“Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.” Aristotle

“So what happened?” The doctor asked. He looked to be no more than fifteen and had a manic yet caring presence. We’d been watching him running in his clogs from one bed to another only minutes before he walked into our cubicle. He seemed to take a lot of time with each patient. But perhaps that was my impatience showing. We’d been sitting in the same spot for nearly an hour.

My dad sat in his undershirt, his dress shirt off. His chest, arms and the top of his head were covered in bruises and bandages. His broken collarbone stuck out in such a way that I could see the fracture without the need for an x-ray. Still the x-ray flashed on the screen behind him, the break confirmed in case I had any doubt.

“I was vacuuming,” my dad replied.

“Well that doesn’t sound too dangerous.”

My dad and I laughed.

So began the story of my father’s fall. A meandering account interrupted by more questions and jokes from the doctor. The doctor’s patience with my dad’s storytelling made us both feel at ease. He seemed to appreciate the story or maybe knew the teller needed to be heard.

Here’s my abridged version: my dad fell nine steps from the top of the back door landing to the basement below, his vacuum cleaner, no doubt bouncing against his body as he hit each step and the railing and the door jam at the bottom. I wasn’t there and he doesn’t remember what happened except that he was vacuuming.

But I see the starkness and helplessness of his fall over and over again in my nightmares. It makes my knees weak to write about it. I’m not sure I’ll ever get the angry gashes on his arms and body out of my head. I wonder every day if his fragile skin will ever heal.  

Overall, my dad is fine now. He’s never complained despite two hospital stays, doctor’s appointments, public health nurse visits and a blood transfusion. At one point he asked me where he got all the bruises.

I see where his failing memory could be an asset.

But my worry never ceases. That will no doubt be the subject of another blog.

After we left the hospital, I told my husband how Dad answered the doctor’s initial question. He laughed. “You’re just like your dad,” he said. “Someone asks you a simple question and you start in one place and tell a long, rambling story before you answer the question.”

I suppose I do. When you care enough, you tell a story. It brings universal meaning to the simplest of questions. And when you care enough, you listen. I learned that growing up too. I had a good teacher. My dad.

Hm, now that I think of it, perhaps the doctor was a storyteller too. He seemed to appreciate the story my dad told and made us both feel better for it.

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