Thursday, October 25, 2012
The Way We Were
After dinner, Ann often reads to me from a book we’re “reading” together (in the sense that she reads aloud, and I lie on a pallet in front of the fire and listen.)
Right now we’re reading Miracle Boy Grows Up, the memoir of a young man born with significant physical disabilities in 1962 (two years before my birth). In last night’s reading, Miracle Boy, who is twelve, has surgery to straighten a spine that has become so crooked from scoliosis that without the surgery, he will lose the ability to breathe.
Miracle Boy has a medieval treatment in which rods are drilled into his knees and his skull (yes, his skull). Eventually, metal rods are sewn into his spine, supporting it in becoming a little straighter.
He describes his time in Critical Care, and his description surprised me because I remember very little that was similar for me.
I remember being rolled in my hospital bed to a quiet room. I remember my surgeon, Dr. Rapport, talking with me and telling me that the surgery went well and that my face was drooping like I had Bell’s Palsey, but that would probably resolve in time. (It mostly did…after five and a half years, I’m told that my face looks remarkably normal. Counting five and a half years in post-surgery time is sort of like counting dog years. You need a formula. 5 and ½ years in normal people time=one month in post-surgery time.)
I remember Ann coming in to see me after surgery and saying, “Congratulations. You made it!” I also remember her saying that friends and family would visit in ones and twos just to say hi. I remember that I asked her to tell my dad to be quiet. (He can be quite loud.) I remember that she thought I was kidding about telling him to be quiet, and I remember that I wasn’t.
I remember dozing on and off, and I remember that each time I awoke, Ann was by my side. I remember that there was brown carpet in the room. I remember that a nurse said that I could have ice slivers if Ann stood by me, and I remember scolding Ann when she moved across the room.
I remember noises in the night as a new patient coming in, and I remember Ann saying, “That’s Ellen!” (a colleague and friend.) I remember that Ellen’s husband Paul, another colleague, died that night.
The next day I recall that I was in another room: a large one that also had brown carpet. I remember that was alone with my guardian, my mother, and that at three in the morning my colleague Alanah brought fifty seniors into the Critical Care room to do their senior project presentations. I remember that my bed tilted 90 degrees and that with all the noise I tried to leave, but tubes held me in place.
That’s what I remember, but I learned as we talked about Miracle Boy’s experience that my memories aren’t very accurate.
Apparently a nurse, a long-time acquaintance, sat vigil by my bed that first night. I don’t remember her at all. Ellen’s husband Paul didn’t die that night, but died a day or so later. Alanah didn’t bring her seniors into the Critical Care Unit: that was a hallucination. My bed wasn’t tilting. Mom and I weren’t in a huge room. I’m guessing there was no brown carpet, either.
It’s so interesting how the mind and memory work.
This weekend, my Broughton High School Class of 1982 will celebrate our 30th reunion. I won’t be there, but the celebration has me thinking about what I remember from high school, and wondering how much is accurate and how much I’ve forgotten.
I think I remember that my English teacher, Ms. Sally Smisson, posting my first assignment on the wall all year. In response to an assignment requiring me to create a symbol of myself, I created a collage of photos into a giant question mark. That was the wisest symbol I ever created.
I think I remember my friend Ande, a junior, telling me that I had a bee on my shirt, and me rolling my eyes about her harassing the sophomores just as the bee stung me.
I remember that my friend Becky had a crush on a guy named Randy, and that Randy gave Becky a bag of M&Ms that were all green.
I’m pretty sure I remember talking about hair care with the African-American basketball players, sitting on the bench, and quitting the basketball team.
I remember the high school band, “Slow Children,” and all of the stolen street signs that warned drivers to slow down because children were in the area. I remember my friend Theresa passing a note during our senior English class that said, “Your Sister Told Me.” That was one of Slow Children’s songs.
I remember Spring Break trips to the beach, and throwing the quarter where no one could find it as we played a drinking game called Quarters before the photograph to the right was taken.
I think I remember all of the people in that photo. I think I remember looking like that.
For sure, I remember the angst of being a teenager and of trying to figure out who I was and how I fit in. I recall fearing that I might not ever know myself and that I might not ever fit in.
What was harder: brain surgery or the self-doubt of being a teenager? Self-doubt. That I remember for sure.