How do you say goodnight?
Escape with Eddie
Roger Christgau, P-51 pilot, at an air show.
As I get older, I keep learning there are more goodbyes than hellos. This is especially true when someone dies who has known you for a long time. After a week of having issues with my email password, I finally got back online. I found a message from a friend’s brother that my friend, Roger Christgau, had died. I feel kind of numb at this time. I know that as the days, weeks, months, and years pass, there will be more goodbyes. This is a loss, however, of another friend who has known me for donkey’s years.
I was working on the pediatric unit at the old Abbott Hospital in Minneapolis when I met Roger during one of those middle of the night shifts, where you raced from dark until dawn. At 3 a.m. we admitted an 8-month-old baby with mono. Roger was the doctor on call for his clinic and he arrived with the baby and the parents. We were all a little curmudgeonly. I think that is the proper word to describe our attitudes. I remember this man, Dr. Christgau, asking me, “Where does an 8-month-old get mono?” Being a little harried myself, I replied, “He has a kissy babysitter.” A few hours later, I had almost forgotten my words as I crawled into bed.
Upon returning the next night, for another round of the graveyard shift, I read my little patient’s physician’s notes. Good grief, the nursing student was right. Roger had written that the child’s babysitter had gotten a blood test that day and was diagnosed with mono. Such was the auspicious beginning of many years of mutual respect.
My sons and I both became his patients. I never knew him to be wrong about any diagnosis he gave us.
It wasn’t long before I realized he had the driest sense of humor of anyone I had ever met. He was also, bar none, the most intelligent. I don’t think he ever forgot anything he read. Once he perused it, it was committed for all time to his memory. And, like all people with great memories, there were times you wished he would forget something.
We would argue endlessly about physician-nurse relationships. As I got to know him, he began to relate some of his life experience. He was a career Air Force officer. He loved to fly. I think he was born with a P-51 throttle in his hand. In 1957 or so, he was on leave from the Air Force and had purchased a plane. As he was flying home to Minnesota, he crashed in a cornfield. He showed me pictures of the instrument panel where his head had smashed into it. A farmer saw him crash and removed him from the plane. He spent the next couple of years not only fighting for his life, but forcing himself back onto his feet. Pressure had been on his spinal cord from a broken back. He believed that after the pressure was off, he should be able to learn to walk again. It took a long time, and a lot of arguing with his doctor about outcomes — he believed he would walk, his doctor did not. Roger was right. He walked. He had leg braces, but when I met him I realized that this was a man who understood pain — physical, psychological, and spiritual.
That baby that introduced us, so to speak, was a patient in December of 1968, right before I graduated from nursing school. Over the years of friendship, we discussed a lot of things. I got to know him almost better than I knew my brother and sister.
I know one thing for sure, I will never again meet anyone like him. I can remember when he told me he had purchased a P-51. He would spend a number of years flying that airplane all over the place. He took part in many air shows and flew in formation with other pilots.
I know I’m not the only friend who will miss his bright conversation and dry wit. God in the heavens will miss him streaking out of the blue and tickling his mustache. Goodnight, Sweet Prince.