Thursday, January 29, 2009

Writing Under Stress

Several weeks ago, two days before my twenty-fifth birthday, I was struck by a case of appendicitis and had to undergo an emergency appendectomy at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. I had never been hospitalized before, had never even broken a bone before (though I suffered a nasty sprain resulting from a too-spirited game of Wii Tennis).

Before you get all freakily concerned, I'm fine. Appendectomies are like the bean burrito of surgeries: you can't really mess one up, and the professionals have probably done thousands of them in their careers. Going under the knife (or rather, the tiny little instrument they now use) didn't bother me as much as the fact that everything was taking place, in my mind, in sort of an abstract sense.

I experienced it not as, I think, a normal person should experience an illness. Or maybe it is and I just never had a chance to find out before now. But my mind was stuck seeing things as if I was jotting down mental notes for Chapter Five of a best-selling memoir. I couldn't remember for the life of me what the name of my nurse was or who I had given my insurance card to or where I'd dropped my blood-soaked backpack (an IV needle went badly during admittance). I could only remember really, really good imagery and symbolism, metaphors and morbid jokes.

I recall vividly the old woman, stuck in the ER hallway with me, beating the metal railing of her hospital bed with her red velvet slipper and shouting "I need help! I have a terrible pain!" over and over while everyone ignored her.

I remember drifting off to sleep while waiting for a CAT scan, only to be woken up by an old man vomiting blood into a small blue plastic tupperware at my elbow.

I know for sure that before I went under, the surgeon said to me, "Boston, huh? Just think: if it'd only been a few months earlier, you might be getting this surgery at Harvard. But now you're at Maimonides!" He seemed to think was fantastically bad planning on my part. (It is a testament to the amount of pain I was in, I guess, that I didn't bother to point out the nonexistence of The Harvard Hospital.)

But I can't remember what my last thought was before they snuffed me out, or who was with me when I woke up, or what they had dressed me in and at what point. Important, applicable facts escape me. I was only interested in writing my memoirs.

After a miraculous recovery that I attribute to my relatives force-feeding me bacon and cream-based soups, I can't help but wonder if all the things I'm experiencing in my life are viewed through this delusional lens of Writer. Historian. The Hero of Our Tale. What arrogance is this, that I refuse to remember what plan my health insurance is, but I expect my rendering of a red velvet slipper smacking against metal to somehow be of importance to someone else?

As with most of my existential crises, this one was solved in a homosexual way. I had volunteered with SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders), and they've decided to put me to work on a project, along with tons of fantastic and talented writers, to collect my elders' life stories and write them up in a book. It's an exciting project that could go in many different directions, and it serves to remind me that I am not my own best character. I am not the hero of this memoir (that doesn't exist and probably wouldn't get published if it did). The best characters are the people around me, and I need to be concentrating on their stories.

I guess this post has a moral? I am sorry about that. Here, have a picture of a cute kitten.

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