Thursday, August 29, 2013
Some time in early August, I awoke to the most peaceful and "right" feeling I have ever experienced. It was the ultimate wake-up call.
The Children's burn unit ventilation was constantly acclimatized for temperature and the air flow regulated for infection control purposes, and I was often chilly. This, and fever, lead to shivery day-dreams of hot summer sun against blue sky, of sitting on the grass eating a perfectly ripe peach with juice running down my arms and dripping off my elbows. After one of my very wet bed-baths, Muriel and Suzanne would turn on the over-head infrared heat lamps to chase my chills.
But this night I was welcomed by the most gentle, enveloping warmth imaginable. Every cell in my body was infused with it.
I was on my right side, facing the wall and the counter where I had accumulated the daily necessities within reach since I had not left my hospital bed in about 3 weeks; toilet paper, magazines, tooth brush, peanut butter, notepad and pencil to mark off the days like a jailed convict, plus the medical supplies. I could only maintain that position by holding on to the bed rail and having my left leg scissored over and in front of the barbecued right one, as any pressure caused it to scream out in pain. The staples holding the skin grafts in place were constantly uncomfortable, and the section of calf muscle that had been cut and pulled up to fill the cavity left in the joint was an extremely bizarre feeling and still causing me stomach-turning cramps.
My eyes opened to perceive rays of light of every possible color, emanating from a source over my emaciated shoulder, behind me. I was able to turn my head and upper body just enough to see him, sitting in the chair beside my bed.
It was not surprise that I felt, but an acceptance, a deep knowing, that he had always been there. I think it's what Oprah would call "an AHA moment".
My Papa Cleary died when I was 12 from pneumonia after the flu. It is from him that I inherited green eyes and prematurely white hair, a love of words and laughing at ourselves. And yet, there he sat.
We chatted while he rolled and smoked a cigarette. In life I had never known him to have smoked. He told me about Father, who up until that moment had been a closed book, a closed mouth. He told me how being the middle boy of three had been hard on him, how his mother's sickness and death from colon and stomach cancer while her children were still young had affected him, molded him into a man that could not show affection to the children in his life beyond the age he had been when he lost his own mother. Recounted the times he took "Buddy" to work with him instead of sending the dyslexic and dejected lad to the one room school house.
Papa told me to go easy on my father, that the reason he had barely visited me in hospital was because he was afraid of doctors and diagnoses because of how deeply hurt he had been as a boy. And here I was, representing everything that scared the living shit out of Father.
Struggling with the physical exertion of my Cirque de Soleil pose, Papa told me it was alright to turn back towards the wall, that it didn't make it any less real if I could not see him. And so I turned my back to him, but only physically, for my heart thirsted for this refreshing drink of knowledge he offered.
Next he told me of things astral, said that it was really my grand-mother, his wife, Gladys, who was "watching over me". Since she died when my father was 11 or so, I had never met her and knew her image only from a few photographs. The dear souls worried that I would freak out and question my own sanity if she appeared, dismiss the message as a mere hallucination. And so it was Papa who came to visit.
He told me it wasn't my time yet, that I had more important things to do. He said I'd get sicker, much sicker, and that I'd want to give up, but that I had to hold on. So I did.
"Sicker" meant blood poisoning with an infection circulating throughout my body, which settled back in the knee joint, causing septic arthritis and bone infection. I continued on daily iv antibiotics for a further 6 months once I was able to leave the hospital on the night before my 17th birthday in October.
Wearing a full leg brace for support, I had to relearn how to walk while catching up with my missed course work and manoeuvring, on crutches, a 2-storey school that had no elevator. I had lost 40 pounds and had no energy to spare beyond sheer survival. To say I was exhausted some days is an understatement. I can remember lying in bed one morning that winter and not being able to get up. I just cried. Yes, my whole life had changed and none of it had been by choice, but I felt guilty for years about being that weak, about breaking down in tears. Wuss.
And so I just got on with life and plowed ahead, as was expected of me, with my comfortable blinders on. It's just easier that way.
Or so I thought.