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This could be heaven, or… (12/11/2011)
By Frances Edstrom

Much of the last few weeks has been a blur, which I blame squarely on drugs, and not my age. In fact, I can’t imagine why people would choose to take the drugs I have been given, although I am told they are quite popular. Why anyone would want to live in a mental version of a winter whiteout storm is beyond me — you know, you can’t see ten feet in front of you, and everything that materializes out of the surrounding whiteness is surprising and more than a little alarming.

So it was in this blur that I awoke in what I was told later (and warned beforehand, as well) was the Intensive Care Unit. I know they told me it wasn’t because I was dying, but I can’t for the life of me remember why I was there.

But there I was, and at the moment I awoke I did not remember that they had told me it would be the ICU. I opened my eyes to an entirely light beige room. In my line of sight here were no people or machines that would suggest that I was being cared for or at least watched. There were no windows or doors to suggest that I was connected in some way to the human world. There was a ceiling, walls, the bed I was lying on, and a curtain covering one wall.

And beige. All-encompassing beige.

My first thought was “this could be heaven or this could be hell.” (My drug addled mind calling up a line from the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” which gives you an idea of how rock and roll lyrics are conceived).

If this were hell, my mind posed, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought, but I could see that an eternity of nothing (nothing!) but beige could prove to be a torture worthy of hell’s reputation. On the other hand, if it were heaven, it sure was a disappointment. Certainly it wasn’t offensive. And beige goes with anything, a perfect complement to the (what I suppose must be) endlessly diverse population of heaven. I am certain that whoever runs heaven would paint everything beige just to avoid complaints. But frankly, I had expected more of heaven.

As I was still mulling whether this was heaven or hell, leaning towards hell as waves of pain began to break over my consciousness, a woman walked into the room. The spell was broken, I was back on earth, back in the ICU. All the machines were apparently behind me, accounting for my unfettered view of…beige. Thus began my hospital stay.

About a week after surgery for removal of breast cancer, I was sent home to be tended to by my husband, children, and two wonderfully reassuring friends who are nurses. The den is stuffed with extra furniture — a hospital bed, a recliner, extra lamps and tables — my sick room. I am also stuffed with extra things, drains extending from various parts of my body, long plastic tubes leading from me to plastic collection bottles that look like little see-through hand grenades.

Seeing me dressed in a size XXXXXL short summer nightie (on sale right now for $3.88, get them while they’re hot) in an A-line shape, my tubes and drains draped and clipped to the nightie in various spots, John was inspired to call me his “Sickness Tree,” our version this year of the annual Christmas tree.

The tubes are slowly being removed. My body’s swelling in vastly reduced, so at least I look vaguely like myself (how come my lips couldn’t swell up like Angelina Jolie’s?) even though I can’t wear my normal clothes as yet.

Tuesday, the adventure continues as I go to meet my oncologist, who will prescribe the treatment for the upcoming year as follow-up to the breast cancer surgery. Onward! 


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