Inside the Cocoon

The present takes over. It became a near full-time job just going for tests, having vitals checked, visits from the physio, the hospital GPs and the lab wanting more blood. I was surprised at what was happening to me, alright; especially when I realized, for example, that I’d not walked in two weeks and didn’t know when I would again. I was also bemused by my placid reaction. Aware at some level, that I was making the best of things; like you do when waiting for the storm to blow itself out so you can continue the hike.

When people talk about their experiences in hospital it is often about the large amounts of time spent waiting — for doctors, for test results, for the clean sheets to arrive or the nurse to return with the tramacet. On a more philosophic level, they talk about living in the now, a day at a time, which is probably inevitable. Pain does narrow the focus. In my case, the body was putting everything it had into battling the huge infection, while accommodating a massive onslaught of penicillin. Within three weeks, I lost 15 pounds and became aenemic

Without thinking about it, I turned my “isolation unit” into a cocoon. I was not insulated from what was going on out in the outer world; I listened to CBC-1 continuously in the first days, I had my iPod, and I talked to people by cellphone. Eventually, I could read again, and I added Radio-Canada (especially on Sundays) and CBC-2 to the radio roster. But it was only when someone asked, “I assume you have a TV. How about wifi?” that I realized how I’d actually constructed my environment. I heard myself answering that I couldn’t bear having either.

My connection with the world became exclusively aural. I felt safe there. It may have been all I could deal with. Many called in to see how I was and send encouragement, and a small army of stalwarts did so regularly: Fauzia, Feldman (for the Carnivores), Johnny, Patrick, Jane, Lillian, Ramona, Mai, and Zia.

How do you describe the experience of being shut away in an institution? Even when it happens for life-saving, non-punitive reasons and everyone treats you well, trauma is involved.  My friend Betsy likens it to “being dropped through a trap door into another narrative”. Alice lands in ER. To me it felt like arriving in a parallel universe where everything is familiar yet unreal, and you have to figure out why. It’s like following a plot that morphs silently from fact into fantasy. I can’t entirely blame the drugs despite the fatigue and depression they dragged along with them. But I know I was on automatic pilot, tightly focused and avoiding the big picture as if life depended on it.

I deeply suspect my brain (the organ) had taken over mission control. It was for sure rerouting physical resources on a massive scale and I was incidental to that effort. It made sense not to involve me. By the same token, I’m happy I didn’t get to see the big picture until it didn’t matter anymore. It would not have helped my spirits to have known all the possible ways Strep B, unstopped, could hurt, maim or kill me. Ignorance definitely has its moments.

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