Magical Math

Despite my well-worn, grey, pleats near the shoulders, hooded sweatshirt, I was cold in the hospital waiting room. I could see blue sky and sunlight through the windows that looked out into the parking lot. Outside the temperature was in the mid eighties, but my bare legs were covered in goose bumps. I’d rushed out of the house in my running shorts. We’d already been at the hospital for several hours — long enough for the air conditioned chill to reach my bones. I flipped the pages of a food magazine and found myself drawn in by a Farmer’s Market Quiz.

Of course I know what a ramp is! No, a chive is not an onion. Iceberg is the mildest lettuce. Purslane — the weed that’s a delicacy — I wrote about purslane once! 

Here’s one I was stuck on: 

What is the proper name for a fruit that’s a cross between an apricot and a plum?

a.) pluot

b.) aprium

c.) plumcot

d.) apriplums

The answer key on page 65 solved the mystery — e.) all of the above.

1 plum + 1 apricot = 6 different fruits! (plum, apricot, pluot, aprium, plumcot, apriplum)

Zipping my sweatshirt to my chin and rubbing my arms for heat, I thought of an article I’d recently read from Aeon magazine about philosopher David Hume — one particular sentence stuck with me and my mind connected the dots:

So you can prove 2 + 2 = 4 but that tells you nothing about what happens when you put four things together in nature, where they could obliterate each other, multiply or merge into one.

Bending down to double tie my strong willed shoe laces — they frequently untie themselves — I thought more about the conversation I’d just been a part of in the patient’s room. I sat on the stool with wheels — the doctor didn’t need it. A monitor above the bed constantly offered blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen saturation readings. Sometimes it beeped.

Curly black hair, kind face and approachable manner — the respiratory therapist entered and explained that the medication recently administered during the patient’s breathing treatment was a mix of two separate drugs.

“You’d think one plus one equals two,” she said. “But with these medicines combined, you really get three. Combining them creates a third property that makes them even more effective. Make sense? Do you have the power combo for your home inhaler?” she asked.

Despite a pager call and another hospital employee seeking her assistance, the respiratory therapist patiently answered all of our questions. She didn’t leave until she felt we fully understood the equipment, medication, at home strategies and follow-up protocol. And, after a gentle well wish, she was on her way down the corridor to perform magical math with another patient.

When she’d left the room the patient said, “I learned more from her in ten minutes than I did after years of doctor’s visits.”

The respiratory therapist, through her patient efforts, transformed what could have been a simple provider/patient conversation into something bigger. She’d pulled off the magic of 1+1=3. The conversation she made time for effectively eased the patient’s mind — a gift of love and compassion.

I’m now wiggling in my chair, anxious to get up and move a bit. Even though it’s still an unseasonably warm 85 degrees four days later, I have a blanket over my shoulders in our air conditioned house. I get chilly whenever I sit still.

I’ve reached the point in my story where I could use a little help. I always struggle with the ending. Reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield has me consulting my muses again.

Urania, Calliope, Thalia? Can you put down your popcorn and send me a closing thought to end this piece? Please?

Isn’t it obvious, Calliope asks with her mouth full.

Buber — I and Thou, Urania whispers.

Ahh, Martin Buber, the philosopher who wrote I and Thou — a philosophy of relationship — the magical three formed when 1+1 makes room for one more — two together forming a relationship. One plus one equals three.

Yes, that’s it! Thalia winks at me.

They’re right! My curious readers might want to learn about Buber’s philosophy right here.

Magical Math — it’s what I strive for with my words — you, me and our relationship makes three.