Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Hospital Dream

Something a little more personal tonight. Some thoughts about what went into writing Will's Red Coat and how we got where we are today.

In my sleep, I often return to a night from last April.

The dream comes for me now and then, and I am transported.

In my dream, I am sleeping. Sleeping so deeply it feels like I am floating in a pool of death, black and still. Everything is calm. Then something changes and I'm propelled out of the depths, and I wake up not knowing where I am.

Again, this all takes place in my dream. And while I am still sleeping, I feel like I am opening my eyes.

Where am I?

There is something on my face. I feel like I cannot breathe. I panic and try to pull it off. A nurse appears and takes hold of my hands.

"Tom, it's okay."

Her voice is kindness itself. It is understanding.

I search her face. I have never seen her before. She can tell I am confused.

"You are okay. You have been under for hours."

I try to talk, but there is something over my mouth. I want to breathe.

Again, she holds my hands. "You have to leave it on. You cannot breathe without it."

"Where am I?" Although it doesn't come out like that. It comes out like a moan. The angel nurse understands, though.

"You were moved to ICU."

"I thought I was dead."

After three tries by me, she understands.

"We won't let that happen, but for a little while, we thought you were, too. Something tells me you won't let that happen either, Tom."

That's when I wake up. Always at the same point.

I often find myself back in that dream, in that bright room.

I remember a little more of it each time.

I was fighting for breath and rushed from dialysis when I passed, I'm told. I was out for a very long time, some of it induced by the doctors.

I don't know why I go back there. When I do, I travel across fields of emotions. There are tears and smiles. There is acceptance.

When I learned I had a monstrous breathing machine on to help me; I asked the nurse for my phone.

"You can't call anyone right now, Tom. You need to keep the mask on. It is how you are breathing."

"I don't want to call anyone."

I had to repeat it so she could understand me.

"Then why do you want your phone?"

"I want you to take my picture so I can send it to my friends, so they can see I am okay... and handsome as ever. They worry about me."

She laughed, and I smiled and gave her the thumbs up, but you can't tell from the photo she took.

I don't know why my dreams take me back to this night, but it happens about once a month. They don't frighten me. It's just the opposite. I find a curious comfort when I return. The quiet. The starkness with all that flooding light as I emerge from the depths. There is an understanding that I am alive when maybe I shouldn't be.

I think perhaps I return to that place when asleep because there is no way to comprehend it all when I am awake. In slumber, I can float through it all and pick up a lost piece here and there.

I know there are no answers, although some pretend to know what they cannot possibly. It is all part of a mystery.

The other night, after I finished reading the opening of Will's Red Coat, I pointed out that I wrote it as two different people. The first draft before my extended hospital stay; the second draft much later, when I could finally think straight again.

When considering that strange night when I woke up, and they were emptying my lungs of fluid that was drowning me with a needle longer than any I had ever seen, it felt like I owned all I had ever known but was also starting from an entirely new place.

I would leave the hospital a month after that night and Atticus would leave me twelve days after my return. That's when the dream, or memory, came most often.

When I think of everything that has changed since that May Day when Will arrived, all that living, all that work, the struggle, the growth and joy and surrender, and then the parting, and my almost leaving, followed by Atti's leaving, I realize I'm changed from who I was before it all.

There is much that went into writing Will's Red Coat. There was the old me and the renewed me.

In the moments before we go on stage or in front of a crowded bookstore during each event of our upcoming tour, I will revisit all of this. I'll carry it with me when I stand before everyone. I will think of dear Will, resolute Atticus, and that night I go back to.

I am a charmed man to have experienced so much. I feel wealthy to be able to carry it with me.

In the next few days, our tour will be announced, and it will become even more real. After each event, after all that excitement, when we get back to our hotel room, and I turn out the light, I get the feeling I will say my prayers, and when they are sent off, I'll whisper to Atticus and Will, we did well tonight, my friends. We did well.

I look forward to seeing many of you out on tour during the few weeks we are on the road.

Onward, by all means.


Anonymous said...

I am SO glad you posted this again. I didn't see it last time before it was deleted.


Barbie Perkins-Cooper said...

Thank you for opening your heart and soul once again, Tom Ryan. "ONWARD, by all means!"

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, experiences and insight, it's always touching feeling the hope, loss, empathy, sorrow and joy all spoken so meaningfully within your words.

Mgordonnc said...

Thank you so much Tom for sharing such personal and scary and wonderful thoughts with each of us! Onwards by all means. Love and hugs to you.

Unknown said...

Oh, Tom...this is quite an amazing thing. Thank you for reposting. I didn't see it the first time either. It is deeply stirring. I, again, find myself in tears.

Joan T. said...

We are lucky in some way to have our dreams. Most of them we don't remember but the important ones stay with us and enrich our lives. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and this beautiful dream that gives you peace and calm. I'm so glad you pulled through that terrible illness. Blessings to you and Samwise.

colodreamer said...

I loved this when I read it before...very touching and heart felt...

Colleen said...

