Armen Bacon

In life, as in writing, you must learn to edit

It was not exactly the Oprah “aha!” moment I had hoped for. There were no bells, whistles or fireworks. Only sirens.

And a raging fever.

Two seizures.

Six days in the hospital.

Pneumonia. Also a broken foot.

Ultimately, this would be a study in editing – deciding what would stay and what would not in my new and re-imagined life, a life of acute awareness that alas, I am not 37 anymore.

The wake-up call came after months of burning the candle at both ends, saying yes more than no, biting off more than I could chew and trying too hard to be Wonder Woman. My husband says the admitting physician called it “the perfect storm.”

My husband and my daughter also assure me I am making progress – compared with how I faired a few weeks ago when I woke up in a hospital bed barely knowing my name, asking for paper and pen and writing:

“I am a human train wreck.”

Thankfully the MRI and EEG came back normal and negative. But pneumonia has a chokehold on me as I lie flat on my back for what my doctor says will be the good part of a month (I’m having trouble figuring out the good part).

Être un peu secoué (Translation: To be a bit shaken up)

These are the prophetic French words that showed up on my Instagram account the morning after I landed in the intensive care unit of Saint Agnes Medical Center. To say I was “a bit shaken up” is an understatement.

Author Joan Didion writes, “Life changes in an ordinary instant.” Mine now stretched out in front of me while I gazed through a hospital window watching signs of spring hinting its arrival, nurses checking my vital signs and poking veins for blood.

I am home now, in an awkward state of convalescence. Illness has grabbed my soul.

Thankfully, there are gains worth noting. I can lift a coffee mug without straining my back. I can walk from the bedroom to the kitchen without having to pause, pant and rest. I can get through the night without pain medication. Well, that’s not completely true. The progress is slow, aggravating.

Feeling strangely human this morning, as if I might be finding my way back home, I begin charting the series of losses facing me during this unexpected installment of life: The missed writers conference I had prepared months for, the Paul McCartney concert that was sure to escort me back in time and revive the sunshine of my youth, a dear friend’s 65th birthday bash in Southern California that I am almost certain to miss.

Although heartbroken, I am mostly grateful to be here in one piece, capable of articulating my disappointment. My daughter reminds me I could be learning to talk all over again.

As a regular columnist for The Bee, this is the place I turn to twice a month to share musings, thoughts and life stories that bridge the gap distancing us as we navigate the busy rigors of our complex lives. When we come clean, we become more real and connected.

This always has been my sole purpose in writing – not to necessarily construct perfectly crafted sentences, but to expose the human condition in all its truth, beauty, splendor and messiness.

So what now? What is my healing elixir? Aside from time and patience, I am filling my days with the medicinal balm of books – finally reaching for that stack on my nightstand. While bedridden, the idea of being swept away into the pages of someone else’s story is a welcome and seductive distraction.

Twice a day, I write letters to long-distance friends. This is something I have done religiously for decades. A little pneumonia will not stop me now.

And finally, I am making journal entries noting the acts of kindness buoying my spirit – each a constant reminder that generosity of heart is alive and well. I have extraordinary friends, neighbors and family.

They show up at all hours of day and night and are nursing me back to health – holding my hand and feeding me chicken noodle soup. Never (ever) underestimate the healing power of human contact.

And so I offer a simple thank you. With each new breath, I have greater appreciation for the gift and privilege of life.

When you wake up in the ICU with little if any memory of how you got there, someone is sending you a message that it’s time to press the pause button. Do some life editing. One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, writes, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

I’ll be back. But first I’m taking a timeout to refresh and recalibrate. I’m not exactly sure who I will be on the other side of this life-altering experience. You break wide open, everything is exposed, and one morning you find yourself sitting stark naked examining your entire existence.

In my case, words appeared, as they often do – delivering a powerful message for me to hear once and for all: You are not bulletproof.

Armen D. Bacon is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and a collection of essays titled “My Name is Armen.” Email: armenbacon@gmail.com; Twitter, @ArmenBacon.

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