There are certain senses that elicit emotional responses, and in particular, trigger memories. I heard once that smell is the sense most closely tied to memory, and I believe it.
I spent a couple of hours yesterday at a local hospital having a mammogram (which, thankfully, isn't nearly as painful as I imagined it might be before I had my first one. Awkward and uncomfortable? Yes. Painful? No). Not really knowing where I was going, I ended up parking at the exact opposite side of the hospital from where I needed to be (I'm really good at doing stuff like that), so I spent a good ten minutes wandering through the building on the way to my appointment. Through it all, and the further into the depths of the place I got, the stronger the hospital smell became and the more the memories came flooding back.
Back in 1997 I was 23. After three weeks of a fever I couldn't shake and swelling in my neck and throat, I was admitted to the hospital with the initial diagnosis of acute tonsillitis. On Day 5 of my hospitalization, my lung collapsed and a CT scan revealed a serious infection in my chest cavity that damn near took my life. I spent two straight months in the hospital, was on a ventilator via a hole in my throat, endured 10 surgeries and extreme medication, lost 35 pounds and, eventually, all my hair.
My memory is a bit patchy from the experience, but there are certain (occasionally random) bits that are burned into my brain - like the clink of the glass tubes as the lab technicians set down their equipment on the days they came to take a blood sample. For much of my stay, the curtain was drawn across the entrance to my glass-encased ICU room, and I spent what seemed like hours watching people's feet as they passed my way, inventing personalities and agendas to each set of shoes.
Sitting in the waiting room yesterday, gowned and watching some really awful daytime talk show, my instinct was to block out these memories - figuratively sticking my fingers in my ears and going, "lalalalalala."
I don't often talk about my illness anymore, mostly because I don't often find a good segue for, "So, did I tell you about the time I was given a 50% chance to live?" But the truth is, it still colors my views and actions, and perhaps it would be easier for those around me if I did talk about it once in a while. With the exception of family, most of the people who knew me when I was sick aren't the people I spend time with today (a cross-country move does a lot to change your social circle).
I'm sure we all have experiences in our arsenal of past memories that we tend to sweep under the rug for one reason or another (surely, I'm not the only one, right?), but maybe it's time we consider taking them out, dusting them off, and sharing them with each other.
I dunno, yes? No? Bad idea? Good idea?
See, I'm sitting here feeling like, "Oh crap, did I say too much?" just by blogging about it.