A Story by jdwriter65

A creative nonfiction essay



The sun filters in and blasts through the plastic IV tubing by my bedside. It forms distorted images on the blue wall of my hospital room and the shadows dance in my eyes. I am bored so I ring the nurse, and when she comes and asks if I need anything, I say, “Yes.” I need everything. Nothing. Something.
I am in the hospital this time because my diabetes is jagging out of control. Last time it was the celiac disease that was destroying my intestines and causing malabsorption and anemia. I’ve been here six times in the past two months. I come here despite the fact that the quacks can’t figure out how to heal me, how to keep me well. Then the hospital docs send me home again, and the cycle re-starts.
It is discharge day and I watch while the special IV nurses remove the tubing from my left inner arm. It is a central line and the thick plastic snakes backwards through my arm from my vena cava creating a slimy, sucking sound. Some blood escapes, and the nurse lets out a laugh. “Ha ha! Some got away!” she says. She has the soft, folded-over body of a truck driver and has white hair that sticks up like a chicken. She has an acne-scarred face and smells of cigarette smoke. She catches the droplets with a bit of gauze before they land on the pristine sheets. “Gotcha!” she cackles.
 A few years ago, I tried to crash into a tree. I was clinically depressed and thought it would be nice if someone could see an outer wound that was causing the inner pain. Someone might pay attention then, I thought. Sure, I had a good life, a great husband, two beautiful children, a graduate degree, a teaching job. But still, something was lacking. This wasn’t the life I had signed on for: the constant monotony of monogamy, the continual pull of dependency from special needs children, the awesome responsibility of being a mother and a wife, all with little money, little time and never enough energy.
I drove an old Buick that we had that had been sitting atop gravel and mud, sticks and stuck-together pine needles to the end of the cul-de-sac. I started her up, full speed ahead. I tried again and again, thinking if I could just get close enough to see the splinters, the details would sort themselves out, brilliantly. But I couldn’t do it. I returned home and waited for my husband, one mud-covered, boot-clad foot crossed over the other. I sat in the cloth-covered dining room chair. I needed a long chat. I needed help.
On this day, I’m a bit more upbeat but I’m dizzy from the nausea meds and the narcotics they give for pain. I fool the nurses though by acting alert, marching around the room, eyes wide-open, a bright smile on my upturned face. My husband arrives to “safely” follow me home. Everyone is smiley and excited. I sign my life away on the papers in triplicate and am wheeled out the front entry of the redbrick fortress. I walk to our small SUV and get in, feeling alive, electrified. I don’t buckle my seatbelt. I’ve been in captivity far too long.
I drive the usual road home, the two-mile pathway littered with downed tree limbs, snow and ice. But instead of going haltingly, I fly. As is usual after a hospital stay, I’m not aware of what’s going on around me. I am focused on getting home, getting a hot shower, planning the day. Besides, my husband is following me. For some reason everyone thinks this will keep me safe. Suddenly, I am at once changing the radio station, and my daughter is texting me. I start to turn down our roadway home. I look at my cell phone for a millisecond. I look up to see a dirty, brown, banged-up van in the middle of the ice-covered roadway. I swerve to the right and the tires are no longer catching the pavement. For a moment, my heart seems to stick in my lungs and I can’t breathe. Then I let go. I float as the car careens to the right, goes up an incline and into a post. At that moment, when metal scrapes wood, time stops and holds its breath with me and I feel myself lifted up gently and sideways. I’m defying gravity. I’m an astronaut.
I don’t cry out. My mouth is open but soundless. I blink. I blink. The car angles left and shoots across the road, scuttles over a fence. I don’t taste the blood until later. I fall to the floor of the passenger side but only after watching a slow-moving picture of thousands of splinters of wood, millions of brown lines and shards that assemble and then float by, each one separate and distinct. At some point I hit something with my face. Hard.
I remember not to move. I remember to call 911 but my cell phone is out of reach. “Call 911!” I say to no one and no one answers. “I saw the splinters!” I say again to no one, and I laugh impossibly. I look up sharp and high and see the muted yellow school bus that carries my children to school and back, pass by the accident. “No!” I scream silently. “No. No. No. No.”
Suddenly, I comprehend that the pain in my face is much much too big. It is bigger than the blood in my eye that has colored everything a sickening red, red. It is bigger than I can contain in my being. It pulses and throbs and wraps its self around and around my face, my neck and down my left side in thick, wet, garnet-colored pieces of hot gauze.
I remember this pain from when my son was born. It was the same blinding, hot, throbbing cannot-be-contained pain and borne of the same fear. At the time, my son’s due date was five weeks away and everyone was concerned. I was diabetic and infants of diabetics often have premature lungs. Because of this it was determined I could not be put under general anesthetic for the cesarean section. I also had a troubling epidural because my epidural space was “difficult to find” and the anesthesiologist had to “scrape the bone” all the way up my back to find the proper insertion point. He found it; it didn’t take. I was only partly numbed up when I felt them slice into me. I was screaming that they were killing me and at the same time, the doctors’ panic was palatable. The baby was breech and stuck under my rib cage. He wasn’t breathing right.
