Dim steamers crept across the edge of the sky, the gulls wheeled and circled around the houses, and the night breeze from the ocean chilled to the bone.
But I ordered a hi-fi stereo receiver and powerful headphones that weighed a ton. I listened to new radio stations, and then sat at my IBM selectric, filled with cheap yellow paper, beside the window gazing to the ocean, listening to the foghorn warning the ships passing by. And wrote stories.
But one day I felt bad. Real bad.
By nightfall, I was doubled over with a pain in my guts. I awoke from troubled dozing to find all the covers heaped high, while I shivered with chills. Clearly I was freezing.
I had a thermometer. Puzzled and dim-witted, I checked it twice. It did indeed claim I was running at 104 degrees. Because my mother claimed that brain damage begins at 105, I called a medical emergency number. I described the pains. Appendix, they said. They said to take off the covers, to open the windows, to douse myself with cold water.
Mrs. Douglas, awakened, kindly gave me ice, and I spent the night pacing naked in that high room, in the dark with the cold ocean breeze flowing into the west window and out the east. Now and again I doused myself with ice water. My mind was blown, and I felt not warm but freezing. I felt like a penitent in torment.
In the morning around five, my fever broke, and I slept. A few hours later, my alarm reminded me to hie myself for medical attention. Diagnosis confirmed, into the hospital, and by three o’clock appendix gone.
During the night, I gained a roommate in the next bed, rather an old gentleman, still out from the anaesthetic. The next morning, I spoke to him. He replied briefly, but something was wrong. We fell to conversation. Here’s what had happened:
He was German, very German. In fact had served, a lieutenant at age 22, as communications officer for Rommel, the desert fox. I didn’t ask much of those days, for I knew nothing about the war, and he was preoccupied.
His story emerged. He’d had an operation on the spine. And this morning when he awoke, he was mostly paralyzed, and he was blind. He was waiting for his doctor, but doctor had gone out of town.
Off and on, we talked. We were in limbo, lives in abeyance, entrapped by the body’s failure. How did it turn out? The good news is that doctor did show up, and reassured the lientenant that a temporary swelling had caused the problem, and that it would pass. He would recover from paralysis; he would recover from blindness.
Did he? I think so; he seemed to be recovering when I left. I wish I could describe the flow of conversation, the way it unfolded in dramatic bits and pieces. But I cannot. I was drained and loggy for sleep, and the ache in my belly seemed far more important than the man next door and a war in a desert far away.
Within three days I had healed up, and things were back to normal. I hardly remembered my days in the desert.