I must begin today’s post with an apology to regular readers who come here today expecting the second half of the conversation that we started last weekend with the post, Getting Paid to Write – Part I. My week did not go as planned, and – as the title of this post indicates – this writer was put on pause for a moment.
To make a long and mostly boring story short, Monday evening found me en route to the ER with acute stomach pains that had been building throughout the day. By the time my beau got me to the hospital, I was barely able to stand up straight. One three-hour wait and a cat scan later, I was admitted to the hospital proper where I was told by a sympathetic young doctor that I was going to need to have surgery to remove my appendix. I had never had surgery before. The only other time I’d been hospitalized was when my daughter was born, twelve years ago. I tried not to panic.
As far as I can tell (knock on wood), everything went swimmingly with Tuesday’s surgery; but it was still mid afternoon on Wednesday before I was finally able to get home. Wobbly and unexpectedly exhausted, I spent the remainder of that day and all of Thursday just resting. (Though, I will admit to taking a much-needed shower and doing a load of laundry.) On Friday, I made my way back to my desk to start back in on some client work. The going was slow, but each day I feel a little more like myself.
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I tell you all this to explain why today’s post is somewhat off-topic, but also because I wanted to share with you (confess?) some of the thoughts that ran through my head during the forty-eight hours I spent in the hospital. While I was, of course, worried about my own health (and perhaps even more so about the well-being of my daughter, parents, and beau who were so worried … not to mention my cats), I was also distracted and entertained by a steady stream of unrelated thoughts that had less to do with my own situation than with the curious questing of my slightly addled (first on pain, then on pain meds, then on residual anesthesia) writer’s mind. It would seem that even in somewhat dire circumstances, my brain couldn’t stop coming up with “What If?” scenarios, character questions, and story ideas.
For instance, each person I encountered – beginning with the ER staff and patients – was a potential character. Though I was mostly distracted by how awful I felt, I still remember the following people from the ER waiting room:
- The surly woman who checked me in at the ER desk, barely able to keep from rolling her eyes, and who my beau is convinced kept shuffling my name to the bottom of the pile despite the fact that I was curled in a fetal position in one of the waiting room chairs while the rest of the patients seemed content to watch game shows and sit coms on the large-screen TV that was mounted on the wall over my head … What made her so surly? Why would she knowingly cause a patient continued pain? Why did she do this job?
- The young woman in plaid and dreadlocks who appeared to be homeless and who accepted vending machine food and a styrofoam cup of coffee from one of the orderlies (my beau said she reappeared the following night as well) … Did she stay in the ER to get out of the cold? Was she actually sick? Did the orderly know her personally? What was in the plastic bags she carried with her?
- The twenty-something caucasian girl with a sprained finger who was accompanied by an older African American man with whom she laughed out loud while watching The Big Bang Theory … Were they father and daughter? What made them feel like it was okay to be so boisterous amidst people who were obviously not feeling well?
- A heavy-set, middle-aged man who sat off to the side, dozing off with this hand over his eyes, as if trying to block out his surroundings … Was he here for a physical or mental ailment? What made him so tired he could fall asleep sitting up in a waiting room chair?
- The youngish couple with their infant daughter – the mother wearing a surgical mask while she nursed the baby, the father in charge of their large collection of baby-related paraphernalia … she was the only person who made eye contact with me, but I couldn’t tell her expression because of the mask … Who were they here for – the mother, the baby? Was she afraid that I was contagious? Was she contagious?
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Throughout the stages of my stay, my writer’s mind continued to wander and distract, observe and dissect, wonder and explore. It would take far too long to capture and document all the thoughts that ran through my head, but I can tell you that they ran the gamut from imagining the relationships between various staff members to the back stories and current crises of fellow patients to the home life of my surgeon and anesthesiologist to the possibility of haunted corridors. I wondered where my appendix would wind up and about how having a piece of the body removed – even an ostensibly unnecessary one – might affect a person. I overheard a social worker talking with a Latino woman who had been transferred because she didn’t have health insurance and wondered about the possible decline and collapse of the health system. I noticed how many patients seemed content to zone out in front of a seemingly endless broadcast of game shows and soap operas and wondered if it was possible to turn people into zombies by way of television waves. I wondered about the life of the designer who had created the graphic for the privacy curtains that hung around the beds on ceiling-mounted tracks. I gained some small insight into what it must feel like to deal with a long-term illness – being shackled to an IV and leg compression sleeves.
In short, my mind never ceased asking questions and posing scenarios. Though I was outwardly resting, on the inside my head was churning with countless thoughts and queries and ideas. Forced into stillness, I was even more aware than usual of all the stories that existed around me. They wound back and forth, in and out of the room like so many threads – crossing, tangling, or running straight through without any contact.
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My head is still a little foggy and my eyesight slightly blurred (a residual affect of the anesthesia, so they tell me), but the other thought that stays with me from my time in the hospital is how many times I worried about the things I have not written. It wasn’t as if I believed I was truly in any mortal danger, but any medical crisis (even one as common as appendicitis) serves as an abrupt and mostly unwelcome reminder of our own mortality. Faced with signing the liability releases with their long lists of things that could potentially go wrong, I couldn’t help but think about all the stories and projects that I’ve been meaning to write, but haven’t. It wasn’t exactly a life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment, but I was certainly granted a moment of clarity about what really matters to me.
I don’t wish medical emergencies on anyone, but I do hope that reading this post might inspire you to stop for a moment and think about what really matters most to you. What would you regret most if everything changed tomorrow? What would you hate to see left undone? It’s hard to answer these questions in the absence of a dire circumstance, but worth the effort nonetheless. What do you want to work on today – right now?
Thanks for sharing part of your Saturday with me. I’m heading out now with my daughter to walk one of her dog walking clients and maybe take ourselves down to the local coffee shop for something tasty. I may still be moving more slowly than usual, but I can hardly wait to get out in the sunshine and fresh air. My writer’s mind is eager to revel in the possibilities of a new day.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.