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Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

by dave ammenheuser

Sitting on top of Haleakala in Maui in late October, it was the perfect place to reflect on the craziness of the past year and what lies ahead in the future.

As I’ve chronicled here throughout the past year, I quit my life-long sports journalism career last October, sold my Nashville house, and moved back East to take care of my parents’ estate. My father died in September 2020; my mother passed in December. The tragedy trifecta began when my father-in-law died in July 2020.

After spending a year clearing my father-in-law’s Delaware home and my parents’ Creagerstown home, then selling both houses, it was time for a much-needed vacation to finally let the absorbed emotions of the past year release. It was finally time to shed a tear or two.

My wife and I planned the trip to Hawaii for several years. It was our gift to each other for our 25th wedding anniversary. And, geesh, did we need it.

Unwinding in Hawaii, the one common theme that constantly came to my mind was family. Simply put—as I’ve stressed to my own two children over the past two-plus decades—nothing is more important.

Growing up in Thurmont, my childhood was not perfect. But, as I aged and lived in eight different states, becoming friends with thousands, I’ve realized that nobody’s family is perfect. All families come with their own quirks, many of which remain private and out of the public eye.

I have also become keenly aware of the need for planning for the future. Prior to leaving for Hawaii, my wife and I spent many hours preparing important legal documents: our will and trust, health directives, and power of attorneys. It’s something we always talked about doing but never got around to completing, until last month.

Thankfully, my father-in-law and my parents had their wishes written down in a legal format. That’s the good part.

The bad part is that we rarely talked about them until they became terminally ill.

Over the past year, I’ve reunited with many of my childhood and high school friends. If there’s one bit of advice that I can give each of them (or anybody reading this column), it’s this: If your parents are still living, spend some quality time and sit down with them and talk about their future. It’s important to know what they want their care to look like as they age. You can’t fulfill those wishes if you don’t know what those wishes are.

My mother died of breast cancer that spread to other parts of her body. My father died of congestive heart failure. My father-in-law died from metastasized melanoma cancer that spread to his brain.

My father died instantly; my mother and father-in-law slowly declined over a period of months.

All had completed health directives. My parents (albeit surprisingly) did theirs a few years ago. My father-in-law needed a lot of prodding from my wife and her brothers before he completed his shortly after his terminal diagnosis.

The entire past year would have been more difficult and painful if any of them had not completed the simple form.

Death isn’t a fun subject for any aging person with a challenging diagnosis. Heck, death is the last thing that they want to think about. However, the document is important if your loved one, due to declining health or a medical accident, is unable to cognitively make decisions for his/her own care. It’s a roadmap and guide with legally binding instructions for healthcare providers. You can search online for free fill-in-the-blank forms.

After the healthcare directive is completed, it’s important that you discuss the document’s contents and its location with other loved ones, especially siblings. This is important because some of the information may surprise you (for example, I had always thought my mother wished to be buried, but she relayed to me later and included in her health directive that she wished to be cremated).

A Last Will and Testament is equally important. Your parents don’t need to share the contents of the will with you (my parents’ will certainly had a few surprises), but it’s important to know where important estate documents are kept, so you can access them when the time comes. 

After being away from Thurmont for 25 years, I’ve spent the past year writing funny and heartful anecdotes about my return home. But none of those words are as important as the 700 on this page.

David and Maura Ammenheuser and their parents on their wedding day in 1996. It’s the only photo of all six of them together. All four parents are now deceased.

Dave Ammenheuser reads The Catoctin Banner’s October issue while relaxing on the beach at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park in North Kona, Hawaii.

by dave ammenheuser

On December 13, 1969, a couple and their young children (two pre-teens and an infant) moved into their newly constructed home along Creagerstown Road.

Prior to moving into the home, that family—my parents and my brothers—had lived for a few years in an apartment building on the square in Creagerstown.

On August 30, 2021, a couple and their young children (two pre-teens and an infant) moved into the same home along Creagerstown Road.

Prior to moving into the home, that family—whom I had never previously met—lived in the same apartment building on the square of Creagerstown where my family did in the 1960s.

Sometimes life can go full circle.

After both of my parents died in 2020, I spent the next 12 months clearing my childhood home. It was emotionally difficult selling their possessions and treasures. It was even more difficult signing over the house deed to Rachel Kirkpatrick and her family on August 30, just two days short of the one-year anniversary of my father’s death.

Without any advertising, we had many offers for the house. In this booming real estate market, I turned down dozens of “cash-only” deals from brokers and flippers. I chose not to use a real estate agent and to sell the home myself.

I met Rachel purely by chance. Her mother-in-law went to school with my brother, Bob. Rachel and her family asked if the house was available. The house negotiation was quick and easy.

By our third meeting, there was no doubt in my mind that it was the right choice.

How did I know? On this particular visit, Rachel came for the septic test. She brought along her two pre-teen boys. While the septic test was conducted, the two boys ran around the backyard, chasing each other. At one point, the older boy pulled out his smart phone and started chasing something that I couldn’t see.

I asked Rachel what he was doing. Oh, he has a phone app for ghost hunting?

“Mom, I found one,” the boy shouted. “It says he was born in 1930-something.”

My jaw dropped. I stared at the boy. Stunned, I looked at Rusty Yates, my late father’s best friend and next-door neighbor who had dropped by to chat.

My father was born in 1938. My father was an avid ghost hunter, who bought all kinds of “Ghostbuster” gizmos to track ghosts on the Gettysburg battlefields.

Was my father sending me a message?

After a year of upheaval and sadness, was my father giving me a message that the toughest year of my life was over?

That he’d watch over the property, and it was time for me to resume my life?

My father was a firm believer in the afterlife.

Me? Meh. At least, not until that recent summer day. Rachel Kirkpatrick and Dave Ammenheuser in front of Rachel’s new home (and Dave’s childhood home) near Creagerstown

by dave ammenheuser

Returning home after 30 years to take care of my late parents’ estate has given me a lot of time to reminisce about Thurmont and Northern Frederick County. I’ve driven over the country roads and through the covered bridges; I’ve returned to Cunningham (to me, it will always be McAfee) Falls; and taken leisurely drives through Foxville, Wolfsville, Sabillasville.

All of those scenes and settings have provided some comfort in a year when I lost both of my parents.

Perhaps nothing has been more therapeutic than returning to 26 Elm Street in Thurmont.

As a youth, I spent hundreds of Thursday nights at that Thurmont address, home of Scout Troop 270. It was the building where I became the region’s third Eagle Scout, and where Scoutmaster Norman Feldser provided leadership and mentorship to hundreds of youth. 

So, it was with great pride that I returned to 26 Elm Street on June 12 to join in Troop 270’s weekend 75th anniversary celebration.

More than 125 current and former Scouts, parents, and friends attended the weekend festivities, which included skills competitions, a pig roast, campfire, and more.

The concrete building has been home to the local Scouts since 1946. The troop was founded in 1942, supported since day one by the Thurmont Lions Club. (A quick history lesson: The original local organization was Troop 11, founded in 1928. It disbanded during World War II; Troop 270 was founded after the war).

Felder is still active in the troop, but he has taken on a larger district-wide role. The troop is now led by Sean Young and Carie Stafford. Sean is the Scoutmaster for the boys Troop 270-B, while Carie is the Scoutmaster for the girls Troop  270-G, which was founded in 2019 when Boy Scouts of America transitioned to Scouts BSA to reflect its policy to allow girls to join separate, gender-specific troops.

“Sean had the idea to celebrate the 75th anniversary,” Troop Committee Chair Julie Bostian said. She told me that it was Young’s idea for the weekend celebration. “He said we needed to do something to celebrate. So, we decided to have a big party.”

One of the weekend highlights was dedicating the new outdoor pavilion to Sherm Pearsall, John and Beth Ruppel, and Feldser. Key long-time board members, they were honored for their leadership for the pavilion project and other endeavors throughout the past half-century.

William Bentz, who became the troop’s first Eagle Scout in 1975, returned for the weekend and was honored at the pig roast. The troop now boasts 75 Eagle Scouts, with a couple more expected to join the elite rank in the coming months.

Seventy-five Eagles in 75 years! With a few more targeted to join the elite rank very soon.

