DALTON

There are many good things about having a routine. There are fewer decisions to make. There is a comforting predictability to a day or a week. There is some order and structure imposed on an otherwise chaotic world.

Being a creative, free spirit, I used to despise routines, but with age I have grown to depend upon them, and to like them -- most of the time.

Two weeks ago our comfy, cozy routine went out the window. It actually went out the door on a stretcher and was rolled into a waiting ambulance. To be perfectly clear, I was not the one on the stretcher, but nevertheless I felt my life slipping into chaos. In general, I am a patient person. I am used to being the sidekick of the hospitalized patient, and many medical practices and procedures proceed at the pace of a caterpillar with several sore feet. For the past weeks my patience has been taxed to the limit. While waiting, I played games, read books, updated my Facebook status, talked, walked, and worried.

After a couple of days, some new routines and a bit of predictability began to emerge. I became reacquainted with hospital schedules, learned the names of a legion of medical personnel, and discovered a lovely garden in the middle of the medical monolith. But waiting for doctors, test results, surgical results and 50 other crucial and mundane matters made me incredibly weary.

Then, at night, I couldn’t sleep.


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I replayed the day, generated stupid scenarios, and stared at the ceiling. In the dark, quiet house, my sense of hearing became more acute. I heard creaks, and thuds, and squeaks I had never heard before. And of course I heard all the trains that chug up and down the hills in Dalton -- faster downhill toward Pittsfield and slower uphill toward Hinsdale. Sometimes, I thought I could almost count the cars of the ubiquitous freights, but unlike counting sheep, it did not lull me to sleep. I started wondering what the engineer looked like and what was in all those rail cars.

I also turned into a scaredy cat. I locked the doors, as usual, but also closed and bolted all the windows, even though the temperatures were high.

I couldn’t turn on the air conditioner because the sound would mask the noise of an intruder. I’m not 5 anymore, but I was convinced there were monsters lurking in the dark. Not usually a morning person, I was glad to see the dawn because I figured all the black-clad burglars were headed home to sleep.

I didn’t even want to go the grocery store. I made do with the contents of the garden and the fridge. Stopping on the way home at a convenience store for milk was my one concession to shopping. I wasn’t hungry anyway.

It was also weird to ride in the car without talking to anyone. The sound system in my car is mostly unusable, unless you want to hear 10 seconds of a song before the changer opts for another disk, or the radio receiver for another station. Once we tried to align all the radio station pre-sets to the same station, so we could listen to a single broadcast, but there was still that annoying buzzing every 10 seconds as the machine tried to move on to the next signal. As Simon and Garfunkel certainly knew, there is a sound of silence and sometimes it is very loud.

The most soothing sounds were the chirps and tweets of the early birds outside my window, and the gentle creak of the patio chair as I rocked each morning with a cup of hot coffee, bracing myself for another day of a radically altered routine.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.