I put myself on bed rest this Saturday because I have been trying to kick a cold for quite some time now and it got pretty bad this week. Although the initial sleep-in part was nice, I began to go a bit of stir-crazy in my little apartment. I wanted to work out, play outside, clean, have fun with friends- anything- but I forbade myself to do anything other than drink green tea and lay low (okay, I may or may not have cleaned my kitchen but I couldn’t help it).
I finally ended up reading an entire novel and then going through some old files on my external hard drive. One piece instantly jumped out at me because of the appropriateness of its timing. I wrote the first part my freshmen year of college and the second during my first year of graduate school. Because this week marks the seven year anniversary of the surgery that saved my Dad’s life, I figured I would share it.
Out of all the things I am grateful for in my life- and there are a lot- having my family healthy, happy, and together tops my list. I am infinitely grateful for the past seven years with my daddy and look forward to many more. And YES. I do still call my father “daddy.”
I sat next to the hospital bed and pretended to read a book… but really I just watched him. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the tubes, IV’s, and bandages that covered his body and surrounded the bed. The steady “beep, beep” of the monitors and the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest were my only focus. Never had I seen my hero look so fragile. Never had I been so painfully aware that my world could shatter at any moment. My heart hit the floor when the alarms began to sound. Without a moment’s thought I was running down the hallway… trying to find help though there seemed to be none in sight…
* * *
It had been five years since I had been in the University of Michigan’s Cancer Unit. As I walked through it today, I found myself attempting to conjure up images of my seventeen-year-old self walking down the very same hallways during the scariest time in my life. To my surprise, I could not do it.
I have always been in awe of the power of the human mind… I blame the psychology major in me. What a strange feeling it is to realize that your mind has almost completely blocked out an entire period in your life… a period of significance, no less. I know I was there, yet I remember only moments- brief flashes of conversations; quick pangs of the fear I felt so thoroughly throughout my being.
I imagine that the suppression was some sort of self-preservation. Anyone would have strong emotions in that situation… but for someone with anxiety like mine, I doubt I could function if I carried those thoughts with me everywhere. Don’t get me wrong- I think about how lucky we are all the time and about how grateful I am for the work that was done in that hospital… but when I try to actually think about the events themselves, it all seems surreal.
Self-preservation or not, I couldn’t help but feel guilty when I realized the extent of this selective amnesia. I was only able to suppress the memories because our story was one of success and survival. I went home and life seemed to get back to normal soon enough, despite some changes. I wasn’t the one with parts of me missing. I wasn’t the one with a scar to serve as a constant reminder of what could have been.
And then the guilt went even deeper because I knew that the reason I was able to block things out was that I was able to do what many people who walk through those hallways are not: I got to go home with my loved one. For those not blessed with this gift, I am sure that the absence of that person serves as a constant reminder of the time spent in that hospital.
I felt selfish for forgetting.
So today… I cried. I cried out of guilt, out of sympathy, out of fear. But mostly I cried out of gratitude. I am so grateful to have him. And, although I apparently have blocked a lot of things out… that gratitude has never waivered.
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