March 27, 2007 § 5 Comments
No, I don’t care for hospitals.
It’s not the reek of mortality that gets me, even though it lurks behind every half-closed door. I have no fear of death per se, nor of its untimeliness. It’ll come when it comes, and that’s fine with me. What I am unnerved by is illness, with its drooling hounds of incapacity and need. Given a choice, I would take the live current, the fatal stroke, the sudden decapitation, all of which are less ghoulish to me than a bedpan.
I’ve been gravely ill just once in my life. I was in my early twenties, and the antibiotics I had been prescribed for a strep throat infection didn’t take. By the time I arrived at the hospital I was delirious with fever and could scarcely breathe. The doctor waited until the next day to tell me that, had I not come in, I would have died in my sleep.
Waiting, I had a sense memory of being in that other hospital, on my back in a hallway with an IV taped to each arm. Phil weathered the night on a bench beside my gurney, studying for an exam he had to take the next day. I don’t remember seeing him, but I could feel his presence as I drifted in and out of consciousness, as surely as one feels warmth from a fire. Drifting, I knew that he was there, and that he would be until I stopped.
In this hallway, I sat alone in a chair and read a book of sonnets, of all things. It didn’t even occur to me to call anyone to tell them where I was.
I thought about this as the nurses rushed past and the hallway became incrementally darker. Since Phil, I have learned aloneness as one best learns a language: by complete immersion. I vowed that I would master it, so that I could live as though it was my native tongue. Slowly, it has become my English, the place in which my thoughts form. And it is the language in which I write.
At moments, though, I still lapse into the other, which is as much a part of me as the colour of my hair. It’s what I speak when I love.
Jesus, the things you’ll think about given enough time.