When I look back on the merry month of May I’m astonished by my powerful sense of appreciation for all my great good fortune, the love my daughters showered me with are double rainbows at the end of every little sprinkle of a challenge. They were there for me, helping me heal, and, as is my deep commitment, to celebrate. The story has a silver lining, for the first time in my seventy-seven years I had a serious accident. The very end of April, after going to the musical Hadestown in New York City, I skidded on some greasy debris, fell on my left side into a muddy puddle and broke my hip in two places and cracked my elbow. Ouch.
My mission to go to New York was to attend my granddaughter Cooper’s scientific exhibition at a science fair at her school, St. Alban’s. There was joy in the air even though stormy weather was expected to continue throughout the evening. Upon my arrival in New York the day before, I went to Best Buy and bought an LED gooseneck lamp to allow me to enjoy working at the desk in my hotel room overlooking Central Park South. I remember having a meeting with my editor at Doubleday when I was working on my first book Style for Living: How to Make Where You Live You; Kate Medina looked out at the gloomy heavy rain and turned to me with a smile, “Aren’t we lucky we have our work.”
Happy in my hotel room, I was writing, comforted by the companion of my strong new lamp light, a gardenia candle, and some daffodils from a friend’s garden delivered to me moments before catching a ride to the train station. Ahh. The luxury of privacy, undistracted time to work, with the anticipation of spending the afternoon with my daughter Brooke and Cooper. Because I hadn’t been in the City since just after Christmas, I wore my appropriate clothes for my planned dinner and the theatre with a friend, including a lovely reversible silk coat Peter had given me when we were in Hong Kong. The highlight of my adventure into the unknown two-day, two-night stay in the city I love and have known since 1959, was seeing Cooper in her scientist’s white coat and special goggles as she and her handsome science project partner explained how they were able to create a rainbow in a jar. Don’t ask me, ask the scientists, Cooper and Colin.
The storm was unrelenting. I walked to the restaurant next to the theatre. My friend Mary and I savored sharing black truffle pasta, enjoying the delicious Italian food and attentive service before going to a play based on Greek mythology where the chorus in ancient Greek theatre sang, spoke, and danced in unison. I found all the musical numbers lively, even the opening ones, “Road to Hell,” “A Gathering Storm,” “When the Chips are Down,” and “Gone, I’m Gone.” “Sumptuous, Gorgeous,” “The New York Times review.” The packed theater gave an exuberant standing ovation, wanting more. “Encore, encore.” We were given another song and the performers and audience were joyous, united in the uplifting power of live theater at its best. Mary and I left the theatre, and walked toward 5th Avenue with masses of humanity as all the theatres were getting out and onto the street at the same time. Within the flash of a mini-second my life changed.
In utter shock, two paramedics appeared as if magically, wanting to call an ambulance. There was no way I could have moved from the gutter without their professional help. Mary, bless her heart, is two years younger than her fallen friend but not stronger. In denial, I asked if these kind men could help us get a taxi, and help me in. We’d been headed toward Fifth Avenue to find a taxi, but stuck, fate was kind. An Uber appeared; the driver was empathetic. Once I slowly was able to put my legs in front of me on the cab floor, as we headed down toward my hotel, the shock of my accident began to sink in, but not sufficiently enough to head straight to a hospital.Never budging, I asked the late night doorman if the hotel had a wheelchair – I was staying on the tenth floor. He didn’t think so, but he’d check. I asked for some water; the front desk has bottled water for their guests. Mary inquired again gently, “Don’t you think we should go to a hospital and have you x-rayed?” Oops, suddenly a wheelchair appeared. I was a muddy wreck. I wasn’t wise or especially listening to my body, but I couldn’t envision myself carrying on, going up in the elevator to my room, undressing my layers of silk, putting on pajamas and getting myself safely in bed. I asked the driver to please take us to East 68th Street.
Hotel guest turned patient, from Uber to a stretcher, signed into the emergency wing of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, where Cooper was born, and where Peter had his first of two identical knee surgeries. Friday night live; I was to spend the night in the hallway. The sweetest man x-rayed me, tenderly transferring my fragile body to the cold table, carefully removing my coat jacket and blouse with snaps, hooks, and buttons, unhooking my hot pink bra, all without hurting my body, soul or spirit. A doctor appeared minutes after I was returned to the hallway to show me the x-ray. The left hip was completely broken in two. I would need a hip replacement, considered emergency surgery. Not able to reach my daughter who lives literally ten blocks away, I called my other daughter Alexandra in Hawaii in the middle of the night. Saturday Brooke came to my side. Mary went home to bed. I was told not to eat because I was to have surgery. Dr. William Ricci was on his way. Apparently because of triage, he has to operate on other patients first; my new slot was scheduled for Sunday at noon. After spending a few hours in the recovery room post-op, I was eventually placed in a semi-private room. I hadn’t looked out a window until I left the hospital. Brooke researched where I would go for rehabilitation. I had one request: please select a facility and a specific room with a window. Not only did she discover a place with an excellent reputation for their physical therapy, but she found a room with a window, a cityscape vista, and a ledge to create a garden. Fresh air. The window actually opened.
I have nothing but good feelings and memories of these May days of healing from my hip surgery. When the weather was good, Brooke would wheel me to an Italian restaurant one block north on Third Avenue where we were outside, and I savored my favorite eggplant dish. Across the street a florist packed a sidewalk with geraniums, hydrangea, gardenia topiary trees, lily-of-the-valley, peonies, roses and tulips--all flowers and plants Brooke bought for me at the downtown farmers market soon after my arrival.
My daughter Alexandra appeared with colorful pastel flowered loose-fitting clothes for going to the gym mornings and afternoons. Bed, wheelchair, walker, walks, rest, elevate my legs, gazing at my garden, the sky and clouds, listening to the rain – it was all so perfectly beautiful. I thought of Aristotle as he tried to imagine how men who had spent all their lives in caves, although in luxurious conditions, would respond when given for the first time the chance to behold the sky, clouds, and sea. “Surely,” he writes, “these men would think that gods exist and that all the marvels of the world as their handicraft.”
Alexandra drove me to the cottage, met with my nurse that afternoon, and spent two nights after stocking up on delicious prepared vegetables, wild rice and eggplant dishes, salads, chocolate croissants and fresh fruit. My writing room garden is not downstairs where I am temporarily living until the appropriate time to return to live upstairs again. I’m all new. I’m hip. I feel great. I’m so full of gratitude for all my great good fortune. I am lifted up in a higher lighter awareness of the sheer beauty of springtime in Stonington Village. I was greeted upon arrival by a strikingly handsome red cardinal, the one who has kept me company since the first day of spring. A monarch butterfly came into the kitchen to spread her wings and she stayed long enough for me to gaze at her as I appreciated the fragrant air perfumed by three different lilac branches and lily-of-the-valley.The geraniums are back in the window sills. Brooke and my friend Anne put together a potting shed for our tiny garden. I’m healing, and spending long, quiet hours looking out at the harbor.
June will be busting out all over. I send each of you love and appreciation for our friendship, in whatever form. Onward and upward!