At first, I can bear the mild discomfort that awakes me from my sleep. Then the racking, agonizing pain weakens me and I crawl to a mirror to see a ghost-white face. I never had actually called 911 before that moment and the thought of doing so seems irrational. But another wave of intensity hits my body with a vengeance and I call. I have nothing to take to ease this pain and my body does not know how to react. I really do think I am going to die and I am angry. I try to remain calm until the ambulance pulls in. I scream for something to take away the pain, they refuse me. I scream at them all the way to the hospital, calling them Nazi’s and sadists. With a little more zest than necessary, they lower me to the ambulance bay. I forget that I am mad at them and remember that the real villain is death.
The doctors inform me that they must run some tests to determine what is wrong with me before they can administer anything for my pain. I twist and moan and occasionally yell, my screaming is directed at the doctors, simply because death is invisible. After what seems like hours, but was surely less, I am informed that I have blood in my peritoneal cavity from unknown origin. I am given morphine. The pain has diminished some but is still there, what is gone almost completely is my coherence. I fall in and out of sleep. My mother comes to my side and encourages me to lay down. I refuse, because I want to know what is wrong with me, I do not want a nap, though short moments of sleep come inevitably. I am told that I will have some x-rays and look at this moment as being closer to finding the culprit of my calamity, so I happily let the nurses wheel me away. Pain still comes in infrequent bursts. As I lay on the cold slab in the x-ray room, I wonder if this is what a slab in the morgue feels like and I shudder. I am told to lie still while the x-rays are taken and I oblige. But, when the slides are being loaded, before the x-rays are taken, I instinctively draw my legs to my chest to ease the stabbing feeling in my stomach. The technician angrily tells me to lie flat and I do, although he isn’t taking an x-ray at the time. He takes another slide and goes back into his mysterious room to re-load. I imagine I am a porcupine and I ball up to stave off pain and death. He marches over to me and tells me that if I don’t lie flat he will tie me to the table. With as much strength as I can muster, I sit up and tell him that just because I am on heavy-duty drugs does not mean that I can’t still defend myself. I demand to know his name, because I am going to report him to someone, who? I don’t know. He apologizes and asks me if I would like more morphine. I am wheeled back to my room repeating his name over and over, trying to regain my senses.
From that moment on, I begin writing as much as I can. It is my only defense. I write down his name with comments to turn over to a person I still do not know. Do they have a president here? a monarch in the hospital? The mysterious facts of my illness are whispered about and I write that down too. I keep getting more morphine and my pen trails off the page. Again, I am wheeled to some room for more. These people must think I am easily bullied into playing the sick role, the morphined out, easily commanded woman knocking on death’s door. To heck with morphine, I am still me.
When the next member of the SS arrives to tell me more of the same, we don’t know what is wrong, we need more tests., I demand answers. They can’t tell me and treat me like a child, who is misbehaving. Am I going to die? They don’t know. I remember To Kill a Mockingbird, the part where the old woman is dying and is addicted to morphine. She decides that she wants to be lucid when she dies, so she slowly weans herself off the drug by having her neighbor read to her during her withdrawals. I decide I don’t want anymore morphine. They tell me I must be insane. I realize that in the book the woman is old and weak. I am still young and probably more sane and strong than anyone in the room. I rip the I.V. out of my arm and throw it to the floor. They leave the room to have their SS trial by night. They tell me to find another hospital and another doctor.
I arrive at the next hospital and am immediately put into the Critical Care unit. I am told that I would have to have an operation, because I have hemorrhaged and there was organ damage. Finally answers, I am relieved. Then the doctor informs me that he would have to cut into my stomach with a vertical incision. I am under the impression that medical science has advanced to the point were surgeries were exclusively done with lasers. I say no, try something else. He is shocked and asks me why I refuse the surgery. Its my stomach, I tell him and I have a list. I decide that my secret list will remain secret and I tell him to try something else before we rush to anything so invasive, so scarring. The list you see, is my life, my dreams. On this list is everything that I ever hope to do before I die. Since, I finally realize that I am not going to die, I become obsessive about this list. On it are simple things like go to Canada, buy a Cadillac, move to the suburbs. Then I think of goal #5, page 1; become a Colts cheerleader. Now, I never expected to actually make the squad, but to be fair to myself, I would have to at least try out. The scar would eliminate that possibility. Now, many of these goals are probably never going to be seen to fruition, but that is not the point. My death would become the death of the possibility of being able to reach any of these goals. My list is my life, my future.
I lay in the hospital for two weeks, desperately hoping that I.V. antibiotics will restore my health. I check myself out on a cold January Sunday. The Colts game is on, I begin to cry. My doctor does not completely grasp the enormity of my list. In my moments of fear of death, I remembered goals # 1 & 2, page 1; see my sons go to college, see my sons get married. When I realized that I was not terminally ill, I had my list in its entirety again and this man expected me to relinquish goal #5? I go home in moderate pain, but I am unscarred. I am useless and lie on the coach for two days, all I think about is my list. Goal #3, page #1; graduate college. If I cannot move, I cannot go to class, therefore cannot graduate. I grapple with this. Darn the list, darn this once perceived near-death obsession. Who would even know if I make up another list? I return to the hospital with a few simple words, just do it. I immediately feel better. I, like the old woman in To Kill a Mockingbird, had my lucidity when I made my choices. I decide to add this to my revised list; never take morphine. There is now a disclaimer to my list, as well.
**This list is subject to revision, modification, and destruction without notice**.