On a Friday night, I stood on the front porch waiting for a peek at the sky. It was raining and it was going to rain. I was keeping company with a case of bronchitis. At some point, the frog-strangling rain told me I would not see the sky that night.
I scanned the blackness in search of my favorite constellations. Neither the large bear nor his little brother would show in the Northern skies. Standing hip to hip with my psychopathic inner gambler, I decided to pitch it all in. I bet the full ten dollars.
Sounded like a bad dream. I drove my truck to a friend’s house. The dream did not improve. I rang the doorbell. She commanded me to come in out of the rain. Too late. My bronchitis was already cooking. The bug had taken control of my body and I breathed in little “woofs.”
Come in, she said. “Woof, woof, woof,” I replied. There was not enough oxygen in a dozen of those little woofs to fill my lungs.
I remember thinking bronchitis was the disease that made state Fish and Game officials go crazy and shoot buffalo. Thought was heavy lifting for a fever-muddled brain.
Native Americans might have hunted them on occasion. Hugh Glass was pure Scot, but when his hunting mates left him for dead after a grizzly attack, he built a spear, killed a buffalo and crawled more than 300 miles to receive help.
Glass managed to slay the grizzly (Old Ephraim) with help from his trapping partners, Charles Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger, a couple of rookies assigned to guard Glass until death took him or help arrived. The young trappers spooked and left Glass behind. Later the pair claimed they were driven from guarding Glass by an Indian attack.
Medical personnel take great interest in me when I show up at an emergency room. They poke, pinch, check my oil, measure my blood pressure. They attack with hydraulics, pneumatics, sharp steel and little rubber hammers. They plug me into a half-dozen monitors that report my vital signs in the form of little mountain ranges that march across the screen.
I have no idea what all this means; I only know that if the mountains go flat, I probably won’t notice.
A half-dozen white coats huddled around one of the larger monitors like good old boys circling a dead Chevy engine. One or another would jaw, point at some detail on the screen with a pen and jaw again – as if to say, “Try ’er now.” None looked at me.
At last the huddle dissolved, and the emergency room doctor came to the stainless steel table where I was on display in a backless garment.
The doc led with the good news. The gang was afraid I had pneumonia. They decided I did not.
The doctor closed with the bad news. I had, he said, “triple A.” Triple A is a doctor’s pet name for “abdominal aortic aneurism.”
The aorta is our main artery. It rises from the heart and curves downward to distribute blood to the main arteries serving the arms, legs, torso, etc.
Imagine a bicycle inner tube a bit more than an inch in diameter. Imagine a teen trying to inflate this bladder. He applies an air hose and overfills the tube. The tube bulges in response. The bulge/aneurism thins and is liable to burst at any moment. If it does, the owner can die in 15 to 30 seconds.
Fitzgerald and Bridger weren’t kidding about the Indians. Indians were everywhere – hiding in the chokecherries, climbing cottonwoods and digging holes in a sandbar.
Glass hung around camp for a few days to heal, then set out on his hands and knees for Fort Big Horn, 350 miles distant.
There he found the two young men who had abandoned him – Bridger and Fitzgerald. He had threatened to kill both, but never did.
The Triple A threatened to kill me, but surgeons at Billings Clinic repaired it and it didn’t. Woof. Woof.