Site designed and powered by Stainless Communications.
Music by David Friedmann

Perhaps They Are Walls

Nineteen years later, I am convinced we will never get along.  Granted, I am talking about a building, and perhaps I am talking to myself.  Sometimes, though, our most influential relationships exist with our surroundings, requiring as much attention as any other.  For the first six months of my life, we were stuck with each other…and in those one-hundred-eighty days, we formed a connection that I will never unplug.  In Yale New Haven, I had a roof over my head.  I had walls in which I was safe, and I had guardians who made sure it stayed that way.  To me, though, it was the roof that never let the sunshine in.  And it was the cold, bare walls in which I was born that would attempt to make my eventual residence merely secondary in the years to come.

It takes a few blinks for my eyes to open and fully adjust.  With a glance around the room, I recognize the only other person in the room, a nurse, perhaps in her twenties, wearing what I can only describe as a long, green, plastic robe and a matching hat that hugged her hair in an unflattering way.  My throat feels dry and I attempt a call out to her.  Wait, why can’t I open my mouth?  Why isn’t this working?  It worked yesterday.  I suddenly feel panicked.  The needles in both of my arms make it too painful to wave them.  Hey!  Over here!  The nurse continues to busy herself.  I struggle to get out some sort of noise.  It is physically impossible.

Ready to give up, I look around.  Bland, white walls stare back at me.  I swear they are laughing at me.  My desire to scream has reached a new level.  Why are you doing this to me?  There is no answer.  Perhaps the walls are giving me the silent treatment.  Perhaps they are walls.  Either way, my first conversation with them has been fairly one sided.  And I am not happy about it.

I feel a hand touch my left arm.  “Hi Ryan.  Did you have a nice nap?”  I look over and see the nurse has finally noticed I am awake.  No, I did not enjoy my nap and I don’t appreciate you asking me questions I cannot answer.  In utter frustration, I manage to get out a peep.  “Shh…it’s okay, sweetie.  We had to put a tube in your mouth but hopefully we can take it out soon.  I know it hurts, but just hang in there.”  You know it hurts?  Is that because you have had the tremendous misfortune of waking up with a tube jammed down your throat?  I didn’t think so.  I feel liquid being pushed into my arm, and then fullness and relief.  “There, does that feel better?  Just wait here.  Your mommy should be here any minute.”  Wait here?  Thank God you said that, because otherwise I was about to hop in the flying car outside the window.

Born in early April as the weather outside took a favorable turn and life sprung up in every direction, it was not before fall foliage would hit that I finally left my hospital room for the first time.  By the time I did so, my parents had adorned it with colorful pictures and cards from friends and family, most of whom I had not even met.  Even still, in comparison, being carried into my own bedroom made me feel like Santa Clause.  On Prozac.  On Christmas Eve.  In an instant, I knew this was the where I wanted to stay.  I was forever in love with this very space, and within these walls, I finally felt the warm comfort of home.

“Okay, you head inside and I’ll park the car,” my dad instructs, as if my mom was unaware of the plan to begin with.  From my car seat in the back, I stare down the building to my right.  Please don’t keep me here long this time.  My mom opens my door.  “Come on, sweetie.  It’s okay.”  As if I don’t know where we are. Before I know it, I am lying on a bed with a hideous blue sheet.  The head has been raised, so I am practically sitting up.

“Can I stay with him?” my mom begs the nurse.  She puts her hand in mine and I squeeze it, determined to never let go.

“Not once we get into the O.R.,” the nurse replies.  “But you can for now.”

