Thursday, January 12, 2006 | This week has become a series of moments in heaven.

It began Tuesday morning. My sleepy wife, Karen, brought me a cup of coffee into the living room, where I was ensconced in my recliner beneath lamplight. Outside, the gray sky of early dawn was changing to intermediate blue, fading out the overnight sparkle of the downtown skyline in the distance. Puppies, let out for their morning rounds, trotted about the patio, scanning with noses down. A breeze played a light tune in the wind chimes.

The mug was warm in my hands. Steam swirled out. I lifted and sipped. In an instant, the warmth and taste had filled my body, down to my toes.

“Man,” I sighed. “This is heaven.”

It continued an hour later. I had maneuvered, with my still-awkward walker, into the hallway bathroom, accomplished my business, emptied my plastic hospital urinal of its overnight usage, and maneuvered back into the kitchen, and I immediately walkered toward Karen.

“I need a hug,” I said, and we shared one, our first stand-up hug since last Thursday, when we left the house at 5:30 a.m. for the hospital. I held her tight. My lips were next to her ear.

“This is heaven,” they said.

Next came C-Span. I had already been through the newspapers and was looking for distraction. After hip replacement surgery, you have to choose a spot in your house as personal headquarters because, by and large, you’re stuck there. When you’re stuck there, a little bit of “Today,” and “Robert Montgomery Day on TCM” go a long way. But there was C-Span, and the Alito confirmation hearings, and it was interesting!

“This is heaven,” I said. Four moments of heaven in about two hours. I jotted down a few notes.

Then there was the birdsong. I was in the back bathroom, windows open, shaving. Outside, a sparrow struck it up. His song, and the skritch of my razor, were the only sounds in the room. I compared the sparrow’s melody instantly to the previous four days of hospital room beeps and breeps and buzzes.

I thought: what about equipping the IV monitors and scanning machines and pressure readers with notes of birdsong? Bring the outside inside? No, I thought, so instantly reviled that I almost cut myself. That would be the murder of something precious. That would be, as Scout Finch realized, like killing the mockingbird, and not only that, but feeding it to a machine.

These moments of heaven this week are not born of comparison. The comparison – hospital room vs. living room – is there, sure, and completely obvious. Too obvious, to become a moment from heaven. That feeling rises from a deeper, fundamental knowledge that you have escaped from the machine.

You don’t go to a hospital to get well. You go to get something fixed, and with me, the hospital did a good job. Then you go home to get well.

That was never easy. Hospitals have always made you sick. Always, there are both the condition, and the treatment, to be survived. I will be several months, recovering not from arthritis, but from hip surgery. Antibiotics and pain pills make you sick. They are necessary for the sick, but unhealthy for the well. Hospitals have also become systems, whose pressure the patient and the family can feel, constantly. The system requires all subjects – both employees and customers – or in this case, providers and patients – to serve the system first and the situation second.

It is a business model – similar to IKEA – born of business needs, in which there is very little room for souls to connect. At IKEA, the temple of the impersonal, there is no need for such connection. At the hospital, there is that need, existing naturally among humans, who instinctively want to help each other. We tried, my providers and I, in my four days there, and on some level we succeeded. But whenever the decision was between soul and system, the system ruled. We were all simply humans, captives in the machine for the day, patiently, and finally wearily, looking for our moment to escape. I have my nice new hip, and I don’t have to go back any time soon. And that, my friend, is heaven.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.

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