On Day Six I played the Bolero



Play the Bolero. Faintly, almost inaudibly, there is the rattle of a little drum by itself for a few bars. Listen, listen, listen.

The drum is a herald. Something mighty is approaching. The orchestra launches into that strange, repetitive swirling melody. The music grows, repeating over and over, louder, nearer, dominating everything. The drum is overridden.

I noticed, but did not heed, a warning drum, was it three years before day one? No, four, five, perhaps more? The exciting melodies of life absorbed me. Wife and family, profession, lectures, tutorials, arguments, papers at conferences, articles and books read and written.

There was another kind of glorious music: a great game in the sky, soaring. Wedge tailed Eagles were my companions in rising air. I aged, but this glorious symphony is played by young and old on equal terms. The more experienced, the more artful a player becomes. Old birds fly for ever.

The drum was so faint it was easily ignored.

Twinges in my left arm. A trapped nerve in the neck, an old injury, sustained more than fifty years before. It had been so for years. Ignore it. I am not sick.

The life music became discordant and painful. Jean, my wife, was suddenly found to be incurably ill, requiring more and more care as months passed. I must not be sick, there is not time.

Jean’s music was fading.



In the awful silence, the sorrow and all the miserable business of death, the funeral, the notifications, the signatures, the drum could not be missed. There was sometimes a slight tightness in the chest. Walking up the gentle gradient from the supermarket with heavy bags began to seem difficult. My daughters noticed I was becoming reluctant to climb stairs. What did they expect? I was not sick, just old, tired and sad.


The doctors would smile and tell me it was all imagination. A fuss about nothing.


No smiles. They gave me a little red bottle to spray fluid under my tongue. I never needed it and regularly forgot to have it with me.

No improvement. Well, a quick fix, a stent, they suggested, would have me walking freely after a day or two. I had friends who had that done. The fine catheter entered my groin and was guided through the vessels to the heart.

I can’t do it, said the surgeon.

An intravenous ultrasound scan. This time the catheter entered through my arm. I could see for myself on the screen, now. The doubtful arteries were ninety-seven percent blocked at a Y junction.

It would be best for you not to go home today.

I had come, all unprepared, close to the end of my personal dance.

A triple by -pass without delay.


Day Zero

Totally lost.

Day one was the worst time. Struggling to breathe. Oxygen hissing. Oxygen. Must be above 10000 feet? Don’t remember taking off.

Let the machine do the work.

What does she mean? What machine?

Let the machine do the work.

What work?


You are doing that, You did that! You did that!

What did I do? What have I done? Was it my fault? I’m sorry.

Well done, well done! You did it!

Get this thing off my mouth! Vomiting.

Good, you needed to be rid of that. Well done.

Someone coughing and coughing nearby. Not me. Someone else.



Awake. Immobilized with tubes and wires and needles entering or leaving almost every available orifice in my body, and several entirely new holes made for the occasion.

Day two, sitting up.

Day three, standing.

Day four, walking with a trolley.

Day five, the last of the tubes out, free to walk anywhere.

Day six, the dressings off. The scars, they say, will fade. One runs straight down the middle of my chest, not quite central, held together internally with steel stitches. The other, where they harvested an artery, is in my left forearm from wrist to elbow.

It seems there will be time for more music.

On Day six I played the Bolero.

Listen, listen, listen. Do you hear the drum?

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