“We have to save this baby,” was the last thing I heard.
I realized then that it wasn’t about me. It hadn’t been about me for a long, long, time.
Like in a car wreck, I felt as if I were free-floating. I saw millions of dots of a blinding light, then felt a rush of knives rain down on me. It was hot, searing, and sharp and colored bright bright red. I awoke with the obstetrician sitting by my side, monitoring my blood pressure. It was dark outside and (I was told) some 18 hours later. I had trouble waking up, he told me. But the baby was fine. He was a healthy 8.1 lb baby boy, breathing on his own and diabetic-free.
My husband pulled open the passenger door a crack. Apparently, I wasn’t in this alone.
“Oh my God! Dear God!” he said. “What happened? I just saw you go into the tree!”
Sirens swam in my head. The noise of an electrical saw. The door fell off and a cervical collar – hard plastic – was attached to my neck. “Don’t move,” said a paramedic. “Do you have narcolepsy?” one asked. I laughed, eyes closed. Words tripped across my mind: narcolepsy splinters tree pain narcolepsy splinters tree pain. I could draw nothing out of the recesses of my brain. “Are you awake?” “Are you okay?”
“Define okay.”
Ten years ago I got my first tattoo. It was my first attempt at marking my body with something indelible, something to draw attention to myself. I also was in love with the idea of sporting permanent artwork – something beautiful and meaningful both. I recall sitting in the orange vinyl artist’s chair and pointing to a site just above my left breast. I told him I wanted the Chinese symbols for “soul of a writer” done in pastel inks. The pricks and pops were anything but painful. It was alluring and sexual sitting there in the semi-darkness, looking across at the upside down mask of a decapitated head in that tattoo parlor. My “artist” was named Eddie and he was young and looked like a rock star with his long hair and multiple piercings.
I’m not sure why I had my artwork placed where it could easily be hidden rather than having the tattoo placed in a more visible area, one that would scream “look at me,” if that were the point. My next tattoo came a few years later and was a lizard king on my left ankle. It was much more visible and done in bright purples and greens amid a circle of flowers. The difference was that this one hurt. Also, this one was definitely visible. Now that I was marked, though, I didn’t become wildly popular nor did I draw attention to myself in anyway. Actually, I realized I had become cliché. Everyone I knew had tattoos. Mine was nothing special. It was generational at best. I felt like trailer-trash, and this time my ankle throbbed and swelled accordingly. My final attempt at tattooing came with a phoenix on my lower back. This one hurt so badly that I couldn’t get it colored in. It is a faint black outline, like something rising from the former ashes of another person’s life. Rather than stand out, I was now blending in.
At the hospital, once a CT scan determined that my spine, neck and back were intact; they removed the cervical collar and began hunting for a vein to insert an IV. I have problem veins; they run small and deep and are difficult to locate. After the ER nurses and the special IV team tried a total of 16 times, the doctor finally inserted one on the left side of my neck.
“I’m sorry for any discomfort I might have caused,” the doctor said in a monotone voice.
My eye had swollen shut and I had a minor concussion. My left arm was merely sprained but still throbbed. The nurse came in with a bevy of medications for me. One of them was called Dilaudid. This is a narcotic that is at least eight times stronger than Morphine. First they injected Phenergan into my veins to quell any nausea I might be having. Warmth spread out from the center of my body and a blanket of heaviness held my limbs to the gurney. Next came the Dilaudid. It first caught in my throat making me gasp, sputter. Then came the sweet release; my limbs melted one to another and the room dimmed even in the brightness and coldness of hospital white lights. The pain slid back and forth until it was neither here nor there. I felt it, I did. But I no longer gave a damn.
I lay there in a semi-conscious, delicious, drug-induced haze for hours. After day turned to night, and the docs decided I was going to live, they discharged me. This time, though, without a car, my husband – truly safely – drove me home.
My eye is still shut but is now turning purple to green to yellow. I have two scrapes above my eyebrow, and I have a minor concussion. My left arm and shoulder are sprained. The car is totaled. My kids are anxious messes. 
I ask myself: Who am I if I’m not a mother, a wife, a lover, somebody’s other?
I answer myself: I’m a girl with tattoos, a rock star at heart, Bob Segar’s “Mainstreet.” I’m someone who has to eat gluten-free, sugar-free and has to monitor her blood sugars six times or more a day. But I’m much more than a disease. I am like the fall leaves that litter the ground in Autumn. I am the ice-crystallized snowflakes in winter. I’m like the splinters that are millions of parts that make up the whole that cartwheel through space and tumble in my mind.
“You are lucky,” my husband tells me. “If you had been a few inches to the left, you would’ve gone down into a ravine. You wouldn’t have survived it.”
“I am lucky,” I tell myself silently, much later, after dark. I am in bed alone in the middle of the night, awake. Always awake. I remember the truth and the beauty of that moment. I remember the pain, but too, I remember the splinters.

© 2009 jdwriter65

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Added on March 29, 2009



Wenham, MA

I have a master's degree in creative writing from Texas Tech University and a bachelor's in journalism from Texas A&M University. (I spent more than 15 years as a newspaper features writer and editor .. more..