This blog from two years ago generated plenty of interesting comments at the time. The days following my first surgery I was compelled to write about some heavy stuff. Here it is:
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2009 12:06 AM, EDT
Monday night, late. Having trouble sleeping. I am doing my part by staying horizontal most of the time. My pain is still very present in the form of headaches and body aches, but it is more predictable and manageable than before. The pills they sent me home with do the trick for the meantime. I know when the pain is coming and I can stay ahead of it. The dizzyness is getting better and my vision is (miraculously) almost back to the pristine state it had been in when I aced the vision test for my pilot license. I can see colors again now, vividly.
Laying flat with nothing to do all day gives you plenty of time to reflect. On the Friday before my head surgery I needed to be cleared with a general physical to see if I could make it through such an invasive procedure. It was basic stuff like blood and urine tests, an EKG, blood pressure (high, as usual) and going over all the prescription medications I currently took to help with hypertension and asthma.
The most interesting part of the physical was the check-box questions you had to fill out. I had one sheet I worked on and the doctor had his own sheet. He asked a lot of the same questions.
"Oh, yes," I said.
The doc looked up from his paper to study my response more closely.
I pointed to myself. "Musician," I said.
The doc checked the box and asked, "How much?"
"Two, three glasses of wine with dinner."
"Okay. Any more than that sometimes?"
"Usually," I said.
I imagine he put a star by that one. Then he moved on to a series of questions about my home life. Did I feel in danger at home? Physical or emotional abuse a constant worry, perhaps? There were several questions which came at this subject from different angles. I could have had a field day with this line of questioning about fifteen years ago, but things are great now so I answered, "No."
"Any thoughts of suicide?"
"No, not for a while."
He studied me closely again.
I said, "It's a no. Just check the 'no' box."
I must have been in some kind of a mood to play with that one. But, in reality, as I drove away from the doctor's office to do my final duty at a nearby lab—peeing in a cup—I thought the answers to these 'yes' and 'no' questions were so over-simplified.
No more than a few years ago, when my chronic pain issues from a botched hernia repair surgery overcame my body so completely, I found myself on our porch, an ice bag over the surgical incision and a pain pill in my system doing no good. I had my laptop with me and, more out of curiosity than anything else, I typed "suicide" into the Google search engine. I just wanted to see, nothing more. I felt trapped in a world of pain.
I had spent years already pursuing every way out of this and could not imagine the rest of my life being the way it felt on that very day. I wasn't even close to snapping; I was just curious what people did when they eventually reached a point where they could not go on. I just wanted to know what the protocol was, how you were supposed to go about things if such and such never turned around for you.
The web sites which came up right away were, of course, not instructional but interventional. "Visiting this website is a BRAVE and POSITIVE step. You are ACKNOWLEDGING you need help, and here are all the ways you can get it, etc.."
MJ came out to sit on the porch with me that afternoon. She knew it was a bad day for me pain-wise and she had been making me a bowl of freshly cooked chickpeas drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fleur de sel and cracked pepper, one of my favorite surprise snacks. I erased my browser's history, closed the laptop, and we sat and talked while I ate the chickpeas and felt ice melt over the tangled nerves at the spot of my hernia repair.
Another time, in eighth grade, I brought home a report card with a C-minus in Human Development. (I think the course was called, "Discovering Me," actually. It was basically sex-ed.) Worst of all, this C-minus dropped me into the second quintile in my class, an unheard-of shame in my household. When my mother would see this at dinnertime I knew a) she would probably kill me, and b) my father would not stop her.
I had nowhere to turn. After arriving home, I took a glass of tap water into our utility room in the basement where tools and miscellaneous cans and jars were kept. I found something with a poisonous skull and crossbones on the side. I opened the drip spout on this container and watched a small, solitary drop fall into the glass of water. I swirled the glass.
"Oh, God," I remember saying.
My hand trembled so hard I could barely get the glass to my lips. I took a tiny sip, then doubled over, crying and spilling the rest of the water on the floor. I knew I had just done it.
My brother came downstairs and we proceeded to watch the one hour of television we were allowed on school nights before homework: a half hour of Gomer Pyle, USMC (my favorite) followed by a half hour of Get Smart (his favorite). As the shows aired, I wondered how it would happen, how I would die. I imagined something sudden, like the birthing scene in "Alien" where my chest would break apart with guts spilling into the room. But of course nothing happened.
Dinner, even, was quite tame. After the salad, my mother picked up the report cards, surveyed the grades, looked me over sternly when she saw the C-minus, then put it down without comment.
The next day in class, I asked one of the most popular boys how he had done in "Discovering Me."
"D-plus!" he said triumphantly. "Fifth quintile." He clenched his fists and pulled them repeatedly towards him as he pumped his hips. The rest of the class took notice and egged him on.
The truth is, as good a student as I was at the time, I more than deserved the C-minus. Not yet aware of my own dyslexic tendencies and how to overcome them, I had run out of time on a paper and resorted to plagiarizing a whole paragraph, something I had never done before nor since. The teacher surely knew this but did not call me on it. The C-minus should have been an F, and I knew it. A deep shame about the sanctity and sacred quality of one's own work crept into me that day and has never left.
So it is, indeed, silly to check boxes, defining your life as a series of 'yes' and 'no' answers to questions that are rather blunt. It is so much more complicated than that.