Thanks to a kind-hearted, quick-witted nurse in New York-Presbyterian’s cardio-thoracic ICU, I was able to see and speak to Mrs. T via Skype on Sunday night. That sentence really ought by all rights to end with an exclamation point, for it was the first time I’d laid eyes on her, virtually or in the flesh, since last weekend. The experience of seeing her face on the screen of my MacBook Air was overwhelming, so much so that I had to bite a good-sized hole in my tongue to keep from bursting out in tears (something of which she would have disapproved, Mrs. T being a bred-in-the-bone New England girl).
She didn’t talk back to me, of course: Mrs. T has two ventilator tubes in her nose and a tracheostomy in her neck. She did, however, blink “appropriately“ (that’s nurse-speak) when I asked if she could see and hear me. The nurse warned me that she becomes really tired at the end of the day, so I kept our “conversation“ short and to the point. I tried to tell her a bit about the coronavirus pandemic—she was in a medically induced coma from March 1 until last Friday—and explained that because of it, the hospital is now closed to all visitors, spouses included. I assured her that I was checking twice each day by phone on her condition and keeping her family and friends up to date on the latest developments, adding that thousands of people all over the world were pulling for her. I promised that we’d go back to Sanibel Island as soon as she was ready and told her that I loved her more than anything in the world, then hung up, drained and stunned and very, very happy.
Not only is Mrs. T well on her way toward full consciousness, but she’s making solid progress on all other fronts. All her vital signs are favorable. The nurses turned her ventilator down to the lowest possible setting this afternoon to give her a chance to exercise her new lungs, and she breathed more or less on her own for a half-hour. She looks pale, puffy, and wan—so would you—but to my eyes she was as beautiful as she was on the night when, fifteen years ago, I fell in love with her at first sight.I wish I could have played some music for her. Had I been able to do so, I would have played Music, Awake!, the anthem for chorus and orchestra that Paul Moravec and I wrote four years ago to celebrate our good friend John Sinclair’s twenty-fifth anniversary as the artistic director of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, Florida. By that time, Mrs. T’s doctors had grounded her, and she was unable to fly down to Winter Park for the premiere—the first of my premieres, though not the last, that she had to miss because of her illness. (It never did get any easier for either of us.)
Inspired by the climactic transformation scene of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, a play that Paul and I both love, Music, Awake! is an ode to the magical, life-changing power of music, though I also had Mrs. T’s own indomitable courage in mind when I wrote this stanza:
Teach us songs whose melodies
Inspire us to be brave,
Require us to be bold,
Command our souls.
Let every note ascend,
Let every phrase ring out
With certitude and power
In the darkest hour.
Mere days ago I feared that my brave companion might never awaken from her drugged sleep. But seeing and speaking to her has inspired me to try to be as brave, as all of us will need to be in the weeks and months that lie ahead of us. So long as she is awake and aware, I know I’ll be able to cope with whatever is to come.
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To learn more about her rare illness, go here.
To find out how to become an organ donor, go here.
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Music, Awake!, composed by Paul Moravec and performed by John Sinclair and the Bach Festival Society Chorus and Orchestra, with Amanda Pabyan, Margaret Lattimore, Robert Breault, and Kevin Deas. The text is by me: