Saturday Edition – Writer, Paused.

My view for 48 hours earlier this week

My view for 48 hours earlier this week

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.

··• )o( •··

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?

··• )o( •··

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.

··• )o( •··

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.

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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 Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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50 thoughts on “Saturday Edition – Writer, Paused.

  1. Hi Jamie
    I am very sorry to hear about your health challenges this week and wish you a speedy recovery.
    Angélique

    • Thanks so much, Angelique. Grateful for friends and family lending a hand. Feeling better each day! 🙂

  2. Sounds like the writer in you was not very much paused at all, you were busy observing and imagining stories about all the characters you encountered. Sorry to hear about your emergency operation – and wishing you a very easy, quick, painless recovery!

    • Ha! You’re right, Marina. I think I may have mis-titled this post! Maybe it should have been something like, “Writer’s Body, Paused. Writer’s Mind, Working Overtime.” 😉

      I guess it’s all just part of what it means to be a writer – we never stop asking questions and wondering, “What If?” … and asking “Why?” At least we’re never bored.

      Thanks for the good wishes!

    • Thanks, Andrew. Yes. Not to overdramatize, but it did feel a bit surreal. I think I was less nervous than my beau … especially once they gave me the first couple rounds of pain meds. After that, I wasn’t too worried about anything.

      I’m trying to take it easy. It’s not a natural part of my Type-A personality, but I’m doing my best to be smart about it.

    • Thanks much!
      Part of me wonders if all my story-searching was a bit of a coping mechanism. Even it if was, I’ll take it. Never look a gift idea in the mouth, right?

      Thanks for the well wishes. 🙂

  3. I’m sorry you had to go through all of the scary moments that accompany a trip to the ER and then surgery!! Your creativity wouldn’t let you rest a second obviously…even while you were in pain!! Incredible!
    You made me think and touched a big “nerve” for me. I have a passion for photography and have finished a novel and I struggle daily with making myself move forward with the technical aspects of searching for an agent and then a publisher or self-publishing…and then there’s the photography. Both pursuits are battling for my attention and it has me on edge. I’m not as young as you are and I’m feeling the pressure to focus in one direction, but I am extremely stuck. I’ll be pondering your words of wisdom a lot today…maybe your words will finally help me move forward. Thank you for posting this and may you have a speedy recovery 🙂

    • Hello & welcome!
      I just visited your site and your photographs are beautiful. And I love the poems – especially the one about the pink sky. 🙂

      I think I know where you’re coming from about that “nerve.” I feel a constant tension in my creative life, but not the good kind that fuels my work … it’s more the kind that makes me wonder which project I should pursue, the kind that pulls me in many directions at once so that I wind up stuck in the same exact spot.

      It’s hard to pick one thing to pursue because that means that you’re saying “no” to the other things on your list, BUT I recently read somewhere (or maybe heard … I think it was a podcast) that you don’t have to feel like you’re letting go of the un-picked projects forever. Instead, just think about your choice as prioritizing. Better, this source said, to focus all your attention on ONE project until it’s done, than to try to do a little bit on MANY projects at the same time (which will draw out the process on all your projects and put you at risk of not finishing any of them). I’m still digesting that bit of advice, but I think it’s valid.

      Thank you for coming by and for your well wishes. I hope you continue to enjoy your writing and photography work … and I hope maybe you can get unstuck by thinking about how to prioritize your projects. Good luck!

      • The suggestion that I look at it as prioritizing is very helpful. Thinking of it as letting go of the unpicked projects forever is exactly how I’ve been feeling. Now all I have to do is work on adopting this new way of thinking…aaaarrrggghhhh,lol!
        Thanks so much for taking the time to share the information from wherever it came…Focusing without guilt…I like it.

  4. I am also afflicted with an insatiable desire to know more and more about the people I meet. Yesterday I wasn’t needed behind the bar at the brewery so I picked an interesting young couple and sat down at their table. Their relationship is only 4 months old and they live 1400 miles apart, yet they feel an irresistible pull even as she moves farther away to pursue poetry. I could see a light in their eyes which was encouraging.

    Who else does this except writers?

    • Hello, Robert! So nice to “see” you. 🙂

      I love that you just went up and started chatting with that couple – and what a story you found! I love striking up conversations with strangers. I think it sometimes drives my beau crazy, but there’s something really cool about spontaneous chat at coffee shops, the checkout line at the grocery store, or from table-to-table at a restaurant.

      I also wonder if this is a writer thing, or if anyone else has the same habit. Although we often reach out to sate our own curiosity, I think that asking someone else questions is also kind of like a gift. Most people like to be “seen” … they like to be heard. When a writer asks them, with genuine interest, about their lives, most people are pleasantly surprised.

      Thanks for sharing your tale. That was a good one!

  5. So sorry you had to go through that. I have had the same experience in waiting rooms, from the surly nurse to imagining the whats and the whys of the people around me. I went in with meningitis about ten years ago, I knew what it was because my friend passed away from the same thing in high school. She made me wait while I vomited blood into a small tray for a good hour. She literally almost cost me my life. How on earth can people like that get those jobs?!
    I’m glad you are home and doing better!

    Michele

    • So sorry, Michele. That’s awful on its own, but knowing your friend died from the same cause must have been absolutely terrifying. I don’t know how some of these people get the jobs they do – jobs they clearly aren’t suited for. Part of me felt bad for that administration person (and the two triage nurses who were equally as unsympathetic and almost accusatory in their tone), but part of me also wanted to write a story in which they were the ones suffering for a while.

      I’m very glad things turned out the way they did for you. Thanks for the well wishes & for being here. 🙂

  6. Hi Jamie, my name is Renee. I just added you to Twitter. Please take care of yourself, and *take all the time you need* to get back up to speed. I know all too well about life changing in an instant, as demonstrated in my latest blog post. Best to you. xo

    • Hello, Renee.
      I’m just back from reading your latest post. It was beautiful and real and brought a tear to my eye. Thank you for being here today and for mentioning your post. Though it was heartbreaking, I’m glad to have read it.
      Thanks for the well wishes.

      PS – I’ve added you on Twitter, too!

  7. Paused?? good grief you’ve put together more story drafts than I do in a month! Besides, most people here would consider getting out of bed about a week after surgery. You obviously have troves of energy, but don’t push it: your posts are ever so useful and inspiring, but if you take it easy for a bit we’ll survive somehow 🙂

    • Hello, Bea. 🙂 I don’t know if my random thoughts qualify as story drafts, but they are certainly “inklings” that might develop later. At least they kept me distracted and entertained for a while.

      Thanks for being here (as always) and for such kind words. I promise not to push it, but – truth be told – being here on the blog makes me feel better.

  8. I had to laugh about this comment, “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 remember being on a really, really long car trip back to California from Colorado. My daughter and I were listening to the Spa station on Sirius because we were so sick of everything else. I asked her how she thought the musicians felt creating spa music. Do the musicians go into the studio and wonder how to sound like a forest with waterfalls and crickets? What if they are heavy metal musicians but need part-time work to make ends meet?

    This one station brought up a very interesting conversation and your comment about the design of the curtains reminded me of it. Perhaps the newly minted fashion designer needed some spare cash and she found this really easy curtain design job.

    I always wonder about the people behind what we see everyday. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not the only one with random thoughts.

    So very happy to hear that you’re much improved and spending the day doing what’s important.

    • I only just learned about “Spa Radio” last week. My beau bought a new truck and it came pre-loaded with Sirius radio. While giving me the “tour,” we stopped on the Spa station for a while and it kind of made me giggle because it didn’t really seem to go with the heavy-duty truck we were riding in. I love that you and your daughter had fun wondering about the musicians and how them came to be featured on that station. That’s excellent!

      Thanks for sharing that and for the well wishes. Had a lovely walk with my daughter – was SO good to get outside after four days stuck indoors. 🙂

  9. What came to mind is “wow! that’s a lot of information”. I’m glad you are doing better and able to write anything after your procedure.

  10. I’m thrilled to hear you’re doing much better, and that the hospital diagnosed your symptoms correctly, and they were able to get you back on your feet! I couldn’t help but smile and laugh (just a little) that your mind was constantly in the “writer’s mode”. You inspire us! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks so much. 🙂
      I do feel lucky that everything seems to have gone so well. I’m usually the kind of person who puts off going to the doctor and I’ve never gone to the ER for anything. It was my beau’s concern and then the advice of my primary care doctor (who couldn’t see me until later in the evening) that pushed me to make the call. I’m so glad I did!

      And yes – always in “writer’s mode.” We are strange creatures, aren’t we? But, I wouldn’t change a thing!

  11. Jamie, Thank you for the post. Please take care. Listen well to your body. It is better far to drop out – lose a little time- than push too soon and lose a lot more later. (A well intentioned thought – speaking from personal experience). Great inspirational post.

    • Thank you, Faye. I hear you loud and clear. I’m trying to pull back a little – at least for a short while – but it’s a comfort to me to “visit” with everyone here on the blog, so I’m kind of counting it as part of my healing. 🙂

      Always nice to see you!

    • I suppose they are a hotbed of drama. 😉
      Thanks for the advice – doing my best to take it a little easy.

    • Me, too, Marjorie. 🙂
      And, thanks. I’m surprised I remembered as much as I did given the various drugs pumping through my IV. Don’t know that I’ll ever use any of it, but glad the exercise at least kept me preoccupied.

  12. Sorry to hear about the pain you have been through last week, and glad now that you are recovering.

    You are absolutely right, moments like these give us the chance to reflect about so much that we wanted to do and should have done instead of what we did. We are so mortally fragile and most of the times we don’t realise that this is the only opportunity we have got.

    • So true, Bilal. We take so much for granted, and are in denial about many other things. I have a hard time coming to terms with how fragile we actually are. It’s scary, but – hopefully – it’s also inspiring and motivating.

      Thanks for the well wishes. 🙂

  13. Enjoy reading your writing, and I think this post was especially great. I also think it answers a question you were considering in an earlier post, about maybe being too straight-edged or whatever to write great stuff. Mix in a little medical dope, and a little grunge from the ER and things definitely got popping. I think the big reason was a real danger presented, and danger creates that heightened states of awareness. We have got to get comfortable in that space I think to write great stuff. Who knew being an artist was such dangerous work?

    • Hmmm … such an interesting observation. You may just be on to something. Danger and crisis do push us to take things a little farther than we normally would. When we find ourselves in dire circumstances, regular protocols and behaviors go out the window. We have permission to act a bit more intuitively, erratically, boldly. “Heightened awareness,” as you put it can be a definite catalyst for creative work. Lots to think on there. Thanks!

  14. Jamie- Writers are never bored because even an emergency room visit provides us with food for thought. So glad that you eventually received caring treatment despite the surly ER clerk’s lack of compassion. No doubt this experience will show up in your work in time to come.Get well soon! Best, Elaine

    • Thanks so much, Elaine. 🙂
      One thing that I know this experience gave me was a deeper compassion for people who are going through hospitalizations or long-term care due to age. Sadly, there are several elderly people in my extended circle (not direct family, but family and loved ones of people I know) who are making very difficult transitions into a variety of care facilities. Having been in a similar environment myself, if only for a short time, gave me a much more acute understanding of what these people are facing. It’s heartbreaking and, to be frank, scary.

      I do not know how these insights and experiences might show up in my work later, but I bet you’re right – they will make their way in somehow.

  15. Pingback: Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links – Mar 13 | Live to Write – Write to Live

  16. I’m picturing you, at the hospital, doubled over in pain, still making mental notes of the people around you, and it made me chuckle. I love hearing what goes on in the minds of other writers, because it makes me feel lie there’s other people out there like me who having writing on the brain all the time.

    • Oh, I’m pretty sure there are plenty of us out there with our minds constantly engaged in the “what if?” and the “why?” 😉 And – yes – it was amusing, even to me in the moment.

      You’re definitely not alone!

  17. I had a similar episode back in 2014. Gall bladder in my case. I wish I had your forethought to make notes on characters (or even do a bit of writing) while I was in a drug induced state. But the pain kind of kept my head out of reality for the four days I was there. Glad your doing better.

    • Sounds like you had more fun than I did. 😉
      I don’t know that it was a matter of forethought. It was just kind of automatic. I think it may have been a coping mechanism.

      Thanks for the well wishes. Glad you came out alright, too!

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