When we started this project, we began with a list of the various alliterative ways that people would die in each city. Sounds a little morbid, and if you know the two of us, you might have expected that kind of thing from me more than Stuart. However, the original list was his. But then we were sitting around at a party at my house, and another author friend of mine came up with a great title: instead of simple Drownings in Denver, the original title, she suggested Defenestration in Denver.
If you haven’t read the book yet and have not Googled the term by now, Defenestration is the act of throwing someone from a window, and there have been many such famous acts in movies and books over the years. The term came from Hungary, or so we believe, where there were two historical instances. When I posted about the title and some of the research online, we were even offered a cool poem by Michael Collings, a hero of mine and the father of another author friend.
That poem is also in the book.
However, I have my own relationship with Denver, one not everyone knows. It involves my grandfather and one fateful summer in my early teens.
My Grandpa and his Health Issues
My grandfather had diabetes and other issues, many related to alcohol abuse in his early life before he turned things around and became a pastor. As a result, he spent a lot of time in VA hospitals for various reasons, including the stated diabetes, heart disease, blood clots, and more.
For the last decade of his life or so, we were pretty used to grandpa going into the hospital for various reasons. When he was in the ICU, and we were young, my brother and I often spent time in waiting rooms or elsewhere while my mother and others visited him. When we were older, we would go in and see him briefly.
One summer when I was about 12, my grandpa had issues with blood clots in his right leg. He went to the VA hospital in Salt Lake City, and they flew him to Denver. He was scheduled to have his leg amputated.
I won’t go deeply into that story here, but I will say that the result was that his children took “shifts” in Denver to be with him and my grandmother throughout the process. We truly were afraid we would lose him at that point.
We didn’t. He survived—no thrived—for another decade after that.
The VA Hospital Lobby
The result of my mother going to stay with my grandmother in Denver for several weeks that summer (she was a teacher, so she had time off, even though that was a huge financial struggle that year) was that my brother and I spent a lot of time in the hospital lobby because my grandfather spent a lot of time in ICU.
The reason, in part, was that they first amputated below the knee, which he told them not to do since he had a bad injury there from a motorcycle accident when he was younger, and then he got an infection, so they took his leg above the knee.
That extended his stay and meant there were many days where we could see him for a few minutes, and we spent the rest of the day in the lobby. We read books, lots of them, and watched people. Occasionally some of my grandmother’s friends in Denver would come to take us to do some fun things, like the Alpine Slide (one of those giant concrete slides with the sled/carts that you take down them) and even a train ride.
But from the start, we saw some amazing things in that lobby.
Defenestration and More
So if you know anything about VA hospitals, at least at the time, they offered emergent care to vets when needed, and even more extensive surgeries like my grandfather’s. In fact, Denver had a specialty center for both amputations and prosthetics that was better than the one in Salt Lake.
So we saw a lot of amputees, some coming in for treatment, some to get prosthetics and devices that enhanced their mobility. I’ll never forget one man who had no legs scooting around on what I thought of as a little four-wheeled dolly like what you would use to move groceries or milk crates around in a store. He was low to the ground and pushed with his arms. A leather belt held him in place on the cart, and I remember his biceps looking huge.
That man was always in a good mood.
But there were those who came in looking for a bed who really had nothing wrong with them. There were also some mentally unstable people who came through the front doors as well. The nurses got to know who we were and why we were there, and my brother and I tried to stay away from those people.
But one day, I remember hearing screams from outside. Then I saw an object flash by the front windows quickly, then heard a thud.
It wasn’t a strict case of defenestration really. Someone on the drug ward on the sixth floor had somehow managed to get out the window and jumped. He was messed up on some drugs though, because he got up after landing, and limped back into the hospital.
I don’t know if that man survived his injuries, recovered from his drug issues, or anything else. I never saw him again after that day. But I will never forget that moment, and I’ll never forget the sight, the sound, his face.
Most of this never found its way into the book. But it is a memory I have of being in Denver. That and the drivers there. Even as a young man with no license, riding as a passenger gave me a new appreciation for my hometown and the peace we had there.
Now I love Denver, and Colorado. I love to ski, love your mountains, and I find you a refreshing place. I really do hope to visit again soon.
But no offense—I’ll be staying away from the VA hospital regardless of how safe the windows have become over the last three decades. One summer there was enough for a lifetime.
I hope you’re enjoying the Capital City Murders series, love this book, and I also hope you’re staying safe out there.