The weekend was so successful that Bostian told me that the troop leaders are thinking of having an annual alumni weekend. However, she and the troop need help in locating many former Scouts (reach her at 301-471-8419).

The troop is constantly fundraising to support their monthly outings and summer camping adventures. 

Boys and girls interested to learn more about Scouting should attend a meeting. They are held each Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at 26 Elm Street in Thurmont.

Dave Ammenheuser, who achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in November 1977, is writing a monthly column for The Catoctin Banner in 2021. He can be reached at

Returning Scouts share stories and look through mementos and scrapbooks that highlight the troop’s history.

Current scouts participate in a competition during the weekend festivities.

Scouts, families, and friends enjoy a pig roast to celebrate Troop 270’s 75th anniversary.

Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

by dave ammenheuser

How do you honor the death of a loved one in the midst of a pandemic?

It’s not easy.

When my parents, John and Elizabeth Ammenheuser, died in the last few months of 2020, our family faced many difficult decisions. Among the toughest: How do you inform family and friends of their deaths?  

 Neither parent died from COVID-19. Dad’s heart gave out on September 1; Mom lost her battle with cancer on December 19. Both left behind clear legal instructions on what they wanted done with their bodies. Per their wishes, they were cremated and their ashes were placed in separate urns.

More than eight months after Dad’s death and more than five months after mom’s, we are finally gathering on June 13 to honor them.

The coronavirus impacted our decisions. Finding a location to hold a service was difficult. Our first choice (and second and third and fourth) were not possible, as policies prohibited indoor gatherings of any notable size. While we don’t expect hundreds of folks to attend the event, even an expected crowd of several dozen is not currently permitted indoors due to safety concerns.

So, we waited until the spring, warmer weather, and the anticipation of vaccinations before deciding on the details of a Celebration of Life (or in this case, Lives) event. 

 Thurmont Mayor John Kinnaird offered the perfect solution: A pavilion at the Thurmont Community Park. During a recent visit to my parents’ house (where he bought a paint sprayer from the estate), he told me that the town recently built a new pavilion near the basketball courts. Knowing that the park pavilions are booked far in advance for family reunions, I was astonished to find out the new pavilion was available. But, as we’ve all learned, this hasn’t been a normal year or two.

Thus, we booked the pavilion for June 13 (As a side note, the $50 fee the town charges for the full-day rental is quite the bargain).

Now that the location was chosen, informing folks of the event was the next arduous task. My mother’s address book was terribly out-of-date (her address for me was one in Southern California; my family moved to Nashville in 2012).  

After thumbing through the dilapidated book, I started addressing and stamping the postcards that I had ordered.

Certainly, there are some of my parents’ friends and former co-workers whom I missed. Apologies to them. There hasn’t been a week that’s gone by when I haven’t talked to one of their friends who were surprised to learn that my parents had died. If you’d like me to mail you a postcard to remind you of the event, please email me at

After Joe Wolf, deacon of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, offers an opening prayer, we’ll share stories and celebrate John and Liz’s lives.

It’s been a difficult time for all of us. Not just my family. But I’m sure for yours, too.

We all have friends and neighbors who have been impacted by COVID-19. Some have lost jobs; some have been out of work for months; some have lost loved ones. Thankfully, the country appears to be turning the corner. 

However, life will never be the same. At least not in our household. And likely, not in yours either.

Photo by Dave Ammenheuser

New pavilion at Thurmont Community Park.

by dave ammenheuser

Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

Trains, planes, and automobiles.

Pigs, angels, and Longaberger baskets.

Civil War artifacts, presidential campaign buttons, and vintage radios.

My parents, both of whom died in the last four months of 2020, were not hoarders.

But they were certainly collectors.

Clearing their 50-year old Thurmont-area home has been sometimes entertaining, often informative, and frequently surprising.

As the executor of their estate, one of my most difficult tasks has been finding a future home for their belongings. Which items do I donate to charity? Which items should be sold on Facebook Marketplace? And what should be held back to be sold at a big yard sale over Memorial Day weekend?

Choosing which items fit into which category has consumed many hours over the past few months. Selling items online has been quite the learning experience. It has also provided the extra benefit of meeting friends, neighbors, and former Catoctin classmates whom I haven’t seen in decades.

Those reunions have been awesome.

