Morning Sun
  • TRUE STORIES: Appointments with Bill

  • Brother Bill and I have been spending a lot more time together lately due to visits to his doctor’s office as well as Via Christi Medical Center to treat the swelling in his lower leg.

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  • Brother Bill and I have been spending a lot more time together lately due to visits to his doctor’s office as well as Via Christi Medical Center to treat the swelling in his lower leg.
    Following an initial trip to E.R., we began a series of appointments to Dr. Carlson’s office and the hospital’s wound care department to apply and remove a series of Unna Boots.
    Though “Unna Boot” might sound like latest Italian leather footwear handcrafted by an artisan named Guido for GUCCI, it’s not. In fact, it isn’t a boot in the traditional sense at all, but a medicated compress wrapped foot-to-knee around the lower leg to reduce inflammation and swelling. What’s more, its creator wasn’t an Italian, but a German doctor with the last name Unna.
    Regular readers of this column will likely remember a piece I wrote back in December in which I disclosed that Bill loves hospitals and went on to tell how he brought some spiritual light to each procedure on the visit to the emergency room that set this all in motion; from the nurse’s initial questions to the doctor’s examination to the blood draw to the ultrasound to the diagnosis and discharge.
    Which is to say, Bill was in what Franciscan Monk and author Richard Rohr calls “The Naked Now” all the while we were there; truly present to the moment without judgment or fear. It’s a state of contemplative joy I visit from time to time but have difficulty maintaining.
    Most days we start with a sing-a-long in the bathroom when I’m helping him get cleaned up and ready to head out to our appointment. “Amazing Grace” is one of our favorites; also the Latin “Ave Maria,” which we learned by listening repeatedly to a recording by the great Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti.
    Once in my Pathfinder I turn on the CD player and we sing along with everyone from Joe Nepote and Johnnie Zibert … to Elvis … to The Beatles … to Willie Nelson … to James Brown. “He’s the Godfather of Soul!” Bill most times proclaims as “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” comes on.
    In between songs we talk about adventures we’ve been on together – mostly family gatherings like reunions, holidays, weddings and funerals. Sometimes vacations to Hawaii to visit brother Steve — who lived there for 20 years — which brings forth twinkle-eyed giggles when remembering Steve’s parrot, Namu, who perfectly mimicked aunt Doris Stelle’s hacking smoker’s cough and could summon the U.S. Calvary by blowing the bugle charge learned from old TV westerns.
    As we’re getting out of the car at the hospital Bill many times recalls, with a sigh, our dad and the fact that he died there in 2007, calling him “my friend, John Knoll.”
    Page 2 of 2 - The walk across the parking lot, up the hall to the elevator and around the corner to the wound care area is unhurried — owing in small part to his leg and large part to his natural monk-like, easy-going gait that allows him to look around and take in the whole scene. This often includes stops to point out photographs of different doctors on staff and a picture of grandpa Matt as an adolescent coal miner in the Mt. Carmel historical mural.
    Lately we’ve also been something of a two-man flashmob as we sing along with tunes playing on my iPad. Hearing polka accordion music and the two of us singing “Just because you think you’re so pretty. Just because you think you’re so hot” as we saunter along the hall invariably brings smiles to those we pass.
    The wound care clinic is a congenial place where Amy does the scheduling and nurses Jene and Tammy are the Unna Bootmasters. Last week, as Jene was finishing up, Bill asked for “Theme From A Summer Place” on my iPad so I found a version by Percy Faith and hit play. A few bars in. Bill hitched and teared up which brought a special feeling to the treatment room.
    When we pull back into his driveway Bill says every time, “You gotta’ go to back to work.” It’s a combination of a question and statement that has a certain poignancy. “Yes,” I reply. “I have to go back to work.”
    I drive to work most days thinking that these appointments with Bill are an absorbing errand that are not without difficulty, as they require fitting him into my schedule of job requirements, e-mails and family life, but also that they provide me something in a quiet, yet substantial, way.
    As the writer Janna Malamud Smith says, “We cannot both give ourselves over to a process and preserve ourselves from the way our choice alters us.”
    Appointments with Bill offer me another way of being in the world — one in which I get out of myself and bear up my life with him in way that does not require words.
    One that says that, although I control little and my life has its disappointments, trivial demands, and grief, I can shape my life in small but essential ways by giving myself over to what comes.
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net

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