Brains, Heart, and Tomatoes

I’m posting this from the Denver VA Hospital, Ward 4 South, where Richard is spending the next few days. He’s scheduled for brain surgery early Friday morning. His neurosurgery team plans to drill into his skull in order to remove some tissue from the area of his right frontal lobe where they suspect a tumor is growing. If the attending pathologist determines that the tissue sample is indeed tumor, they will remove as much of it as possible right then before patching him up. With luck, they’ll only find the scar from the infection that apparently caused the traumatic swelling in that lobe of his brain (hence the birds and other hallucinations, and his disorienting few days of not recognizing faces). Assuming all goes well and Richard recovers quickly–and there’s no reason to think he won’t, since he’s feeling strong and healthy and clearer than he has in weeks–they’ll spring him on Monday and send us home to resume our lives.


(Fall colors near home.)

We can’t know what will happen on Friday, but I have a feeling that we’re close to closing this scary chapter in our lives. And I want to thank the Denver VA Medical Center, Richard’s neurology docs and medical students, and his neurosurgery team, plus all of the other healthcare professionals who have been involved in his treatment. Without exception, everyone at the VA Medical Center has treated us with courtesy, kindness, and thoughtfulness. They have gone out of their way to provide skilled, knowledgeable, and compassionate care. This is real healthcare, with emphasis on the “care.” And yes, it is run by our government, without rationing or death panels, thank you very much. But enough of that.

Here’s the scene in Richard’s room: He is seated on his hospital bed, cross-legged, reading a scientific paper on the influence of nature on our behavior. (Turns out that time spent observing nature tends us toward being community-minded and generous. Why am I not surprised?) He’s wearing institutional green hospital pajamas, and with his beautifully shaved skull, wire-framed reading glasses, and crossed legs, he looks a bit like Ghandi. I’m in a chair next to the bed with my feet up on the mattress and my computer in my lap. The guy in the next bed has his TV tuned to some tele-evangelist, but we’ve woven a peaceful space around us, so we’re immune to the rant. The weather outside is fall-pretending-to-be-winter cold, with low clouds that can’t decide whether to spit rain or snow.

It’s positively cozy in our cocoon, something most of us don’t usually associate with time spent in a hospital surgical ward, and our ability to make a peaceful space supports my sense that no matter how challenging the situation, we can significantly impact on our experience of it by how we respond.


(Tomatoes from our garden–Romas in the center)

The cozy feeling reminds me of last weekend, during our precious few days at home between trips to the VA. One evening I decided to cook up some of the summer’s crop of Roma tomatoes for the freezer. I also had some leftover red wine and some fresh basil leaves that needed using, so I combined them. The house filled with the smells of sauteing garlic and onion, sweetly simmering tomatoes, and basil, the best of comfort foods in a trying time. Here’s the recipe:

Tomatoes Get Stewed With Red Wine

6 pounds ripe Roma or other cooking tomatoes
2 T olive oil
5 cloves garlic
½ sweet onion
⅓ bottle leftover red wine
1 tsp salt
½ cup fresh basil leaves

Chop tomatoes into about one-inch chunks. (I slice Romas crosswise in thick rounds and then cut the rounds into wedges.) Mince garlic in a food processor and then add onion and pulse until finely chopped. Heat olive oil in a four-quart or larger pan, add garlic and onion and sauté until onion is clear. Add chopped tomatoes and heat gently until simmering. Add red wine and simmer half an hour, then add salt and snip basil leaves into long strips, dropping directly into simmering sauce (I use sharp kitchen scissors for this.) simmer for another five minutes, and then cool.

Use as a pasta sauce, as a base for oven-baking chicken, pork, or fish, or a base for soups–it’s especially good for making lentil soup. Keeps for a year or more if frozen in quart containers.  (Makes about 3 quarts, depending on how fleshy the tomatoes are.)

Tomorrow Richard goes in for brain surgery, something I never would have imagined for him. Today I’m weaving a cocoon of love and tenderness around him, and repeating the prayer that’s been in my mind these past five weeks:

May Richard be healthy.

May Richard be whole.
May Richard be happy.

As I write this out, my heart nudges me to expand that prayer. So here are two more lines:

May we all be healthy, whole, and happy.

May the wonder of this miraculous living Earth touch every single one of us–walking, crawling, flying, swimming, rooted; whatever color, creed, gender, race, culture.

May we all be blessed.