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Broderick, A. (2013). I am not of this world, and yet I am in it: A daughter's/DSE alien's log of a journey through hell

Broderick, A. (2013). I am not of this world, and yet I am in it: A daughter's/DSE alien's log of a journey through hell
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   Chapter 6 I Am Not Of This World, And Yet I Am In It: A Daughter’s/ Disability-Studies-in-Education  Alien’s Log Of A Journey Through Hell  Alicia A. Broderick I am having issues with figure/ground. There is only profound alienation the likes of which I have never before experienced—and I had previously con-sidered myself intimately familiar with alienation. I am the black sheep, the leftist, atheist daughter who somehow was spawned of this conservative, Catholic family. I am the outlier, the outsider, the prodigal, the alien. It is my role within the family, and it is familiar, if not yet welcome or comfortable, to me. I am not myself here; within this cultural geographic space I exist only as the caricature they believe me to be. Which is to say that I do not exist. I read the paper, see the billboards, watch the television, find it surreal, dislo-cated, ethereal, imaginary. I am surrounded by Fox News, country music, casual racism and homophobia, and more references to god and guns every day than I would ordinarily encounter in a week or a month. I am not of this world, and yet I am in it, invisible, alienated, nonexistent. The ICU adds an additional layer of alienation to this experience. I am already alien outside the hospital doors; that alienation exponentially increases inside them. Reali-ty is shifting, elusive, unstable. And hostile to my very existence. You see, I am a disability studies scholar. A what? That doesn’t exist here. It causes me to see, hear, experience most of what happens to me with  B RODERICK    120 an additional layer of horror that most of the people around me are oblivious to, do not perceive, cannot imagine. It makes me—here, now—confused, crazy, paranoid, unreasonable. Dangerous. I find myself compulsively re-flecting upon my own identification with two different fictional characters— and I am torn as to which is the stronger identity. The first is that character in The Stepford Wives  —the last person to realize that everyone and everything around her had already been appropriated, assimilated, consumed, and recon-stituted as, quite literally, alien. I feel the need to hide my identity, “pass” as a member of this world, lest they come for me. There is a sense of preda-tion—I must hide my difference, my identity; I will be hunted down soon enough as it is. The other character is Ophelia. She is raging within me, and I must consciously, purposefully, with deliberative and Herculean effort squelch her, keep her at bay, silence her. I have always found Ophelia’s character to be something of a caricature—self-indulgent, a hyperbolic dra-matic affectation that never quite worked for me. I considered her one of the weaker characters in the canon. I was wrong. She has become terrifyingly real to me—she is not insane, disconnected from reality. She is the only character that is honest, real, authentic, connected to the cruel reality that she is living. That I am living. Embracing my “inner Ophelia” is tempting—it offers a way out of the alienation, a way of being present, honest, true, real. A means of existing. Yet I am torn—to embrace my own existence is simul-taneously to be regarded, and therefore discounted, by everyone else as cra-zy, insane, damaged, ill. Dramatically there is nothing to be done with such a character but to kill her off. Which is not a narrative resolution I am open to embracing—yet. But to embrace the Stepford narrative of maintaining sanity in the face of insanity, self in the face of alienation, existence in the face of  predation is also to lie, hide, mislead, misrepresent, pretend—not only to others but also to myself. It is a classic existential figure/ground quandary— what is the relationship of self to reality? How to balance the tension be-tween existence and alienation? Am I crazy? Do I exist? Do I still want to? * I am on a different planet. In a different universe. My relationships with space and with time have been radically altered. I am in the cardiac intensive care unit. Time here passes so differently. I have been here only 4 days (and nights), but I feel as though it has been months since I left my other life. My ordinary life. My life on the outside. My world has simultaneously, radically,  both expanded and shrunk. I have lived lifetimes in some hours as they’ve  I   A M  N OT O F T HIS W ORLD   121  passed, with the worst minutes and hours stretching into their own horrible eternities. Those moments still exist, because I still inhabit them, irrevocably etched as they are into my brain. They are, in this sense, interminable. My world has also diminished spatially—there is only what happens within these walls; nothing outside is relevant, or meaningful, or real. The world outside has ceased to exist, except for incomprehensible glimpses I continue to be assaulted with from time to time. I go to the cafeteria twice a day, for coffee, cream of wheat, an apple. When I leave the building, I see people laughing, hear them talking about trivial things, see them engaged in meaningless ac-tivity, and I stare uncomprehendingly at them. How can they possibly think that what they’re doing or talking about matters? Is important? Is even real? I find them alien, incomprehensible. I also hate them. I listen to several of the doctors chatting at the desk. They spend 10 minutes talking loudly and non-sensically about what brand of snowblower is best, where it is on sale. They are animated and laughing, and discuss the topic in prolonged, inane, mean-ingless detail. One of them finally leaves this ridiculous conversation, comes to the door, spends 60 seconds with me, gives me the standard script—that things are more or less the same—then smiles patronizingly, “god blesses me, and says that he will talk with me again tomorrow. He leaves. I hate him. I know it is unfair of me. I do not care. I send insensitive text messages to those I love most: “Surgery. Heart at-tack. ICU. Congestive heart failure. Ventilator. Kidney failure. Dialysis. I am in hell. I think I am dying. Please do not call.” “You look so exhausted,”  people say. “I’m fine,” I say. “I’m going to die,” I think to myself. People seem disturbed by me. I watch their brows knit with worry and apprehension as they look at