But there have been some excruciating painful and disappointing moments, too.

I’ve learned that no-shows are a common occurrence when selling online. Person X tells you over social media that they desperately need the item you are selling. Person X then pleads with you to hold the cherished item until the next day.  Person X promises to meet you at a specific time. Then Person X doesn’t show up. It’s happened. Many times.

Those episodes don’t keep me awake at night. I did lose sleep when someone openly questioned me on social media why I was selling my late father’s Harley-Davidson leather vest. He criticized me, saying I was selling my father’s “beloved prized possessions” only for the money they would bring.

It was hurtful and couldn’t have been further from the truth. Since my brothers and I do not ride motorcycles, it was my decision that his leather vest should be worn by a biker as they ride their hogs around the region. To me, a piece of my father would still be worn by someone who would appreciate it. To me, it was better that the vest be worn by someone riding a Harley across our community’s roads than gathering dust in a closet for 25 years.

It’s the same reason I chose to distribute my mother’s beloved pig collection. My mother, who was raised on a Carroll County farm in the 1950s, had a passion for pigs. Her father raised them when she was a child. As an adult, she owned hundreds of them. Ceramic ones. Wooden ones. Stuffed animals. Piggy banks. Cookie jars. I sold dozens to neighbors and friends who knew my mother. I sold hundreds to a young collector near Detour. I’m saving many more to give to those who attend an upcoming Celebration of Life event for my parents.

I’ve sold Civil War muskets, Lionel trains, and vintage toys; vintage cars, gazing balls and Hallmark ornaments. It makes me happy to know that parts of my parents’ lives now reside in Emmitsburg and in Blue Ridge Summit, in Creagerstown and in Woodsboro, in Sabillasville, and all of the communities in between.

Yet, there’s so many more of my parents’ memories to share. So, if you knew my parents, John and Liz, please stop by our yard sale over the Saturday and Sunday of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, May 29-30, at 12710 Creagerstown Road. Obviously, if you didn’t know them, you’re welcome to stop by, too!

John Ammenheuser’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle vest.

A small portion of Liz Ammenheuser’s pig collection.

by dave ammenheuser

Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

“Welcome back, Dave, but you should know Thurmont’s not the same town you left behind many years ago.”

I have heard that phrase numerous times since my parents died in the final half of 2020, initiating my return to my hometown to settle their estate.

In 1982, when I left Thurmont to venture across the country in my pursuit of the highest levels of sports journalism, I left behind a community where its townspeople cared about one another; one where residents looked out for each other and were always there to lend a helping hand.

In February, Mike Miller, whom I haven’t seen since the 1970s when we were members of the Troop 270 Boy Scouts, didn’t hesitate to use his snowplow to clear the driveway of my parents’ home.

That’s what Thurmontians do.

Rick Wastler, my friend since we were toddlers, quickly volunteered to detail my father’s vintage Thunderbirds as we prepare to sell them this spring.

That’s what childhood friends do.

Russell Yates, my parents’ neighbor, doesn’t balk when I ask for a favor, whether it’s mowing the yard, helping me pull strange things out of the attic, or accompanying me on a trip to the Frederick County landfill.

That’s what neighbors do.

Chet Zentz returned my call immediately when I inquired about the status of my late parents’ car and home insurance policies. We were friends in high school when his father ran the insurance office.

That’s what old friends and good businessmen do.

Thurmont Mayor John A. Kinnaird stopped by the house this winter to pick up my mother’s walker. He later dropped it off at the Thurmont Senior Citizen Center.

That’s what your good mayor does.

Kinnaird and I had never met until he took time from his busy schedule to drop by and pick up the walker. I admire his devotion to the town and enjoy reading his posts and reviewing his photos on the Facebook group “You know you’re from Thurmont, Maryland, when …”

One of the group’s recent posts, about Vernon Myers and his generosity toward the Thurmont Little League, brought back an overflowing load of memories of the Thurmont that I grew up in.

Vernon’s Shell station. Ben’s Esso. Riffle’s garage. The Red Door. The Market Basket. Super Thrift. Hoke’s Furniture. Royer’s Restaurant. Claire Frock. Thurmont Bank. Stull Dougherty  Chevrolet. Brooks Department Store.

