Late in the afternoon of Dec. 15 Rafe Mair decided it was time to take a break from moving books out of his downstairs office in the modest Lions Bay condo he shares with his wife Wendy. He climbed the 14 stairs up to the living room that commands a spectacular view of Howe Sound, felt his hand slip off the knob at the top of the banister, pitched backward and fell all the way down to the foot of the staircase.
When Rafe came to, he was being wheeled into an ambulance that would rush him to Lions Gate hospital in North Vancouver. There, doctors discovered he'd fractured his seventh cervical vertebra and that he believed he was trapped in an elevator on an ocean liner (a delusion sparked by the fact that Rafe and Wendy had been scheduled to depart soon on a cruise, now obviously moot).
A few days before Christmas I visited Rafe at the hospital, finding him lying in bed fitted with a plastic neck brace. Either that contraption or the various meds pumped into Rafe kept him from making utterances I could much understand. I squeezed his hand. Clearly one of the B.C.'s most seasoned and popular columnists wasn't going to be filing any time soon.
'Bored as hell'
On Saturday, six weeks after his accident, I visited Rafe again, this time in his home, where he showed all the signs of a well-progressing recovery. He was funny. He was irascible. He was Rafe. Not quite ready to begin writing columns again. But ready to give his fans an account of his absence.
He was full of praise for the nurses and doctors who pulled him through, reserving his greatest thanks for the ever-supportive Wendy.
He was unyielding in his damnation of the hospital food ("inedible") and visibly flinched as he declared, "I was bored as hell. Never been so bored in my life." Poked, prodded and stuck in such unfamiliar surroundings, he was not able to focus on books and was cut off from political scuttlebutt. The gentleman in the next bed who looked so friendly turned out to speak German and pretty much nothing else.
Last Thursday, having secured the permission of the hospital authorities, Rafe checked himself out of Lions Gate, hailing a taxi even though, as he put it, "I didn't have a sous." He hadn't informed Wendy either. Upon arrival home he borrowed 90 dollars from a neighbour to pay the driver, and when Wendy came through the door a bit later she was happily startled to see him back home.
Act his age?
What has this hellish interlude taught Rafe?
"I hate to admit it but I'm 82, and you have to expect these things to happen. I don't feel 82 and that's my problem. If I did feel 82, I'd probably act like it, and then I'd get better faster."
He says this as he sits at his computer like a batter in the on-deck circle, taking imaginary cuts but not ready yet to step into the box. Among the books stacked on the edge of his hutch are a biography of Lawrence of Arabia and an autobiography of Bobby Orr.
Rafe's number one job now is to gather his strength. I asked him if he had anything to say to The Tyee's readers. "The truth is, I miss writing. I miss writing very much. I miss writing for you, very much," he said. And he warned that no one should count him out. He will be back in The Tyee's pages as soon as the body heals and the muse again descends.
Rafe and Wendy are planning a cruise to the South Seas, departing on Valentine's Day. If you'd like to send him an early Valentine, or just a get well note, post a comment below.
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