I am wheeled through a set of double doors, which open as if they were expecting me.  We enter yet another long corridor, with the same, bare walls and a seemingly random bed every few feet.  To me, they are no better than the walls.  Please, I just want to go home!  The flat mattresses on wheels don’t seem to care.  They are callous and cannot begin to fathom the pain their occupants experience on a daily basis.  Perhaps they believe it is not themselves, but rather the needles and scalpels which cause this pain.  Perhaps they are beds.  Either way, I think they are wrong. Without warning, my mother’s hand is pulled from mine.  I cry out, but no avail.  “Ok, Ryan, you’re doing great.  Just hang in there.”  I hear a voice, but I cannot spot its origin.  If one more person tells me to “hang in there… ”  The smell in the room disgusts me.  What am I in, a plastic factory?  Those walking around me are covered from head to toe in green paper.  The only exception is the white masks that cover their mouths.  Why are you all so impersonal?  They are like ghosts, whirling around me in a state of confusion. I want my mom!

A hand reaches out and places a mask over my mouth and nose.  The smell of plastic has now engulfed me in every way.  It makes me want to throw up.  I cry out.  Please get that away from me!  I try to move but hands hold me down.  No!  Please!  I catch a glimpse of two eyes, peering down at me.  They suddenly seem more caring than before.  They are sincere and warm.  In another second, the eyes multiply.  What’s happening?  I look around.  The plastic room has become blurry.  My body feels lighter.  A bright light is placed above me, hurting my eyes, which are becoming heavier by the second.  I close them.  After being at home for only a few weeks, that particular trip back to the hospital was as painful emotionally as it was physically.  By that time, my young mind had begun to question where my home actually was.  Yale New Haven had kept me in its grasps for literally months, and when I finally got home for the first time, it drew me back in before I could even get settled.  What did it want from me?  Why was it picking on me?  Why me?

My parents and I walk up to the automatic doors and they let us in.  I wonder why they are so anxious to get me inside.  If you guys showed up at my house, I wouldn’t even answer the door, let alone let you walk in on your own.  Maybe they think their efforts are appreciated.  Maybe they are doors.  Either way, the hospital no longer just causes me pain; it has come to enjoy doing so.  We walk up to the counter and sign in.  There is no emergency today, but, still, the next hour is not to be taken lightly.  I will soon be forced to make a major decision that will affect not only the next few months, but the rest of my life. I look around, and glance at my surrounding.  Today, I have the control.  I feel an odd sense of happiness.  A nurse calls us in and shows us our “second waiting room.”  I wonder if she enjoys mocking us by making us believe we are going to be seen by the doctor now.  She then tells me to follow her down the hall for my X-ray.  We pass doctors in ties and long, white coats, typing away on noticeably new computers with large, wide-screen monitors.  I am impressed by the advancements that have been made since the technology that was I was lucky to have kept me alive nearly two decades ago.

On our way back to the room, I remind myself that no matter the results of the tests, today I will take a stand.  I look from the cabinets to the jars of cotton swabs to the poster on the wall promoting physical therapy.  You are no longer in charge.  Today, things are different.  I am led back to our exam room, and in a moment, my doctor walks in, X-rays in hand.

“Well,” he begins with a sigh, “the good news is, there has not been much of a change.  The bad news is,” he smiles, pleased with his humor, “there has not been much of a change.”  My mom and I glance at each other exchanging sarcastic “boy, that was a good one” looks.  For as long as I can remember, this day has been coming.  My scoliosis, though stable for several years, grew steadily once I reached my teenage years, and had not slowed down until it reached potentially dangerous levels.  For the past several years, I had therefore been told that while I had time and there was no rush, a spinal fusion would be a necessary evil I would have to undergo at some point, unless I was willing to risk being badly bent out of shape down the road.  That never sounded good.

“So, again,” the doctor continued, “here we are.  You have the choice.  My recommendation, as you know, is to get this over with now.  But it really is up to you.”  I looked over at my mom again, the only other person who knew I was ready to commit.

You have the choice…it really is up to you.  Wow.  Two phrases I had always died to hear from this haunting place.  Despite the promise of difficult times ahead, I feel free.  No longer do these walls and their keepers want to control me.  Knowing that I am about to make a wise, informed decision, they are willing to let me do so.  I make eye contact with Doctor Mars.

“Okay.”  I win.

Back to "In Ryan's Words"