Saturday, July 30, 2011

The One in the Hospital.

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.


  1. <3

    I've had a 50% survival hospital stay as well. It really does color perspective.

    Just trying to say that while it wasn't the same set of health circumstances, you're not alone.

  2. I can make you a shirt that says "I almost died once; Ask me about it!" and you can wear it around for a few weeks :) Seriously though, I know how you feel, for other reasons. When you move far away, it's such a blessing and a curse to have to "reintroduce" yourself to the world. It feels very strange to have a massive part of you completely unknown to everyone around you. Look at it this way though, at least no one here knows about that time you robbed that bank in Sheboygan!

  3. DA, you'll have to share that with me sometime.
    MaryEllen, that t-shirt idea's not bad! The bank robbery I'll keep to myself, though.

  4. jeanne bean...i remember it all vividly. you didn't say too much. you might think you did, but you didn't. and you know what? i think you should share. the bit you did share, (very well written by the way) makes me want to hear your thoughts more. you are an amazing writer...just in the little bit you said about the feet walking by and making up characters for're a creative and unique mama jeanne. i don't think you should just write a blog about it, i think you should write a book. your body has healed, thank God. i think it would even be more healing to get it all out. even if it's just on paper. you could share your story, and share your giftedness as a writer. love you. you hold a sweet spot in my heart. ~jolynne :)

  5. i had no idea but of course, i'm one of those who has only met you recently. (and glad you are here so i could!) I completely understand, but based on a completely different set of circumstances. I have moved quite a bit in my life and i think the "no good segue" is exactly right. I actually enjoy hearing other people's stories and journeys - it shapes who we are, and i hate that i rarely have the time or opportunity to just sit down with people and talk. i think the last time i could do that easily was in college. makes me think we should do more of it. You are a fabulous writer, btw.

  6. Jolynne, do you remember the book you gave me with the artwork your students made? I still have it. It may have seemed like a small gesture, but it's one I continue to treasure.

    Maleah - thank you! You're right how so many different experiences can garner the same outcome. We need to get out with some of the other moms and talk!