the memory becomes unlocked

imgresI just finished reading The Heart.  The author, Maylis de Kerangal, is French and the book was translated into English.  The story surrounds a tragic accident and everything unfolds over a 24 hour period.  The writing is beautiful and vivid.  Kerangal draws you in from the first sentence.  It is an intense book.

The first third of the book brought me back to the first insane 24 hours when my Mom was checked into the hospital after a MRI showed a mass in her brain.  A completely different story but the book brought the 6 weeks of constant decision making back to my thoughts and dreams.   Looking back at how hospitals function is mind boggling.  Learning how to navigate that world isn’t one that anyone prepares you for.

After the MRI the doctor came out to tell me the information and wanted me to take my Mom to an emergency room where he practiced immediately.  It was a Friday evening.  I called Fred and when he got on the phone it was a rush of emotions that came out of nowhere and I could barely speak.  I called my sister (and eventually my brother who is in LA) as well and we all met up in the emergency room at Sloan Kettering.  Friday night is probably the worst time to show up in an emergency room.

We filled out all the paperwork and waited for a room.  They told us that there is a chance that we will have to sit until early Saturday morning to get a room.  Really?  To us she was an emergency but to them they understood that she was about to go through a process.  My Mom was 72 years old and we are told to sit around and wait. They finally tell us that there is possible bed and through chatting up a few people I figured out which part of the hospital it was in and what floor. I took the elevator up to the floor to see the bed completely empty just waiting for her arrival.  I went back downstairs and asked about it.  They had to wait for a person to take her up there and that could be a few hours…aka union rules.  I told them that if someone did not show up with a wheelchair to escort her up there in the next 10 minutes then I would just take her up there myself.  They heard me loud and clear and before we knew it an orderly shows up and takes us upstairs.

It was 2am by the time I got home.  Then came the week of tests to figure out what was wrong.  It was stressful spending a week of them ruling out everything until they narrowed it down.  I knew it wasn’t good.

Hospitals deal with life and death every second of the day.  They are the front end of talking to the people who are overwhelmed with emotions and that can’t be easy.  Six weeks after the day she had a MRI my Mom died of brain cancer.  I have written about it before.  It happened so quickly.  Each day a new decision had to be made.  It was an emotional roller coaster for all of us.  Each doctor wanted to own their own space after all it is a business even though they are in the business of making people better.  I would not have made different decisions although if they knew what she had before having surgery then we might have chosen to not even operate.  I am pretty sure they knew but they have a process.

It is strange how the memory works.  This book literally sent me back to a place that I am not sure I want to revisit but maybe it isn’t so bad to revisit it after all.

Comments (Archived):

  1. pointsnfigures

    Amazing how you can recall the rush of adrenaline and emotion that you felt. I feel it in your writing. It’s also pretty peculiar that institutions designed to help people are often full of weird rules and regulations that get in the way of the institution doing what it was designed to do-not blaming unions 100% but they certainly are a huge part of the problem.You are correct, I am not prepared at all and nothing I have done in life has even prepared me for what I will eventually encounter at the hospital. Maybe I should do more yoga….

  2. LIAD

    I’ve also a hospital related horror story. Darkest most painful days. They say time heals. Not so sure.Anger, resentment, sadness, emptiness boil up at the mere thought of things.Brain does work in mysterious ways. Learnt a lot about it with nlp (neuro linguistic programming) and the concept of Anchoring.The book triggered the same emotion in you that you felt back during that time. The brain then auto recalls all the times you felt the same emotion. We’re anchored to so many things without even realising. A song that reminds us of a special time. A smell that reminds us of our childhood.Much as anchors can be empowering and beneficial. They can also be harrowing and painful.

