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Close Calls

By Christine O'Brien

The doctor told me that I needed surgery immediately. He put my chances of surviving at fifty-fifty. Paul was with me when the doctor came in with his report. As the nurses prepared me for surgery, I called my sisters and my old lover to tell them I loved them. Then I began to sing two songs over and over, my brave songs. One of them is an Incredible String Band tune whose name I never knew:

. . . seasons they change but with gaze unchanging
oh bright-eyed sisters, is it you I see . . .
scattered we were while the long night was raging
but in bright morning converge again.

The other is a traditional Southern folk song:

The lone wild bird in lofty flight
is still with thee nor leaves thy sight.
And I am thine, I rest in thee,
great spirit come and rest in me . . .

I continued singing as the orderlies rolled my gurney to the operating room. I had grown calmer but Paul was fuming. "How can you sing when you may die?" I replied, "Style is everything." They closed the doors, took me to the basement, and parked me in the hall with all the other patients waiting on stretchers. A group of nurses and doctors gathered at the end of the hallway to stare. One asked crossly, "Are you singing?" When I asked if there was some rule against singing, she said there wasn't. I sang as they took me inside and put me on the table. The anesthesiologist said he'd turn on the Musak for me. By then I was so calm it didn't matter.

Now I always suggest brave songs before surgery. I think it's why I survived.

Published in The Sun in April 1992.