Monday, May 10, 2010

Pleurisy


On a Friday night, not unlike any of my other Friday nights, I came home with a pepperoni pizza and turned on the oven while emptying the dishes from the machine.

This was my second pepperoni pizza since last week, and so I anticipated it would not give me the same rewarding pleasure that the original one gave me several nights before. But I was turning to food more lately, as a consolation for my boredom and loneliness.

As far as I knew, I would eat my pepperoni pizza, enjoy a cigarette in the garage (another consolation), and retire to my upstairs office. There I would work on the arts website, perhaps read some submissions, and if the inspiration came to me late at night, I would compose some verses or add another essay or meditation to this chronicle of innocence.

It occurs to me that a writer who is consciously or subconsciously perusing the material of her life will inevitably come to the conclusion that the material is wanting, lacking somehow. Very few things stand out on the vast topography of our mundane existence.

For this reason, I'm curious about how we change in the span of a single day--how our course is suddenly pushed onto another track of possibility, which gives rise to a new self-conception. Brought on by the force of an event, we see our lives, as it were, in color, with new wishes, dreams, desires, and motives.

These are the experiences I wish to capture in my writing, if only because they convey the interesting passage from the finite to the infinite.

I'm not feigning obscurity here. You'll understand everything by the end of this essay, and if you don't, then at least you will have spent some time with me, and perhaps made a friend.

There is a tragic story to all our lives; I am convinced of it no matter how happy you tell me you are. Lucky for us, the tragedy is raised to the arch-background and we prefer not to dwell on it. I won't talk too much about tragedy here, other than through the story of what happened to me after I finished eating my pepperoni pizza.

Like I mentioned, it was a Friday night, which always seems to conjure up feelings of isolation. I won't get into that too much either. But I was sitting at my computer, if you recall, and there are a number of things I do at my computer which make me feel occupied, important, or otherwise pro-active. That's why it doesn't really matter what day of the week it is (I work from home), I can always distract myself from whatever subtle anguish or boredom is nagging at me just beneath the surface.

The pepperoni pizza was having a hard time digesting in my stomach, and I knew this would be the case from the last time I ate one, and from eating unhealthy food in general. It looked like an average Friday night so far. I smiled at my reflection in the computer screen, I typed, I sent messages to friends over Twitter, I replied to emails, I surveyed the traffic patterns on Escape into Life.

This is precisely what I was referring to when I mentioned the vast topography of our mundane existence. These little sorts of activities that cushion our lives. Think of them as taking place within a grey continuum, with blips of surprise, discomfort, headache, joy, nausea, fatigue, rest.

There are also countless forms of anguish that can be added to that category of the mundane, depending on your physical condition, and how well you maintain your body. As for myself, I've been having a rough time of it. Since last week, these extraordinary pains in my chest led me to seek out a doctor for the first time in five years.

I went to one of those Prompt Care facilities, in which no appointments are necessary. The doctor they matched me up with looked Greek. He had a tan bald head and a reserved manner, but you could tell he thought highly of himself. The Greek doctor determined that there was nothing wrong with my lungs or my heart, but that I had severe allergy symptoms, and he prescribed a nasal spray and some antibiotics.

I left the Prompt Care facility feeling as though something had not been addressed. Although I was happy to breathe again thanks to my new prescription of nasal spray, I remembered repeatedly telling the old man, "I feel like I'm dying."

I was feeling a pain under my left chest plate. Each time, it was like someone had dug their fist into my chest and squeezed out all of the air in my lungs, applying the most excruciating pressure to the heart and everything else inside. I couldn't breath while this was going on and the muscles in my back tightened into a vice.

Several hours later, while I was at my computer, the chest pains returned and I curled in my chair, unable to breathe. I observed that my Friday night wouldn't be wasted if I drove myself to the Emergency Room at St. Joseph's Hospital, rather than endure the agony of severe chest pain.

I parked my car in the wrong section of the parking lot, and hobbled toward the lights at the circular entrance doors. My decision to admit myself to the Emergency Room was not yet certain. I didn't want to get charged an exorbitant price for not having health insurance, and perhaps worse, I didn't want to be told that my chest pains were normal.

My physical state was pathetic, I felt like an invalid, unwashed, and I got the abrupt sensation that with all the gas from the pepperoni pizza, I may have shit my pants.

So I opened one of the hospital doors and briskly entered the nearest bathroom. I checked the inside of my underwear, which thankfully, showed no signs of run off. I briskly washed my hands and wended my way through the labyrinthine basement of the hospital, reading the signs that pointed to the ER. A tech worker caught me in my state of confusion, and guided me to the Emergency Room doors.

With the odd hours of the night, and my general feeling of confusion, I began to see myself as an outsider here. But I also felt a twinge of belonging, like perhaps this is where an outsider is meant to be.

I stood at the registration window, and glimpsed a technician speaking to an older lady in a wheelchair. The old lady had a blood pressure wrap on her arm and was telling the technician that she didn't have any pain.

It was approximately 12:30 pm. As I filled out the registration papers, a large black security officer made small-talk with a smaller lady sitting at a desk in front of five computer monitors. Their topic of conversation was "Facebook and Security."

I was called into the tech's office, where I removed my jacket and waited for several minutes, going over in my mind all the questions I had about not having insurance and how much it would cost, and whether they could really help me with my condition.

The woman who had been talking to the older lady for so long finally came into the check up room to do my blood pressure. I still hadn't made up my mind about whether I should be admitted into the hospital. But with a clandestine swoop across my wrist, I found a loose, beige hospital band with my name on it.