The names of many of the businesses in the area have changed. The camaraderie of most folks has not.

I did experience one notable exception. It occurred last summer and involved my father. As many of you may know, my father had a passion for cars, and he could have a stubborn streak. If he wanted something, he would find a way to get it—especially if it involved anything to do with the collection of his vintage cars.

Last summer, he was determined to add a vintage Corvette to his collection. Keep in mind, my father was 81 years old, was in and out of the hospital for weeks at a time because of serious health problems. There was no way he could drive a souped-up sports car that was more accustomed to racing on drag strips.

Despite my strongest advice, he bought it from a used car dealership in Thurmont. Legally, the car dealership did nothing wrong. They sold a car to a person who was willing to purchase it.

A local community bank approved a lien on my parents’ house for my father to buy the car. To this day, I am still unclear how the loan was approved, as it needed my mother’s signature (she was in the hospital, losing her battle against cancer, and during a time when no visitors were allowed during the pandemic).

My father was released from the hospital on August 30. The Corvette was delivered to his home in Creagerstown on September 1. It was the same day my father struggled to get into the car for the first time; the same day my father died, struggling to get out of the car for the first time.

Obviously, as a son, I was furious and heartbroken to learn not only of my father’s death but the circumstances around it. I quickly made angry calls to the community bank and the used car dealership. Nobody at either business was comforting or understanding.

I asked the car dealer how they could sell a car to such a weak and sick senior citizen. I was told that they don’t review medical records, and “No,” they would not take the car back, even though my father owned it for less than 24 hours.

I remain puzzled about how a community bank could approve a loan when my mother was unavailable to sign any legal documents.

Thus, with both parents gone, my family was saddled with a Corvette and a lien on the home.

The Corvette was sold (at a loss). The lien remains. The pain lingers. I gotta believe, in the Thurmont of our past, such a deal would not have occurred. Or, at minimum, the car could’ve been returned.

All neighbors looked after each other.

Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

by dave ammenheuser

Norman Feldser, my former scoutmaster of Thurmont Troop 270, and I reconnected this winter when his wife, Gloria, called to ask if the antique furniture my late parents had in their living room was available.

It was.

One of the silver linings of clearing my parents’ estate has been seeing friends, classmates, and neighbors whom I have not seen in several decades.

Quickly for those of you catching up: My parents, John and Elizabeth Ammenehuser, died in 2020. I recently left my long-time sports journalism career to return to Thurmont to take care of their estate, their house, and their beloved possessions.

Growing up in Thurmont in the 1970s, I had many mentors and friends who helped mold me into the person I became and prepared me for the career that I sought.

Norman was one of them.

Affectionately known then as “Alka” by his teenage troop members (Alka Seltzer, Norman Feldser, get it?), he had a major impact on my life.

I looked forward to the Thursday night Scout meetings, the monthly hiking trips, and the summer camps and jamborees. In 1976, as our country celebrated its 200th birthday, Norman and I and other Frederick County Scouts were on a bus traveling to Cimarron, New Mexico, for a rugged 14-day hike at the Philmont Scout Ranch. It was the best summer of my young life.

In 1977, he helped me attain the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout, just the third in Thurmont’s history at that time. I’m pleased to hear that he’s still involved in Scouting and has helped hundreds of others across the region achieve the same lofty rank.

And that antique furniture? It’s now in the home of Gloria’s daughter, Bonnie, a high school friend of mine. Norman and Bonnie carried it out of my parents’ home near Creagerstown. And Norman and I agreed to catch up soon to retell stories of our past.

But, he wasn’t the only recent reunion.

Jane Nicholson was the first familiar face to drop by. She and her husband bought some old metal milk cans that my parents had on their front porch.

“Do you recognize me?” she asked.

“Sorry, I don’t … it must be the mask covering your face,” I responded, trying not to embarrass either one of us.

Then she said, “Jane Hill!”

Ahh, Nicholson was her married name. Yes, it was Jane Hill from our Catoctin High Class of 1980. Her long hair should’ve been the giveaway. I sold her the cans for less than the market value. It’s not the cash that counts. It’s the memories and knowing the items are staying in the community.