  3. JLM

    .What you describe is classic PTSD — post traumatic stress disorder — which is really just the unearthed, inescapable pain of living and dying brought to the surface without warning.When one experiences pain so deep that it is unfathomable or unable to be processed or so mind numbing and horrific, it is buried in a compartment where the conscious self tries to pretend it didn’t really happen.But it did and it is in there and it will eventually come to the surface triggered by something — in your case a classic parallel thought or memory.There is no cure but maybe there should not be because often the memories are so essential to our lives that we actually require the pain to remember who we are, where we’ve been, and what is really important to us.You confront it and write about it with obvious emotion which is healthy as the expression of emotion slowly dilutes the underlying pain. It is a healthy exercise to diminish something for which there is no cure.Condolences on the loss of your mother and wishing you strength on dealing with the memories. There are things in life that are more important than others but none more important than one’s mother.Godspeed.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  4. Kirsten Lambertsen

    That phenomenon of the emotional response being right there, almost exactly the way it was at the time you experienced it, is leveraged by method actors. We learned to tie a memory like that to a memorized line or two from the script, and when the time came to say those lines, the emotion would happen like clockwork. We didn’t revive the memory by “reliving” it; we focused on seeing what we saw and hearing what we heard, at the time the memory was formed, in as much detail as possible.Of course, this is basically what being “triggered” is, and it’s why I respect the practice of trigger warnings.

    1. meredithcollinz

      I’m an actor, too! Tho my biz has run ramshod over all of that career, in my heart, I will always be an actor! Interesting how similar the life of an actor and the life of an entrepreneur are, isn’t it?

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Oh, man. The parallels are endless. I rely on so many things I learned from acting in my life in general, and certainly in entrepreneurship.I gave it up a long long time ago because I didn’t like so much of my fate being in somebody else’s hands. Realized my drive to make things wasn’t going to put up with waiting to be cast in something 🙂

    2. LE

      I am not an actor but part of this I do in negotiation. And when I try to give someone advice when they are negotiating I have found it helpful to tell them they are an actor playing a role so they know what to say and do when curveballs are sent their way. The “you are an actor” is great for getting them into the role whereby they are able to suppress their emotions. [1][1] A very small example of this is when you are buying a car. When you are sitting down and the salesguy tells you the price you immediately shake your head “no” (very gently and less than obvious) in reply to whatever he says (that’s to start).

  5. awaldstein

    I’m choosing not to ready this one I think.Too close to home and while I shy from little, my memories of my dad in SK are really something i honestly don’t want to resurface at this moment.Great review, authentic post but on this one I”m gonna pass.

    1. Gotham Gal


  6. Sierra Choi

    “C’est la belle mort, c’est un chant de belle mort”. Beautiful death? I guess my problem with this novel is that being in a coma is not “brain dead”; and it was infuriating to have to read about a boy who has to die due to ignorance of his doctors. It does capture perfectly the era before ours, or even perhaps our own era: of the romanticisation of thinking that doctors are gods and all those who must follow to haplessly to save another life for a short time is an interesting one. This book sort of reminded me of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, which has a similar plot, but she lived.

  7. LE

    I am sorry to hear about your mother (I know you had mentioned this before). I was always impressed about what I heard about your mother god knows I would have loved to have a mother in law like that (really I am not kidding).When my Dad passed away a few years ago I was lucky to have my wife by our side (she is a Physician at a different hospital, the one that does the rounds and teaches the med students.) Even with that it didn’t change the outcome (he passed away from the same thing that happened to Joan Rivers) however it did make it a bit easier and give us some advantages and she saw several mistakes that they made that she had to get fixed.One thing that she always stresses to me in stories that she tells me is the importance for as many family members as possible to be onsite at the hospital. Apparently from any place she has worked there is near universal extra effort put in if family members are involved and interested and apparently that is not always the case from what I hear. (That is what you did).

  8. AMT Editorial Staff

    Catching up on your posts. Did a search and don’t think you’ve read this one: “Grey is the Color of Hope”. I am almost done. Book club hasn’t met yet, but my thumbs are up. Memoir. So interesting. Such spirit.…You may enjoy it.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks. Will check it out