I believe there are three rooms, if you count the waiting room, before you reach the doctor.

Well, on this night, each of these three stations led me deeper into an experience. I didn't know what I was doing here to be perfectly honest. I mean I had some severe chest pains, but other than that, I think I was just bored and wanted to go to the hospital. Or maybe there was something I wanted . . .

When a surrogate nurse brought me into the second station, I removed my jacket and placed it on a chair, along with my cell phone and wallet. I immediately laid down on the flat cushion, which appeared to me at this moment more comfortable than a king size bed. Then the real nurse came inside the room and asked me to put on a gown. She seemed very genial, and also hip for her age, with short dyed blond hair. Her hair reminded me of my mother's because it was cropped short.

I was in pain but I didn't want to make a performance out of it. So I held my arms close to my chest and leaned back into my pillow.

"Do you want me to raise that?" She asked.

"Yes, please," I said, taking a second glance at her face. "You seem like a nice lady."

You know there is something about being in the Emergency Room late at night, where there are only two people in a single room, a nurse and a patient. It can be a very tender intimacy without any sexual implications, just the presence of two strangers put in the same room, one taking care of the other. These thoughts were comforting to me even though I had a bit of apprehension about when the doctor would arrive, what he would say, and what he would give me.

The plain truth is that I'm a self-destructive person. There is no easy way to talk about this. I've tried to understand it my whole life. Part of my sensitivity comes from this destructive nature of mine.

After the nurse dimmed the lights and left the room, I sunk into the cushion and closed my eyes. Without exaggerating, this Friday night was turning out to be one of the best Friday nights I think I've ever had in my entire life. I'm pretty sure I fell into a dream where my father's nose was cut off, as if he'd had plastic surgery and it didn't work out. Well, the vision was terrifying and the image still burns strong in my imagination.

Luckily, I was startled awake by a young woman, I want to say "girl," dressed in a casual striped men's shirt. She had short raven hair, and held a clipboard.

"I'm here to collect your insurance policy information." She spoke in a sweet tone of voice.

At first I didn't answer, I only looked at her pale freckled face and dark hair, and the way her men's collar rose slightly over her narrow shoulder-line.

"You look familiar," she said. "You look like one of my older brother's friends."

And those were the kindest words that have ever been spoken to me. I must have looked like utter crap.

"Oh, I don't have insurance," I said.

"Well, we could get you one of those Charity forms, where you fill in your financial information."

"No, no, that won't work. I've tried that before. I have a trust fund."

"It's always better to be safe than sorry," she said.

I nodded in agreement.

She left the room and I gloated that she had even entered it in the first place. For the next twenty minutes, I fantasized about asking her if she had a boyfriend, and if she said "Yes," I would reply something like, "That doesn't surprise me."

But if she answered "No," then I would ask her out to dinner. Maybe she would think of my trust fund and how I could probably take her out to a pretty fancy restaurant. Or maybe she despised people who never had to work, and wouldn't want anything to do with me.

The nurse returned to my room to ask how I was doing, and I explained to her that my pains were getting worse. I could feel spasms in my chest but I didn't want to sound like a martyr. She said the doctor was on his way.

When the doctor finally arrived I was reeling in pain, and all I could catch a glimpse of was his silver toned face and sharp eyelashes. He had a wide expression like he was going to eat me. But he asked a lot of questions, and I had rehearsed my symptoms for days now, so in a sense, we were perfectly in tune.

I was hoping he would have an answer for me, a diagnosis of some kind. I kept describing the pain under the chest plate, deep, sharp, in my breathing, suffocating me, pulling at my muscles . . .

He smiled and said it would all be better soon. And then he left.

The nurse returned with three tall needles on a steel plate. I turned on my side and pulled down my underwear and jeans.

The nurses and doctors on the other side of the curtain were chatting lightly. They couldn't see me, but I was glowing inside. Especially when the first needle went into my butt, I wanted to meet them all.

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9 comments:

Roy said...

Well done, in my humble opinion. Disturbing.

Lethe said...

Roy--

Thank you, it's good to get an opinion. I'm sure several people have read the piece, but none other than yourself have commented.

I set out to describe an experience in all it's contradictory facets. I don't know if the piece achieves a unity or not.

People could be reading this and going, "Huh?"

I guess I'm experimenting with my writing and trying different things.

Lethe

Roy said...

I'm no critic, but I thought it achieved something like that. It had me, carried me through from start to finish, and was thought provoking.

Sometimes reading a blog post and encountering fiction is just a bit off putting. I did that once, and one commenter just came right out and said, hey, you should warn us. :) But I figure, hey, you're on your own!

Lethe said...

Roy--

Well, this isn't fiction. I don't know if you were implying that you thought it was . . .

Actually, I'm very interested in the essay form, and memoir, lyric essay, personal essay, and so on . . .

I find this type of writing more interesting than fiction, per say.

It's also the kind of writing that happens more naturally for me . . .

When I say that I'm experimenting, I mean testing the limits of the essay form, and seeing where narrative, essay, and lyric might intersect.

Lethe

larac78 said...

Hey,
I liked this one. It seems more descriptive than the others.
I feel like you have shared a lot of yourself here. And I wanted to hug you or something.
I liked it a lot.
Lara

Roy said...

My mistake.

Lethe said...

Thanks Lara!

No problem, Roy!

Laura said...

So, you changed the title of this essay. I think it's better now.

Lethe said...

Lara--

Yep. I think so too. After I write these things, I go back and think about them (maybe too much), determining if they work, if they're titled correctly, etc.

Lethe ;)