Lum: In my parallel universes |

Lum: In my parallel universes

Su Lum

I recently spent seven days at Aspen Valley Hospital with pneumonia. The care is great there, and the people are absolutely wonderful, but I have to say there’s no place like home — home to your own bed, your own comfort food and your own toilet paper.

Sixteen years ago, I took a similar detour to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, where I stayed five times as long and was in at least three times as much trouble with a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome.

While I was in St. Mary’s, my daughters scrambled to find things to keep me entertained. I wasn’t in any shape to read, much less work crossword puzzles or take on challenges of that sort. They rented movies from Blockbuster — that shows how long ago it was. I had come out of nine days of intubation practically deaf, so I was pretty much a Helen Keller patient. Skye and Hillery said they could hear my VCR blasting all the way down the hall.

The most wonderful present they got for me was a small cassette player and some books on tape. I listened to books on tape at home, so I was used to the medium, but I was unfamiliar with the new equipment.

Operating a cassette recorder isn’t rocket science, unless you’re a quivering lump of protoplasm in a bed wrapped up in electrodes, catheters, oxygen masks, oxygen tubing and blood-pressure cuffs, looking like a tangled Slinky toy.

The kids had virtually moved to Grand Junction, but they did have to get some sleep at their hotel, so we’d go through the nightly ritual of getting me all set up with the cassette player.

They put pieces of adhesive on the keys to guide me, and the idea was for me to Braille my way through the night. Cassettes lasted only a half hour per side, less than half what the CDs today can do, and if I ever fell asleep during the first side and woke up the next morning, I don’t remember it.

What I remember was the sudden silence when my cassette stopped. I was listening to “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” a short Sherlock Holmes novel with which I was totally if fractionally engrossed and which was one or two levels above my comprehension level at the time. “Oh, wow, what just happened?”

Of all my time at St. Mary’s, the endless nights stand out, the stopping of the tape, the pushing of the buttons and maybe starting over or maybe reversing or maybe fast-forwarding, so it was all a blended swirl of activity on the moors — always dark on the moors when the adventures occurred — and sometimes I even managed to turn a tape over or put in a new one.

So it was deja vu all over again when I landed in Aspen Valley Hospital with one of my secondary (smaller) radios and a 20-CD book by Stephen King called “Bag of Bones.”

My friend Jack put color-coded tape on the buttons, and the very first time someone came into my room, I turned off the CD and it went back to the beginning. This was only my second night there, and my first impediment to fixing the problem was that I didn’t know how to turn on the lights (and then had to learn to hit the button three times to turn them off).

Once lit, I had to find my reading glasses so I could see my options on the machine, and then my evening’s nurse, a nice guy from Mississippi, came in and showed me the button that would pick up where I left off. In dire straits, you learn quickly.

I thought of the nights on the moors as I lay there for a week trussed up and smothered with oxygen apparatus, listening to King’s tale of drowning murders that were both appropriate and completely distant, just sailing along in another universe, waiting for the dawns.

Su Lum is a longtime local who finds CDs much more manageable than cassettes. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at