While hanging out (read: lying flat) in the ER Saturday night, I got an interesting look at a part of a hospital I’d never seen before. Because the ER was rather full, which is sadly to be expected on the first day of boating season in Seattle, the nurses had to put me in a rather unfriendly room in a suspicious corner of the hospital, for which they felt the need to apologize.
Other than the bed and a stool for the doctor, the only object in the room was a plexiglass-housed camera in the corner (which is always nice when you have to strip down and put on a hospital gown. If I’d had full use of my back I might have been tempted to do something amusing, but as it was, I was happy to have made it into the gown without incident). There were no light switches, no blankets, no “privacy curtains” and no inside door handle. The walls were a sickly color of green, scuffed in various places with black marks, and the floor was smeared with a red blob that looked suspiciously like blood from a patient before me. I tried not to think about the blob too deeply.
When I was eventually discharged with my fistful of pain killers, the attending physician told me they’d put me in “the psych room” for lack of space in the rest of the ER. But by that point, I’d had about 4 hours to consider the extreme austerity (and the cold! Dear heavens, the cold) of the room, and had figured out the situation on my own. I wasn’t unnerved, as the doctor seemed to think I might be, but was rather pleased; in writing a brief scene for Jacob Wrestling in which the main character has a stint in just such an unpleasant room, I’d had to work from imagination alone in describing the surroundings, and now felt I could return to the scene with a more authoritative eye for anything I’d gotten wrong. (The only other time I had access to a psychiatric facility was in Florence, when I discovered that there are basically no restrooms in Italy. My girlfriends and I were about three miles from our hotel–the only sure bet–and beginning to get desperate. We snuck into the hospital, used its bathroom, and snuck back out undetected; none of us spoke enough Italian to explain that we were stupid, desperate Americans, not patients, and worried that we would have to explain our trespass to a beefy orderly. Needless to say, I didn’t get a very good look at my surroundings.)
So as we left the hospital, my husband schlepping me to the car, he was talking about how lucky I was not to have snapped my spine in two, and I was thinking about the veracity of my scene, and feeling eager to get back to the manuscript to see if I needed to change any details.
There’s something kind of bizarre about artists, and about our always looking for some usable part, some interesting setting or turn of phrase to salvage from any dismal situation. Is this positive thinking? Being productive? Or is it an escapist reaction? And how do we draw a line between our enthusiasm for our work, and being disengaged from reality? Maybe these aren’t answerable questions without benefit of a personality evaluation, but they’re certainly questions I’ll be considering as I delve into another project.