Jackie Campbell, mother to my high-school classmate, John, bought an antique marble table. She reached out later, seeking a VCR to watch some of John’s old basketball and baseball tapes that had been stored on VHS tapes. It took me a while, but I found one in a closet (next to an 8-track player). It’s in her home now. Hopefully, those movies bring back the same warm memories that I have of our Cougar teams.

Another classmate, Jimmy Rickerd, reached out to ask about a portable heater that I had posted on Facebook Marketplace. “It would be perfect in my greenhouse,” he said in a text.

Jimmy and I have been friends on Facebook for many years. I’ve enjoyed reading about his musical career and his annual tomato harvest. We’d only seen each other a couple of times since graduation day in 1980.

Jimmy’s father, Austin, died in 2018. His father and my mother worked together for decades at Moore’s Business Forms.

So, when Jimmy inquired about the heater, of course, I immediately told him it was his. No charge. Just give me a few of those ‘maters when they are ready this spring.

That’s what friends do. No matter how long it’s been since we last saw one another. No matter the differences in our political beliefs. Or, that one guy decided to stay in his hometown while the other chose to move away.

It’s good to know you can always come home. And your friends are still there.

Bonnie Horn and Norman Feldser carry antique furniture from Dave Ammenheuser’s parents’ home earlier this winter.

Photo by Dave Ammenheuser

Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

by dave ammenheuser


Everything has fallen apart around here without you!

A little boy’s one-sentence note, preserved in an envelope, dated June 27, 1974, addressed to his mother at Frederick Memorial Hospital, where she had been admitted for emergency surgery. 

Turn the clock ahead more than 46 years, and that little boy is now turning 59.

Sitting in my parents’ home near Creagerstown, I’m sorting through piles of documents. Reading through love letters that my parents sent to each other in 1959, when mom was in nursing school and dad was at Army reserve training. Thumbing through a great-grandmother’s Bible. Glancing through family holiday photos. Figuring out what to do with the 1,392 glass pigs my mom collected over her 79-year life.

Yet, it was this one-sentence note, in the yellowed envelope, with its 10-cent postage stamp, that caused the stream of tears on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of January 2021.

My mother, Elizabeth Irene Ammenheuser, is gone. She died on December 19, just a few days before Christmas and just three months after my father, John, died.

Muz was the nickname that I gave to my mother when I was a pre-teen. It was my quirky way of combining the words Mom and Liz together.

To Thurmontians, she was Liz. The friend. The bingo player. The volunteer. The friendly neighbor. The former Moore’s (now RR Donnelley) graveyard-shift worker. The nice lady who lived with the cranky guy with the vintage cars in the driveway along Creagerstown Road.

She was so much more. Few know that she gave up her desire to be a nurse to raise three young boys. For more than 40 years, she worked the midnight to 8:00 a.m. factory shift, so she could be home when those boys bounced off the school bus. She was there when they needed a ride to Little League games and Boy Scout meetings.  She attended the school plays and beamed with pride at my Eagle Scout ceremony and my college graduation.

My mom’s life was never about her. It was all about helping others and running a seemingly endless list of errands for my father.

She wasn’t a very good cook. She didn’t keep a tidy house. But that didn’t matter. She was the best mother.

She stopped driving several years ago when doctors deemed her dementia made her a hazard on the road to herself and others. She battled cancer in 2020, first in her breasts, then in her spine. She was recovering from spine surgery at Frederick Health Hospital on the day my father died at home. She then spent a month rehabilitating at Homewood. Because the COVID-19 pandemic limited her number of family visits at Homewood, mom moved to Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, in October to live with my brother, Bob, and his wife, Emily. They took wonderful care of her and were with her when she died.

Due to the pandemic, our family chose not to hold a public memorial service for her after she died. We are hoping to hold an event for her in May if the pandemic’s constraints on the community weaken.

So, this month, a final note to my mother. Yet this time, a tad more public.


Everything has fallen apart without you! But, I am the man I am today because of the life lessons you taught me. Our community was blessed to have you as a member. Love you.

Dave Ammenheuser visiting his mother, Elizabeth, in late 2020. She died a few weeks later.

Dave Ammenheuser’s 1974 note (and envelope) to his mother when she was in the hospital recovering from surgery.