With the grace of God, an open window, and a good couple of fans, I managed to keep the fire alarm from going off.
They'd come, the three of them, laden with turquoise, from three states away. They'd come to chant and burn sage and pray for the recovery of the man I was caring for. It wasn't the chants I was worried about; it was the fire department.
The aneurysm wasn't unusual of itself. It was the bleed that happened during surgery that had threatened him, and the resulting rise in his intracranial pressure. Still, he'd pulled through. Now he sat regally in his bed, with one side of his hair long--and matted--and the other side of his head shaved to the scalp.
The three men stayed for a few hours, exchanging gossip and news about what was happening on the reservation. Then they went, leaving smoke from the sage and amulets to speed healing behind.
And the man's wife and I went to work on his hair. We couldn't cut it off; he didn't have the wherewithal to consent to that. And it was a mess--tangled into the sort of dreadlocks that only Southwestern Native American hair can achieve after weeks in ICU.
It took three hours to untangle. He let me braid it, one single braid on one side of his head.
Later, he came back. Much later: his hair had grown out to almost its original length, and was braided in almost-matching braids.
He barely remembered me. What he did remember was the white girl who had forbidden anyone to cut his hair, and who had braided it herself.