As I mentioned last week, my focus will be away from the blog for a bit while I take my creative writing class. However, I thought I would share my first assignment with you: writing a profile of myself as a writer, sharing literary and life influences. Consider yourself warned, it is long.
As the sun dipped low in the sky, our mom called us in from the backyard, where we were submerged in the world of imaginary play. If it was summer, the chirp of crickets filled the air, signaling that night had arrived. If it was winter, we unlaced our skates, quickly putting on our boots before freezing air stung our toes.
We trudged up the hill, beckoned by the warm glow of the open back door.
After racing to put on our pajamas and vying for the best spot on the couch, we were quiet, ready to listen to our latest book.
No longer on the couch, I found myself barefoot in the grass, blue dome overhead. I listened to the narrative of Laura Ingalls Wilder, also a Midwestern girl with, needless to say, the best first name. I listened with wide eyes as she described a panther that silently stalked the family from the trees. I fell asleep with the sheets pulled tightly over my head to protect me from the panthers, though they still found me in my dreams.
While Ingalls Wilder captured the magic of the wilderness, Beverly Cleary captured each conceivable emotion of childhood through her character, Ramona.
I related to Ramona on so many levels. The way her mouth got dry when she was in trouble, the rising anger when her classmate Susan copied her owl, the love-hate relationship she had with her sister. I wished I could be as free-spirited as Ramona. I was in awe of how she acted on her impulses; how everyone knew exactly how she was feeling. Hidden in the mass of my siblings, I did my best to stay under the radar and away from the limelight.
“She ran from her conscience and from God, who, as they said in Sunday School, was everywhere. She ran as if Something was coming to get her. She ran until her lungs felt as if they were bursting with the smoky air.”- “Ramona the Brave,” Beverly Cleary
I also ran, but not from God. I ran until my lungs pleaded for oxygen and my legs drowned in lactic acid. I ran as my brain worked to convince my body it was not dying, despite the S.O.S. messages being fired between neurons. I ran.
My parents required me to do a sport freshman year of high school. Since I lacked hand-eye coordination, I joined the cross-country team.
The thing about running is you have a lot of conversations with yourself.
“Walking is so great. I should appreciate it more.”
“But you know what’s even better? Lying on the couch.”
“No driver! Don’t wave me through! I just wanted a minute to catch my breath. Gah, now I have to keep going. Screw you and your nice manners, you wonderful human, you!”
Through running, I found my voice. I had endless conversations with myself. I listened to plenty of conversations in my brain. I was both the participant and the observer.
Though I wasn’t writing yet, I came to know my voice well.
I continued reading, with “To Kill a Mockingbird” as my favorite book. I was inspired by Atticus Finch, going against the grain to take a stand for what he believed.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”- “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee
Poking around in the peritoneal cavity of cadavers was as close as I was going to get to climbing inside of someone else’s skin.
In college, my days were spent pouring over anatomy and physiology textbooks, memorizing foreign words. I was captivated by the language of medicine. Mitochondria. Zygomatic bone. Patella. Cytoplasm. Lacrimal gland.
I told my friends I was going to name my first child, “Mitochondria” because I thought it would make a beautiful name. “Ria” for short. We all snorted with laughter as we downed our 10th coffees, cramming for the latest exam.
After I became a nurse, I worked on the blurry line between life and death, finding out for myself that fairy tales don’t have happy endings.
The prince fights cancer, not a dragon. Like the fairy tale, the prince doesn’t give up. He remains “Full Code” and undergoes CPR three times to try and make it to his daughter’s high school graduation. But the prince doesn’t win; cancer does, and the princess is left to attend their beautiful daughter’s graduation alone.
I ran, facing the emotions I had suppressed while doing chest compressions, the depressing fairy tale ending, the reality that medicine couldn’t fix everyone. I ran until I could face my nightmares, no longer about panthers. I ran until I was okay.
Working a rotation of all three shifts, night and day blended; time warped. Reading at this time was not books. It was charts.
“56yo Female, presents with confusion. History of liver cirrhosis, MELD score 32, jaundice noted bilateral eyes. Rectal tube placed. Lactulose Q2hrs. Will continue to monitor.”
“Alert and oriented x2. Oxygen sats 90%, HR 136, BP 80/40. Primary doc paged to notify. Will monitor closely.”
Will continue to monitor. Will continue to monitor. Will continue to monitor.
I got married and learned that despite what I had been told, I was able to get pregnant very easily. Very as in, the night of our wedding, easily.
While pregnancy came easily, labor and delivery did not. Avery was born blue. The NICU team huddled over the incubator, where it took four attempts to intubate her. I watched as her oxygen saturation dropped dangerously low, the same pit forming in my stomach as did when participating in a code.
Except this was my kid, and now I was a mom, lying naked on a hospital bed under fluorescent lights, almost as vulnerable as she was. I was supposed to protect her; but instead, I helplessly watched as she struggled to take her first breath of air.
Though she was little, she was fierce. After her intubation, they were able to clear her airway. Three days later, we left the hospital. My world crashed. I morphed from having complete confidence in myself to absolute terror that I would accidentally kill my baby. Life seemed scarily fragile. Avery didn’t seem too shaken.
As a new mom, I prioritized sleep over reading. But when I returned to work, I listened to books on my commute. I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t the only person overwhelmed by motherhood when listening to, “And Now We Have Everything,” by Meaghan O’Connell.
I was inspired to resume running after listening to, “Girl, Wash Your Face,” by Rachel Hollis. “Lean In,” by Sheryl Sandberg, gave me the push I needed to leave my cushy job in cardiac research to challenge my brain with oncology research. I questioned the narrative I had created about my life after reading, “Braving the Wilderness,” by Brené Brown.
“The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives… It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, being both fierce and kind.”- “Braving the Wilderness,” Brené Brown
What better way to practice being simultaneously fierce and kind, than in the battle against cancer?
When I worked in oncology research, my mind was filled with beautiful words. Pembrolizumab. Nab-paclitaxel. Daunorubicin. Atezolizumab. Drug names that for some, meant a cure. For others, simply hope.
“These spots could be cysts. But if they are cancer, this is very bad news.” I listened as a young Indian doctor delivered this news, her big eyes sharp, her lilt lyrical, her news, terrifying. I watched as the wife squeezed her husband’s hand, trying to offer support on a journey only he could take. And I read the scan results three days later. Cancer.
With that, finally, I began writing. I wrote because I didn’t like the ending my patient was being given. I didn’t like the ending any of my patients were given. I wrote, for fear of what my ending would be.
Oftentimes, life doesn’t make sense. It is full of tragedy. It isn’t governed by the rules of fairness. But when I write, I can coax my brain to put the disjointed pieces of thoughts and emotions together, create a story, discover meaning, or at least, start to understand.
I journaled about motherhood, about work, about the darkness that coexisted with the light.
When we moved from Minnesota to Florida, I started a blog to keep my relatives updated. It was great because I no longer had to repeat the same stories when I caught up with people. But better, I uncovered a hidden passion.
I like the process of creating a blog post. Finding inspiration in a book I am reading, a podcast I’m listening to, a moment in nature, or simply a thought that crosses my mind as my brain is flooded with endorphins during a run. My words spill onto the screen, as I ferociously try to capture everything before I forget.
After leaving the word vomit alone for a bit, I edit.
Edit. Edit. Edit.
Edit, until the thoughts that were hazy have come into focus. That is my favorite part.