When I was 9 I became seriously ill with a very severe case of bronchitis that wouldn’t respond to antibiotics.
I developed an extremely high fever (105 F at one point!) and was hospitalized. I actually don’t remember very much about it. I drifted in out and of consciousness for two or three days. They called my dad, who was on reserve duty across the world in England. It took him over 24 hours to fly from London to Rome, to Singapore, to Sydney and then to Auckland. They told him he better come quick because his daughter was dying.
Of course, they didn’t tell ME that. No one ever said anything to ME about “dying” until well afterward. I was actually angry that no one told me! But, of course they couldn’t have told me. The infection was raging in my lungs and my immune system wasn’t fighting it. At one point, they told my mum that if the antibiotics didn’t take hold, I might not last the night.
Again, I heard none of this. There was no melodrama for me. Just bad dreams, short periods of consciousness, being both hot and cold at the same time and not being able to move. I kept having bad dreams that I was strapped down to the bed and locked up in an asylum. In reality, I was simply so weak, I couldn’t move. They put a tube in my side to drain the fluid collecting in one of my lungs. I remember my side hurting horribly and the horrible stench of infection.
I remember being surrounded with balloons and stuffed animals. Lotsa, lotsa, LOTSA stuffed animals. I was sleeping amid a zoo of plush.
At one point, they brought some videotapes of cartoons. It was a bunch of cartoons I had seen — a lot of Dr. Suess — but there was an odd one I had never seen. I nodded I wanted to watch that one.
They put the movie in and I immediately fell asleep, but woke up right as a long movement of music began playing. It was a really long crescendo, and it was a cartoon about evolution. A little drop of slime in a Coke bottle turns into a bug, then a fish, then dinosaurs. I managed to stay awake for the whole 15-minute sequence. I was fascinated by how the dinosaurs danced to the music. Then, I fell asleep.
My da showed up in the middle of the night, exhausted from his 10,000 mile trip. He came into my room in his Royal Marine uniform and being the doofus he was, actually woke me up (I think he was afraid I was dead). I was so happy to see him, and he was so handsome in his uniform. And my fever was gone. While I had slept, it had dropped from 104 to 99. The antibiotics had taken hold.
In the morning, I was still very very weak and couldn’t even sit up. I was in a lot of pain from the tube in my side (my da MADE the hospital drug me with morphine. Actually ordered them to do it.), but I was better. I suddenly realized I had scored the biggest bonanza of stuffed animals on the North Island. I must have had 50 new dolls and plush animals. My favourite was a stuffed kangaroo. I even had a plush All Blacks’ Cat in the Hat hat that bugged the nurses but I still wore anyway. I got lots of sorbet, but strawberry was the only flavour the hospital had.
I asked about the cartoon, and no one remembered it. I didn’t persist; I probably should have.
Over the years, I wondered what that music was, and what the cartoon was. I never forgot it. Many years later, a movie was on TV and the same music came on. Oh my God, that’s the same piece of music in that cartoon they showed me in the hospital.
The movie on TV was “10.” And the song was “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel. So, I knew that much. I knew what the music was. When most people hear Bolero, they think of 10. When I hear Bolero, I think of this odd cartoon. One day, I Googled “Bolero” and “Dinosaurs” and “cartoon.” I found out the name of the cartoon was “Allegro Non Troppo,” by a very famous Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto. It was a very rare and difficult movie to find. I found some used videotapes on the Internet, but I didn’t have a VCR. There were no DVDs of it.
Many, many, many years later, we were in a funky record store in town; a place that actually carries vinyl records and really old Pixies, MeatPuppets and Black Flag CDs. I walked by a wall of DVDs and I suddenly recognized something.
I actually let out a gasp. The cover was the beginning of the dinosaur scene, a Coke bottle that had been thrown out of a rocket ship. It was that cartoon from the hospital. It was “Allegro Non Troppo,” sitting right there in a store in our town. It was only $9! Oh my God, I couldn’t wait to get it home.
Sure enough, it was the same movie. I actually bawled and bawled during the dinosaur part. It brought back such a flood of memories, a weird mix of painful and happy memories. I realized I associated that cartoon with seeing my dad again in that dark hospital room. Yeah, they weren’t telling me I was dying, but I could tell in the looks in their eyes something was pretty wrong. I was scared deep down inside, until I went from sleeping to watching this cartoon to sleeping to waking up without a fever with my da in the room.
It’s actually a very dark and gloomy movie; one scene with an orphaned kitten is especially sad. But, this is the 13-minute sequence I love most.
Bolero by Maurice Ravel and Bruno Bozzetto.