“Best of all he loved the fall. The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods, leaves floating on the trout streams, and above the hills the high blue windless skies. ... Now he will be a part of them forever.”
—Ernest Hemingway Trail Creek memorial, Sun Valley, Idaho
I realized Bruun’s Fall 2019 was fiendishly derailed upon gaining consciousness in an Intensive Care Unit the Monday after the One Fly.
A solo benefit of this trainwreck was time to digest the bountiful joys of this long anticipated luxury season — September to November — while plumped on a labyrinth of St. John’s Medical Center’s pillows further softening a magical electronic bed.
While fretting I became adept at reporting variations of “5 to 9” to caring nurses persistently seeking 1-to-10 pain estimates. Revolving doses of popular opioids eased aches in my tormented midsection. Despite widespread addictive controversies and these pills’ terminal constipation factors, such weapons-grade meds helped immensely.
Early on I couldn’t quiet my mind from all I would miss: the Dry Creek Tackle Invitational Smallmouth contest in southern Idaho, long-awaited low water, fly rod trout days made for delicate tippets, soft glass and bamboo rods as well as feeding streamers on shooting heads to big browns and lake trout in their distinctive lairs.
Further blotted from October’s calendar was the carefully planned Orofino, Idaho-Jeff Jarrett safari. Jean had previously guided with Jeff in Alaska, so we were eager for this reunion to chase his pet gargantuan smallmouth bass of Dworshak Reservoir.
Finally, successful surgery from the gifted hands of Dr. Michael Rosenberg that unraveled my unusual case of a burst tortured and tumored spleen, thoroughly picadored a two-week Rio Negro trophy Brazilian peacock bass gig with Jean’s brother, Michael Williams. What’s worse is while Jean, Michael and their handpicked guests smote furious peacock fly and lure attacks from Nomadic Waters’ skiffs towed by a new luxury live-aboard mother ship, Bruun will be left bumbling around home, alone!
Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Not even the joys of lowering and raising my legs, middle and head to less painfully exit Room 110’s mechanical bed, could cheer me after this fall’s lost highway.
That’s about when a revolving physical therapy team (Steven and Anna) and my vigilant nursing pals and assistants (Naomi and Emily) barged in, booted my pity party and Lombardi-ed me into action.
“Time to walk buster. Dr. Rosenberg wants you up and moving. So which way from the door are we heading: right or left?” they barked.
Supported by a sturdy knit safety strap fastened around my upper chest (the only spot without a fresh top-to-bottom scar) and a second backwards “rear exposure-proofing” gown, I began plodding St. John’s halls. It had to be hysterical to others viewing these folks “walking” an aging lug of my size along like a big clumsy dog. At least I recognized that it looked pretty funny. But everyone was so positive that my pain and awkwardness faded magically.
Upon reaching the panoramic window configuration looking north to the Teton Range hovering above a gloriously golden National Elk Refuge, emotion took over. That breathtaking Jackson view instantly relayed that St. John’s marvelous staff had skillfully and unselfishly helped Bruun dodge a potentially fatal surgical affliction bullet.
And this wasn’t even the first time!
Why it was only back in Y2K while fishing and exploring Australia’s Coral Sea and New Zealand’s brown trout on the South Island that blood began appearing where it wasn’t authorized. When the discomfort didn’t slow by minimizing intakes of first-class Bundaberg Rum, I handed the problem to then Teton Internal Medicine’s Dr. Dennis Butcher upon my Jackson return.
In concert with urologist Dr. Phil Lowe, there were X-rays, scans, kidney tests and blood exams diagnosing little. “Got one more test,” Dennis said, aiming me to the St. John’s Outpatient Clinic.
Then it got strange. I awoke wrapped in sheets decorated with my very own blood as I sailed past hospital room doors. “Here we are,” the nurse propulsionists declared as we wheeled into my hospital room decorated by a traditional, infinitesimally slow-clicking minute hand wall clock. That’s when I noticed a hawser-sized yellow catheter tube connecting me to an unknown location under the bed.
“You’ve got bladder cancer,” Dr. Butcher declared. Dr. Lowe assured me that my condition required some detailed work but would turn out just fine. Dr. Menolascino cheerfully popped in to say, “Don’t worry about it Paul, we’ve got this one,” and vanished.
By the hour I peered at that wall clock minute hand. Tedious lonesome moments confirmed a landmark decision: No more spit tobacco.
Thereafter St. John’s oncology angel Judy Basye and Dr. Lowe kicked off my bladder repair and prevention program that flourishes today.
Perhaps my most dire St. John’s episode came in the late 1980s, the result of a planned bonefishing trip to Christmas Island, a secretive South Pacific atoll getaway three B-737 hours from Hawaii.
We left early for Hawaii so Ralph Headrick, my South Fork Skiff-building partner, could surf before the fishing gig. I wasn’t feeling well and failed to improve. The Christmas Island charter flight was a day late, enough time for Dr. Butcher (again) to discover I had pneumonia.
I remember nothing of the Honolulu-Jackson return flights. Scott Sanchez sped me from the airport to head ER nurse Sandy Dennis’ waiting emergency St. John’s staff. A week later Sandy explained at my bedside: “If the plane hadn’t been late you wouldn’t have come home alive from Christmas Island. I’ve also never seen anyone your color that lived. So, congratulations!” Thanks, Sandy!
In 1973 I began as Jackson Hole Guide editor and I didn’t get off on the best foot with Bob Ranck, then Teton County Attorney (later first district judge). Coincidentally we discovered our shared distaste with a mutual foe, publishers James and John Knight. Ranck and the Knight’s Detroit Free Press had become crossways during his FBI agent stint in that city. My dad’s newspaper career in Miami had several unfriendly path collisions with the Knights’ Miami Herald.
Bob said something that’s stuck with me ever since our 1973 meeting.
“In June 1969 Beverly Knight fell 200 feet while climbing in Lewis River Canyon. She was the 18-year-old daughter of James Knight, chairman and president of Knight Newspapers. And as little as I cared for the Knights, I was very proud that our St. John’s Hospital was there to save her life.” Ranck was then president of the hospital board.
I’ve always agreed with the late judge about the miracles of St. John’s.
It’s true even more today as this writer simply wouldn’t be here to enjoy fall without our hospital and its superb resource of people.