Bless your precious heart Tom Ryan. Thanks for you compassionate words, and showing your love for your four legged friends, knowing in that heart that love and contentment is what a heart needs.

Unknown said...

Thank you Tom for sharing your life with us....for sharing Atticus, Will, and now Samwise. I hope your tour will be inspirational for you as much as it will be for those able to hear you speak.

Unknown said...

Thank you Tom for sharing a part of your life with us. I did not see this the first time but so glad you reposted it again. This is truly an amazing story and happy things turned out well. May you and Samwise have blessed dreams.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Tom, for reposting this. In time, may this dream bring you peace & even a deeper understanding of all that has happened in such a short time. Your thoughts & words always make me STOP, think & feel. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Thank you very much for taking that wonderful post from last Tuesday evening and creating a Blog with it. I choked up then and again tonight. The story...the words...both powerful and inspirational. I cannot even begin to imagine what you went through. Sharing your recurring dream with us...very personal...means so much. It just wasn't your time. I believe Will's Red Coat will be even more spectacular and special because of the journey you went through last spring.

VT Labs said...

So looking forward to reading Will's Red Coat! Thank you for what you have shared here. Having followed you from before Will came into your life, it will be enlightening to read and learn more.

Anonymous said...

wow very powerful, thank you for sharing, so moving.

myfurkidsrock said...

Thank you for posting this again. It truly brings tears and smiles. It is both happy and sad. We truly miss little Will and Atticus And they will remain in our hearts forever, but so very glad that Tom fought that hard battle to remain with us. Also, a big hug for Samwise, who brings such joy and learnings each and every day.

Unknown said...

Compassion, caring, empathy... Thank you so much for sharing such an important part of your life.

avsmith84 said...

Tom, thank you. Thank you for many things. Thank you for sharing this story I can only imagine how difficult this all was for you. I work in the Cardiac ICU, and while I've been lucky enough to only understand your story from the perspective of the nurse who gently woke you and reoriented you, I know and understand these moments very well. Thank you for allowing me to love a four legged warrior that I'll forever wish I would have had the chance to meet. Thank you for sharing stories reminding us that although we love our dogs and keep them as our pets we must allow them to be individuals and to do whatever it is that makes them happy. I have recently invited a divine little wheaten terrier into my life and he is all determination and spirit. While it's frustrating because it's my job to keep him safe it is inspiring to watch him relentlessly battle the two feet of snow we got yesterday to feel the wind on his face at the top of the 12 ft snowbanks. I can't help but look at him and see a little bit of Atticus in him... as I'm sure Many of your readers do. Thanks again for a great story and all the love you have for your four legged friends. Hope this tour will bring you to Maine, or that little bookstore in North Conway where I first fell in love with Atticus. Best wishes, Alex & Baxter

Anonymous said...

....and, knowing this, I hope, if I'm lucky to get a ride, may it always be with the top down...

Mrs A said...

the journey continues, thanks for reposting, onwards Tom

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I hope you will let those of us who are not on Facebook know the particulars of your tour.

Thank you,

Unknown said...

Wow, I hadn`t seen it the first time either,beautifully described experience, I can hardly wait for Wills Red Coat to come out, already preordered my copy last fall from so enjoy your posts about Will, Atticus and now Samwise

Anonymous said...

I have taken myself off of Facebook and the only thing I miss is your posts. Visiting the blog was wonderful. I can't begin to tell you how much I enjoy your writings about the dogs and nature. You really have a gift. Thanks for sharing it. I await patiently for my copies of Will's Red Coat. I loved Following Atticus.

Kathy Pass

Anonymous said...

Long time no write, Tom. Just wondering if all is ok. Are you touring
with your book yet? Would love to attend sometime if doable.

Henry said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing :)

Diane Bean Roumeliotis said...

Hi Tom.
So very enjoyable was your book signing last evening. It was great to meet you after following you on Fb for all these years.
Good luck and I know this book is already successful!
Diane Bean Roumeliotis

Lori said...

Hi Tom, I just finished reading Following Atticus, which warmed me to my core, and started reading Will's Red Coat when I realized I needed to come back to the blog. It brings me peace, reading of your adventures with your 4-legged friends, in ways that reading of people's adventures never does. It also always breaks my heart a little, with the losses. I have lost my own little family members and while the memories are there, and the love shared, I can't help but wish I could spend a little more time with them, basking in our closeness. I always felt a peace with them that I don't get from people. I would love to live your life, even though I do have a family. The animals and nature renews me, as I can see it does you. You really are living the best life has to offer. Onward, my friend.

Big Dave said...

Ok, so I received one of the first copies of Will's Red Coat and it took me six months to pick it up to read. I'm a poor excuse for a reader. Of course when I did I never put it down and read it in one day, which for a simple baker is truly amazing. Bless you for being you, for generously sharing your experiences and emotions. The path this book led me on was, and is, incredibly personal, and I am richer for it. I am even more grateful to call you a friend, a man who truly walks in beauty.