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Notes from a memoir

Getting away

Monday, February 17

In good spirits with Mom. We joke that we’re making a break for it, a hospital break, we’re gonna bust out of here. Few people overhear us in the hall or foyer, and even fewer smile in our direction. I know that I am a strange sight down here in this open public space, in a sky blue gown and flannel bedclothes, pushing an IV stand, while the people flowing around us are dressed well, like expensive fish — gleaming black shoes, polished hair, cellphones at their ears. Doctors and nurses, sometimes in white overcoats, but normally in scrubs and tennis shoes. And then there are just the regular folk, familes, semi-lost expressions warping their faces because the foyer is so big and commanding and because it’s the hospital where suddenly they find themselves, and maybe somewhere still in the deepest parts of themselves they continue to struggle with the notion they should not be here, not here in the hospital for anything. In passing these people, what I notice most is how they avert their eyes; they see but seem to try desperately not to, or maybe even unsee.

Mondays in the hospital are loud, busy, full of people. The opposite of Sunday when it seems like the rooms clear out, the beds empty, and patients rise and sleep walk away. In the foyer this afternoon construction workers seem to be drilling into the floor, laying new tile. Mom and I walk down the same sunlit hall as last time, the windows large and radiant to our right, clumps of empty sofa chairs also to our right, gazing onto a dreary winter scene. We find a spot near the very end of the hall and choose seats where the sunlight is brightest. I park Al beside me and heave down onto the warm cushion, my vision almost immediately consumed by the flaring white-gold intensity of the sun. I don’t make any attempt to look away, savoring it instead. It feels good — to be blinded, so obliterated by warmth and light.

We sit together for twenty minutes or so, Mom and I, talking various mundane things. My attention wanders, outside at first, the February melt, the snow piled in the shadows of mute things, the stiff bellies of dead foliage, the naked gray cement — shades darker now than it will be — and the lines of shadows where branches lean and twist out underneath the sunlight. In my left hand I hold onto my IV tubing, feeling the durable plastic, moving it around softly as Mom continues talking so the light catches it, so beautiful things happen inside of it — a sparkle, maybe, churning to life there in the saline fluid — the sides of the tube glowing with strikes of the sun whenever I manage to position it just right.

“One of the CNAs,” I say, letting the IV tube roll back and forth across the back of my hand, “told me how some people would freak out when they saw air in the line. She told me how this one patient had spotted bubbles moving up through their IV and had tied off the tubing — tied a knot in it — to stop the flow.”

Mom laughs. “People get weird about that kind of stuff. They see it on TV, think they’re going to die if it happens to them.”

I listen and keep my own IV tubing rolling back and forth across the peaks of my knuckles, flares edging the sides of the plastic every now and then, baby suns exploding to life inside. I want to be gold, I muse. Pure light.

Mom goes on to say how she could put a whole lot of air in the line and it wouldn’t matter — not in a peripheral line, anyway. “A whole different story in a central line, though.”

A pair of women, nurses probably, pass behind our chairs as mom was saying these things. Out of context, I wonder if they sound horrible. I play with the IV line some more, wonder what they think of us just now. After a while the fire alarm goes off in the foyer, twice. Mom and I both turn in that direction, curious, just as the pair of double doors begin to close off the hall.

“They really do know how to mess up a nice moment,” I say to Mom.

Tuesday, February 18

“I feel like the Wizard of Oz behind this thing,” said Kristin, my night nurse. She pulled back the curtain separating the computer workstation from the rest of the room. The hard, raking sound of the metal rings sliding back.


Sitting here tonight at ten o’clock, the TV turned down low as usual, listening to a song by Silver Mt. Zion called Thirteen Angels, part of this memoir’s namesake, and just kind of losing it, letting my eyes water and my mind wander from sad thing to sad thing with every shuddering crescendo, afraid Kristin or Ellen, the night-time CNA, might knock on the door, enter, and see me — and yet not really trying to hide it, either.

Ellen does actually come in, but I’ve managed to pull myself mostly together by then. Ten o’clock vitals, the usual thing. She wants to get them now, per our arrangement, before I fall asleep so that I might actually fall asleep and have a good night. She, or maybe I, mentions my upcoming discharge.

“Good to get out of here,” she says, the German accent undeniable in her voice.

“Yeah.” But I don’t know anymore, to be honest. Earlier this morning, when Dr. R mentioned inertia — the hospital’s own created inertia, as if it wants you, the bed needs you; and then much later in the evening, when Mom visited with a celebratory slice of French Silk pie and news of the outside world — I’d mentioned the disconnect I’d been feeling then, too. How everyone is happy to hear of my discharge, and all I can think about are all these wonderful people who are about to drop out of my life, probably forever. Faces and smiles I’ll never see again, stories I’ll never get to hear again.

Ellen lingers in my room a bit longer, and we joke how since it’s my last night she better come in here every hour to check my vitals, just to make sure I’m alive. “I’ll come in here with a stick and poke you awake!” she says, suddenly very fiesty.

“Prod me with it,” I added, chuckling.

“I’m German. We can get away with that.”

We talk about our pets afterward. I tell her about my cats waiting for me at home. She tells me about her large dogs — a Mastiff, and a German Shephard / wolf mix that, with a whisper, she assures me is indeed legal. It’s a nice conversation about mundane things, life. I find myself very open to it, so wanting to laugh and participate, to be a good listener, a good person, good friend, when all we are, really, are strangers. Ellen leaves and I eventually find myself in the bathroom, lights off, sobbing again.


The last of these hospital notes for a while. Now I have to work on putting the memoir together. Regular Lora Zee material will appear here from time to time, as usual. Thanks for reading, those that did, and being supportive throughout all this. Means more than you probably know.



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