me. “Are you getting enough sleep?” they ask. I assure them that I am. I do not tell them that my sleep is riddled with nightmares. It offers me no respite, no escape, no rest. “Have you had enough to eat?” they ask. “I eat something every day,” I assure them. I do not tell them that my weight is dropping like a stone. Nor do I care. They think that I’m tired, hungry. I catch a glimpse of my own face in the bathroom mirror, and I understand why they recoil—it is not the dark circles under my eyes; it is not the puffy redness from the perpetual tears that run down my cheeks. I look into my own eyes and I see that they are vacant. There is an absence there that is dif-ficult to describe, and apparently difficult for others to witness. The surgeon is more blunt than most: “My god, you look like hell,” he says. “As I should,” I say. “Where do you think I am?” To my husband, who is worried  B RODERICK    122 about me driving in this state he interprets as exhaustion, I say, “This is not   lack of sleep.” To myself I admit, “This is despair.” I am not given to magical thinking. I have never been superstitious, give no credence to horoscopes or karma or fate or deities. Nevertheless, I find that I cannot leave this place for longer than the couple of hours twice a day that I must leave to go home to care for my mother. I have slept on a bench in the hallway for the past 6 nights now. I believe that if I leave, he will die, and I do not want him to die alone. I know that this is irrational, but I don’t care. The last time I left (“go home, get some sleep, everything’s fine here”), I received a call early the next morning on my cell phone from the surgeon. I have come to live in mortal fear of the phone ringing when I am away from the hospital. “Your dad has had a massive heart attack. We have moved him to the cardiac ICU. How soon can you get here?” I call my 89-year-old grandmother, beg her to come and take care of my mom—get her up, dress her, feed her breakfast, give her her medicine. And I drive like a bat out of hell back to the hospital. Dad tried to send me home again that first night in the ICU. He got agi-tated, kept taking his oxygen mask off to tell me to go home, causing alarms to go off every time he did so because his blood oxygen levels dropped to dangerously low levels. I left at midnight, telling him I was going to go to sleep. He quieted down, left his mask alone, went to sleep. I left the ward and wandered around the hallways for a couple of hours. I finally lay down on a  bench in the hallway, just outside the ICU, at 2:30, exhausted. A woman came and lay a blanket over me at some point. I did not see who she was, but I was grateful to her for her kindness. They woke me at 4:30, saying I should come. “He’s not able to get enough oxygen to survive; he needs to be put on a ventilator.” I can’t yet write about that hour. But I can say that he was not alone. And this is why I do not go home at night. My sleeping on the bench has become akin to carrying an umbrella on a cloudy day to ward off the rain. It is my talisman. And he is still alive. My family knows very little of what has gone on here in the ICU. I can-not begin to tell them about these experiences. There is not time in the day. I have not a single ounce of energy to waste in explaining. Retelling leaves me with two options—reliving these experiences, which I simply cannot bear to do, or becoming desensitized to them, which I also cannot bear to do. I say very little. These experiences do not exist for the rest of my family, unless I make them exist by telling them. It seems kinder not to drag them into this reality, any more than they already have to be. I have slept on a bench in a  I   A M  N OT O F T HIS W ORLD   123 hallway for the past 4 nights. Two people died in the ICU last night. I watched a woman collapse in the hallway, her body wracked with sobs, her family flocking around her. I quickly realized that she is on yet another plan-et from me, though she is only halfway down the hall—we are each here on our own isolated planets. There is nothing I can do to ease her pain. I lie back down on my bench and close my eyes. I spare a tear for her, but I reserve my sobs for my father. I am grateful it was not him tonight. I go home at 11:00 each morning to get my mother out of bed. I gather the supplies I need, then paste a smile on my face as I enter her room with a “good morning” and begin the morning routine of changing, bathing, and dressing my mom, before getting her out of her bed for breakfast. Sometimes she remembers where I have been, and asks me how my dad is doing today. But only about half the time. The other half, she asks me where he is, why he isn’t getting her up himself, why he hasn’t come home from the office yet for lunch. One morning she was furious with him, telling me that he hadn’t been home all night and that she was betting that he’d been out drinking with the guys, that there’d be hell to pay when he got home. “Remember, Mom? Dad’s not here because he’s in the hospital. Remember? He had the surgery? Because of all the bleeding he was having? They did surgery to stop the in-ternal bleeding.” “Oh, yeah,” she says. “I forgot. So when are you bringing him home? Surgery should only take a week or so—is he coming home to-day?” “No, Mom, he’s not. Remember? He had a heart attack after the sur-gery? He’s in the intensive care unit. He’s really sick, Mom. He can’t come home today. They’re giving him a lot of medicine and a lot of treatments right now to help him get stronger. I can’t bring him home today.” I’m try-ing, Mommy. I’m trying as hard as I can. Fast forward 10 hours. I have dressed her, fed her, given her her morning medications, set her up in her chair (with my husband’s or brother’s help—I can no longer lift her safely on my own) with her favorite country music video channel on. My grandmother or sister-in-law or husband have kept her company, made her dinner and fed her. It is time to put her back in bed. I walk in the door from another long day spent in the ICU. “Did you bring your dad home?” she asks. “No, Mom. I didn’t. Not today. I’m sorry.” “Why not?” she asks. I swallow the sobs until after she’s in bed. Then, exhausted, I drive back to the hospital, where my father’s hell awaits me. Again. Still. I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m trying so hard. I think back to the horror of the first night. My dad had gone in to sur-gery early that afternoon. I sat in the waiting room all afternoon. My brother
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