Night Flight

I never did get my haircut for Christmas. The past few weeks, things seemed to be going at warp speed. Yesterday, my half-day at the office dragged on past two o’clock, and then there were two admissions, two 60-day reviews and several sick visits at the nursing home to take care of.

The week was interspersed with e-mails from my cousin in Sweden about his father. December 3rd, at my own father’s funeral, R., his youngest brother, sat in his wheelchair in the center isle of the chapel. Afterwards, in the parish hall, he said “next time it will be my turn”. He felt a strange chill, but refused the black knitted throw his wife had brought with her.

Two weeks later, his doctor predicted he would be gone within hours. My cousin’s e-mails brought back memories of my own father’s passing. My father used to call me R., then correct himself when he realized I was his son, not his younger brother. I took it as a compliment, a sign that he sometimes saw me as a member of his own generation.

My uncle lingered on, and my cousin’s e-mails grew more philosophical. My replies contradicted their young doctor’s attempts at predicting the course of life’s biggest mystery.

Day by day, sometimes hour by hour, the messages told the story of my uncle’s changing neurologic condition and his family’s winding journey between extremes of hope and despair but inevitably away from the way things used to be.

As Christmas drew nearer, new snow fell outside while the family’s vigil continued. The e-mails arrived at a steady pace. My uncle’s breathing took on the familiar pattern I had listened to as I sat through long days and nights at my father’s bedside.

When the snowfall stopped and my uncle’s coma deepened, my cousin wrote metaphorically: “Fine flying weather, but no traveler yet.”

My day at work continued; there were so many things to take care of before we closed for the Holiday. Finally I arrived at home some time after seven o’clock with a couple of last-minute grocery items and a stack of Christmas cards from the office.

After a Swiss fondue and some Chianti we tried to watch a Bing Crosby movie, but we both kept nodding off, so we decided to postpone the movie until the next day.

Even though today was a Holiday, we woke up at five. Over coffee in bed I checked my e-mail. My cousin had written:

“The night flight departed at 0330 hours. The traveler disappeared with a broad smile on his face.”

I finished my coffee, got dressed and headed outside toward the barn with warm mash for the horse.

Walking across the yard, dimly lit by the almost full December moon, I paused to listen to the perfect silence of the Christmas Eve morning. I noticed the blinking lights of a small airplane moving across the sky. My eyes suddenly grew moist and I lost sight of the plane.

I thought of my cousin’s metaphor about his father’s passing, remembered my own father’s last breaths, and wondered if the two brothers had hoped to meet again. My father never spoke about what he really believed. 

The chill of the early morning crept inside my leather jacket and I hurried to get inside the barn door.

2 Responses to “Night Flight”

  1. 1 Laurie December 26, 2010 at 12:18 am

    U. linked me to your site. I’m sorry to hear of R’s passing and, belatedly, of L’s. This time of year seems fraught with news of transitions. Be well.

  2. 2 mmwm December 26, 2010 at 1:37 am

    Very nice. Thanks for sharing this. And condolences on the loss of your father. Mine died in February 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Osler said “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis”. Duvefelt says “Listen to your patient, he is telling you what kind of doctor he needs you to be”.


CONDITIONS, Chapter 1: An Old, New Diagnosis

Top 25 Doctor Blogs Award

Doctor Blogs

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


contact @
Bookmark and Share
© A Country Doctor Writes, LLC 2008-2022 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given.

%d bloggers like this: