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Notes from a memoir

Rhythms

Saturday, February 8

A quiet night. I dozed the previous evening, wasn’t aware of Mom’s leaving. Rita, the night nurse, was in early this morning to draw blood and push meds through my PICC line. Felt strange. I could feel the saline push move through the line into my chest a little bit. Felt like a cool breeze.

“Really? Hm. You’re not supposed to feel that,” she said uncertainly.

“It’s okay,” I consoled, my hand resting over my heart. “It felt nice.”

Later that morning

Stephanie, my day nurse, comes in to flush the PICC and give steroids. Another soft, serene moment. I leave my book open to the page I’ve been writing, hoping to start a conversation, but she doesn’t seem too interested. She attaches various syringes to the purple port, saline then solumedrol then saline again, and I watch her do all of this with quiet interest.

“Which one do you draw blood out of — probably the red one, huh?”

“Either one,” she says.

Stephanie’s nice, a very gentle soul, naturally pretty. I just wish she’d talk to me a little more. Though maybe it’s me. Maybe being here in the hospital, especially this most recent stay, is wearing me down a bit. Certainly feels like that today. After another doctor stopped in to check on me, I happened to notice a rash on the back of my left hand, at the base of the thumb and the first finger. For some reason, this unnerved and scared me more than other things I’ve experienced this past month. Then I began examining the skin on both of my forearms, and maybe it’s just because the lights are bright for once, or that I’m really looking, but I notice how truly disgusting and ill my skin appears, the wounds that are taking forever to heal, the bluish-purple discolorations in the crooks of both of my arms, the tiny scabbed pinpricks where IV sites used to be, the overall glassy, translucent appearance. It depresses me to look so miserable, so unkept, so gross. I just want out today. Out of everything — this hospital, these days, least of all this body.

Later that afternoon

Mom and I go for a long walk, off the Med/Surg floor, down to the first floor, the foyer. Mostly quiet because it’s Saturday. We sit before the large windows, stare out into a snow-covered patio area near the circular drive at the front of the hospital. The sky is white, the sun a soft perforation. Mom comments on the dead tall grasses near us on the opposite side of the window.

“I’ve always loved the grasses,” she says wistfully. I watch their feathered tops sway in the soundless wind and think similarly. Something about them that calls me, makes me feel I could watch them move and do nothing else for hours. The ones before us are yellow-white, still as straw.

“They look good even when they’re dead,” I say evenly.

We sit quietly for a while afterward, content maybe, or maybe just tired in our individual ways. The nausea still persists, just a vague uncomfortable feeling all over my lower abdomen, and the chair I’m sitting in, though padded and relatively comfortable, doesn’t make it any better — the rigid back forces my spine straight, my belly pushed out. Minutes pass and a family with a young daughter, six years-old at most, enter the foyer. Their voices are big.

“Little girl,” Mom purrs in the family’s direction. “Kids love the foyer because it’s such a big open space, they love to hear their voice echo. When I was a young girl I used to love hearing my voice all big. I’d raise my voice just to hear the change.”

While listening to her, I allowed myself to drift, to open my ears, my head, to the sounds filling the foyer, the little girl’s bright voice, the claps of her shoes on the hospital tile, the parent’s voices, snippets of conversation not meant for me, that I’ll never understand.

Every now and then, in the hall behind our chairs, people walk to and fro, the shuffling in the fabric of their clothes, their sleeves rubbing against the rest of their winter coats, their pant legs, the same clap of their shoes on the tile, some rhythms faster, more urgent than others, some rhythms slow and lethargic, bewildered, lost.

“It’s interesting to listen to all the sounds people make when they walk, ” says Mom. “You realize how fast it all is, how we take it for granted, don’t really think about it until we can’t do it any longer.”

I continue to zone out little by little, desperate to get away from the nausea, but it’s little use. Head tilted softly to the right, it feels so heavy, so unwieldy. Like a fifty pound dumbbell, I think absently, considering how I’ll write about this experience later, in my journal. The footfalls of the young girl, her carrying voice, persist in the foyer to our right. I never look in that direction, never once, content to just listen.

“How are you doing?” asks Mom.

“Just listening,” I whisper after a few moments. The sun, a mere fog light, brightens in the right-hand part of the sky, the part of it that is ours, that fills the large windows before us. Weak, distant light, no warmth, but it shines on us all the same, washes our skin to wan tones, gives what it is able to give.

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “Rhythms

  1. beautiful work, Jon, with an unfortunate source of inspiration, get well soon

    Posted by Chris Miller | 02.09.14, 6:48 am
    • Hey Chris, wow, nice to see you stop by here (workshop must be down, eh? Just kidding). I really appreciate the kind words and well wishes. Home tomorrow, maybe — after a combined twenty-ish days, three hospital admits, three ER visits. Never been happier to have insurance … it’s all being paid 100%.

      Been writing a lot about this experience. Twenty-one hand-written pages so far, anecdotes like this. Still, doesn’t seem like it’s enough. Hope to turn it into a memoir, just for me, I guess, and the people who care.

      Thanks again; your encouragement really means a lot.

      Posted by Jon | 02.10.14, 8:42 pm
  2. That was some fabulous writing. So, about that feeling you had in your chest–the breeze–I’ll be worrying about that now.

    Posted by randee | 02.09.14, 10:38 am
    • Thanks, Randee. I don’t feel it so much any more — think it was probably a one-time thing. And, like I wrote, it felt pretty good. Really appreciate you stopping by here and taking the time.

      Posted by Jon | 02.10.14, 8:43 pm

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