Booked on the Red-Eye to Mass General

My father, who will be 90 next month, is probably reading on his iPhone Kindle app right now in the hospital. I will be there before sunrise.

My father this summer listening to a podcast at Ocean Park, Maine

Dad sounded pretty good on the phone this evening when I reached him in the ER at Mass General Hospital in Boston.

“I’ve got my iPhone charger,” he said with satisfaction. “That Kindle book you gave me for Christmas is terrific.”

Which means that during the monitor-beeping, no-visitors, intimate vigil of a night in the hospital my father, 37 days before he turns 90, will be devouring a book about the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

The book is Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin. From the rave reviews, I thought Dad might love it. Here is a taste of the story, from the hardcover flap:

Black holes are dark. That is their essence. When black holes collide, they will do so unilluminated. Yet the black hole collision is an event more powerful than any since the origin of the universe. The profusion of energy will emanate as waves in the shape of spacetime: gravitational waves. No telescope will ever record the event; instead, the only evidence would be the sound of spacetime ringing.

As you can imagine, my father is sharp as a laser beam. He is endlessly curious, motivated, engaged, and optimistic. The retired CEO of a Boston bank, he lately has been writing poems on his iPhone about certainty and uncertainty. They’re very good.

What brought him by ambulance to Mass General today was what looked like a blood clot on his leg. Scary stuff. I heard about it from my sister, who was on her way in to the ER from Concord, Mass. Mom sounded scared when I phoned her as she was headed out the door of her and Dad’s home in Cambridge with their housekeeper, Marie.

It was a long wait here in Denver before we got the first bulletin, a text from Marie:

We are now at MGH. They think it may be a spontaneous bleed not clot at the moment. If so they will wrap leg. They will take him for an ultra sound to make sure. Both of them are in good spirits.

An hour later, I received this text from my sister Stephanie:

He’s spending the night on the observation unit. There’s some damage to the muscle from the bleeding. If the bleeding increases they could have to operate to relieve the pressure in the muscle.

While waiting for news, I had booked a middle seat on JetBlue Flight 994 which leaves DIA in about an hour, nonstop to Logan Airport, arriving at 5:30 a.m. Which means I need to pack up my stuff at the pizza place on Concourse A and head toward Gate A-33. My wife Darlene and the Yorkie Claire will follow tomorrow on Southwest.

Dad on the phone gave me a concise, no-nonsense description of his medical condition. He said his leg didn’t hurt unless someone touched it.

What he really wanted to talk about was black holes and the way Janna Levin makes her story readable by following the individual scientists and engineers on the decades-long project.

“It’s not easy to understand, but it’s a great read,” he told me.

That’s my Dad.

I can’t wait to see him in a few hours, to hear more about what he’s reading — and to see what we all can do to help out.