Thursday, January 21

Time Off of Life

I went to MD Anderson last week for the bi-annual neurological examine, hoping my doctor would send me off to a hospital, one of those really nice ones by the ocean with a sunny terrace where you sit in your bathrobe while you read and kind nurses bring you fresh orange juice. The diagnosis would be nervous exhaustion, I guess. People like Doris Day and Rita Hayworth and Natalie Wood were once hospitalized for nervous exhaustion, and so I've always considered it a glamorous ailment, but what are the symptoms? My medical dictionary doesn't say. Probably they would include (1) extreme want of sleep, (2) palpitations, (3) infuriating ex boyfriends, and (4) piteous whimpering, things like "I'm-a waiting for you, Mama" or "I kin hear 'em singing!"

I recall heroes in Victorian novels who collapsed from nervous exhaustion, and they were carried pale and trembling to bed where they lay for a few days and then decided to quit the bank job, break off the engagement to Daphne, and build a cabin of clay and and write poems.

But that's not what I want. I just want some time off of life. My doctor is a serious neurosurgeon so he's not up on nervous exhaustion. He asked me how I was and I said (as I was brought up to say), "Fine." He then proceeded to examine me, look over my medical history, and to note my complaints - headaches, fatigue, inability to remember things I have done or things I'm suppose to do. Fatigue? Try cutting down on stress and getting more sleep. Memory loss? Forget about it. Headaches? I've already had my head examined.

In an MRI machine. You lie on a narrow trough which is retracted into a massive cyclotron where you lie perfectly still for an hour in a space exactly the size of Grandpa's coffin, if you are claustrophobic, this will send you right up the wall. You expect to hear Igor say in his adenoidal voice, "I have tied her down, Master. Shall I throw the switch?" The machine bangs and whirrs and you lie there in your coffin awaiting the Last Judgment, and the man running the experiment says on the intercom, "You're doing a great job." A great job of playing dead.

I couldn't bring myself to tell the doctor, "My nerves are shot and I want to go to a hospital for three days. One with a terrace and fresh orange juice." I thought he might tell me to get a grip. Or lessen my stress and get more sleep. The truth is that there are only a few hospitals left that still treat nervous exhaustion and I suspect they're all in Los Angeles and you must have a publicist.

The longing for hospitalization is a lovely fantasy, but the reality is that hospitals are dangerous places. People get sick there. Weird bacteria, zonked-out interns, the occasional serial killer. And people you never cared for descend on you bearing inferior chocolates and wilted zinnias and cheap balloons that say, "Happiness Is Knowing You Are Loved." They camp at your bedside for hours reminiscing about all the cancer victims they used to know. And worst of all, my daughter would not find a hospital amusing and so she would visit me for the minimum-daily-required minutes and wave goodbye and skip out the door. So I just took a deep breath and came back to the living.

When you have a daughter who is ten, you must schedule your collapses from nervous exhaustion. She has a full schedule of karate lessons and school and church activities, and we're going to Disney World in June, so it appears that July is my first opportunity to fall apart. I am looking forward to it. We have lots of sun at home, and I can sit there in my bathrobe and whimper to my heart's content.

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