I promise to stop wriitng about "my trip to the hospital" soon. Very soon! But apparently, I'm a classic case of a writer who doesn't get out much. It's not that I don't see lots of people every day. Family, friends, and friends of the kids flow in and out in a wonderful stream. They bless my life--all of them--even when I bellow, (most often internally) "Hey, I'm trying to get some work done here!"
But what I've missed from my waitressing days, and what the hospital provided was interaction with the wider world. People I didn't know. Stories I hadn't heard. Catalysts to insights and thoughts that stretched far beyond myself and my beloved few. The stream that becomes a vast, transformative river. In the hospital, I walked into that river again.
For my second surgery, I only had one request: I wanted to go back to the same floor, White 7, where I already knew the nurses and the aides, the dietary and housekeeping staff. I loved them all. But it was probably the intimacy of sharing a room with various strangers, all enduring their own crises, that affected me most.
I've written before about the Chinese roommate who had been hit by a car while crossing a street. I've written about how we banished our night terrors and pain by speaking them out loud in the dark. What I haven't written about is the other kind of pain we discussed late in the night. The pain of injustice and invisibility.
Though she had several broken bones, a badly shattered ankle and a dislocated shoulder, what seemed to bother my roommate most was that other kind of pain. After we'd gone through the list of our physical suffering, she would re-tell the story of the woman who'd hit her with a BMW. The woman whose only concern seemed to have been spinning the story to avoid responsibity...
"I was in the crosswalk, but she told the police I walked in front of her car..She never looked at me....I was lying in the street, my whole life changed, and she never even asked if I was all right..."
It seemed incredible to me that anyone could be so callous, so blind. But of course, every day in our world, people make decisions about who we will look at deeply and who we will refuse to see. Every day, we turn away and deny responsibility just like the woman in the BMW did.
"They won't believe her," I said in the dark.
But my roommate's experience caused her to doubt. "She was rich, and I'm an office worker...my English, it's not so good...maybe they believe me and maybe they don't."
As our week together went on, our families got to know each other, and a genuine bond formed. One of her nephews wanted to become a writer, but the family worried that it wasn't a practical choice. (I couldn't disagree, but I also couldn't help telling him to keep writing!) A niece was a talented artist. I admired the caring and closeness of her extended family, and envied the wonderfully fragrant home cooked dinners they brought to her every evening.
One of the more baffling (and entirely subjective) questions a hospital patient is asked regularly is to rate your pain from one to ten. In my reference point, ten was childbirth, and seven was a throbbing tooth in need of a root canal. I wondered where the pain of invisibility fell on the scale.
No one ever asked me to rate my bliss, but I did anyway. Bliss was the gorgeous, concerned faces of my roommate's nieces and nephews and my children as they entered our room in the evening, their coats glistening with snow, cheeks bright with the cold. Bliss was seeing and being seen by the people in front of us, and by each other.
Though we talked about our suffering in the night, during the day, we joked with the aides, and told stories about our very different childhoods. In a cramped hospital room, looking out on the snow, I traveled far. We sipped our tea together, and talked about how good, how very good, it tasted. My roommate had a wonderful, tinkling laugh, which I'd heard--amazingly--on the first night when they brought her in on a stretcher.
That laughter is still with me. On the bliss scale, it's a ten.