Jon Stableford Publishes Personal Story in Dartmouth Medicine Journal

Jon Stableford ’63, Instructor in English, detailed his difficult recovery three years ago from a severe form of pneumonia in an essay published in the latest issue of Dartmouth Medicine. His case of pneumonia was so serious that doctors placed him in a medically induced coma for two weeks. Stableford knew that when he was well, he would want to write about his experience. He was able to use notes that he took during his stay at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center to write his account. Phillips Academy gave him a sabbatical for three summers to work on his writing. After spending almost his entire first summer working on his piece, he realized that he had been writing a memoir, “but inside that memoir were some pieces that [could be used as] for magazines,” he said. After revising his piece for the next two summers, Stableford eventually discussed his work with the editor of Dartmouth Medicine. Stableford ended up writing a new article specifically for the magazine that “evolved” from his original 40,000-word manuscript. However, despite the fact that the piece was written from his own experience, Stableford does not believe the story is only about him. “The way it’s pitched in the journal, thanks to editing and pictures that they took, makes [the essay] look like it’s about me, but I think I’m an example… of [a patient] in a hospital when a complicated recovery is involved,” he said. The sudden illness came as a surprise to Stableford, who described himself in his essay as “the man who never gets sick, who is an exercise freak.” During his treatment, Stableford depended on a breathing tube that rendered him unable to speak. “It was very frustrating, incredibly frustrating,” he said. After regaining consciousness, Stableford said he wavered between a clear mental state and a delirious one. At times he felt lonely, anxious or afraid, he said. “The medical procedures I was going through and the news that [treatment] was taking longer, that they thought I was getting sick again,” Stableford said. “That part was frightening.” However, Stableford said that he began to think more clearly “as I began to understand that I was actually going to get out of the hospital,” adding that he also felt better when he was with his family. Though he hugely benefitted from the support of his friends and family, Stableford thought that the chances for a successful recovery depended on himself as well. He said that he believes there is an “essential self,” a “soul” that the patient needs to hang onto in order to get through treatment. “I think that if you’re ill and life-threatened, and you want to recover and to get well, you have to grab on to a part of you that is maybe disappeared or faint,” Stableford said. “It’s something a little more spiritual than physical… a kind of inner strength.” In his article, Stableford described his impatience over his lengthy recovery. “I believed that I could simply rise and walk away, but I had no idea how long it would be before I would be able to even stand on my own,” he said. From his recovery, he said he acquired “a sympathy for what patients go through when they’re in the hospital,” which he wanted to demonstrate in writing. Stableford said that he did not mind sharing his story with the public, as he did not think of it as “deeply personal” but rather as something larger. After four weeks in the hospital, Stableford spent the following month, September, in Vermont, “getting stronger, walking, and eating,” he said. When he returned to PA in October, he resumed his duties as the Chair of the English Department but waited until January to take over his classes. However, he said he “ended up doing a lot of teaching,” taking over three classes after a colleague became sick. He also unexpectedly began coaching cross-country from a bicycle as soon as he returned to campus. Today, Stableford still runs 10 or 12 races each year but has not run another marathon since his illness. “I was getting slower anyway because of old age,” he said. “If I did [choose to run another marathon], it would be with one of my children.” He said that he came to terms with his illness by thinking and talking with his wife to put the ordeal “in perspective.” According to Stableford, he is still working on writing his manuscript.