Raw Thought

by Aaron Swartz

Life in the Hospital

An extra-special guest post hoisted from comments!

The very walls of the hospital seemed to suck the life out of me—painted in puke yellow—and the window, which did look out at some trees, unfortunately framed a week’s worth of grey, rainy weather. The floors and walls were filthy (I won’t even mention the bathroom); the furniture old, chipped and stained; the framed artwork (like an old puzzle drawing out of Boy’s Life magazine with faces and animals and broomsticks hiding in the trees) faded; the food rancid, stinky and inedibly heavy and overly sweet. I seldom saw the doctors wash their hands or use the Purell dispenser on the wall (I began to fear catching some super hospital germ infection). When I could finally walk the halls in my hideous hospital gowns and infantilizing slipper socks, I was tethered to a top-heavy pole with bad wheels, which made dragging it over any bumps or turning corners an exercise in futility. I begged to be let out, to be sent home where it was clean, where I could have simple healthy food and take a shower; I begged the residents, the doctors (when they came on rounds) to take the tubes out of me. And they just made me feel idiotic, patronized, weak and helpless.

Finally, in the middle of one sleepless, endless night spent staring at the walls, being sure the clock was actually moving backwards, it occurred to me with perfect clarity that the patient is never going to win the battle with the doctors…because the doctors have all the weapons. Just then the door slammed open, yet another nurse threw on all the lights and jabbed me with a needle, filling me with some other substance she refused to identify. Oh god, it was the most horrible hospital experience I have ever been through. And the scariest part of it is that this hospital is on the list of the 100 Best Hospitals in Illinois. Imagine what the others not on the list are like.


My brother has a theory. You go into a hospital to have something fixed but they immediately take you totally out of your normal environment: off your normal food and caffeine, off all your regular medications, etc. They do the surgery (or whatever) and invade your body with all sorts of foreign substances (IVs, narcotics, oxygen, TPNs, blood thinners, insulin, etc.) Then, as they gradually withdraw the foreign substances they have assaulted you with, they declare you “cured.” Then you are eventually allowed to go back home and resume your normal routine. Odd.

You should follow me on twitter here.

October 1, 2006


Esteeemed Aaron…i just read the story by Jessica G..and thought about the last couple of paragraphs, the ones about anxiety, guilt, and also about the fancy car/house in burbs/cool kids. “Man, those are just what Other People say are the things to demonstrate your arrivedness..” (I talk back to the damn newspaper…then I pick up my pen, er, sorry, boot up my dial-up slowmotion macintosh machine, and start typing..) Originality is the name of the game… I wanted to tell you this. WHen I read about the “i’m so shy” i thought: “Hmmm, sounds like my husband. This guy is going to catch some hell for protecting his boundaries” Then I told myself to write to you, and say Keep Being Original. And if you don’t mind being shy, then there’s no problem. Here’s my little baby blog (I only recently got one set up because I don’t play w/computers much, someone else had to do it for me because I’m massively techno-lazy), more like a page on a website: Just exactly who is Jacquie Phelan? What makes her tick? One person’s strategy for survival in a revved up world.

I was born to enthusiastic lovers, but reluctant parents. I never grew up, because because grown-up has “groan” in it. My early years were spent mastering the miniature tea set ceremony, reading Nancy Drew, and catching frogs. We moved a lot, from Rhode Island, to Kansas, to Tarzana, a planet that orbits Los Angeles, California.

I learned to ride a bicycle in Topeka at age 9, and it wasn’t easy. I was on Mom’s huge bike. “Let me learn this” I bargained with God, “and I’ll never ask for anything again.” It turns out I lied to God. Riding a too-big bicycle turned out to be easy, compared with babysitting five younger siblings. I ran away a lot, just to get out of the house. I prayed for admittance to a college as far from Los Angeles as possible. I got my wish, and attended Middlebury, a college that usually knows better than to accept my ilk. Now I owe God two favors.

At Midd, I was a San Fernando Valley Girl in Vermont’s dairy country, and swam naked as much as possible on the two warm days that inevitably occurred during finals week. I was an OK scholar, but a great host to my friends who came by for waffles on Sunday in my dorm room. I made snow sculptures for laughs and collected beer cans for cash. I got disciplined for speaking French in sociology class, and socializing in French class.

After graduation, I did not apply to medical school: this would prove to be my first concrete contribution to the betterment of humanity. Moving to San Francisco changed my life; it’s a town an ordinary human can circumnavigate in a day by bicycle. LA cannot be circumnavigated by bike; by the time you complete a lap, there’s more city added.

I decided to become famous. For a Tarzana kid, it’s ridiculously easy: glue a toy duck on your bike helmet, and ride a minimum of 15 miles a day in heavy urban traffic. Fame will be yours in a month. This home-grown fame has little resemblance to the glitzy big screen recipe. For one thing, it’s a lot healthier, less toxic. It never runs away from you. If you don’t like it, you tear the duck off the helmet. You’ll never suffer strangers who walk up to you and start talking like they know you. Your secret will be safe. So, why did I take up bike racing? Especially off-road bike racing, when it’s always on the road that I’m riding? The only people they notice racing bikes are men. Ah, yes, but there are other reasons to ride than fame, and racing isn’t the only way to ride a bike. I biked San Francisco streets for survival. Financial survival. It’s just plain cheap to ride everywhere, compared to Muni, or owning a car that you can’t find a parking spot for.

But this survival plan wasn’t very well thought-out. It began years earlier as an anti-plan, hatched half-consciously when a “health” teacher at my high school pointed out how we would divide up our efforts as consumers of the future. Health was the LA City School System’s answer to sex education. Mr. Vadetsky was a very right-on guy, pretty nice, he seemed fair. He’d show us vivid anti-drug movies, and try to stifle the snickering that implied that probably half the class was stoned that morning. One day, to illustrate our use of time and resources, he drew a sort of peace sign on the blackboard. More like a luxury car logo, actually.

Three equal segments. “If you think school is a bore” he intoned, “adulthood has a few surprises in store for you. Like how hard it is just to keep your head above water, to survive financially”. This classroom didn’t have any kids who worried about financial survival.

“Here’s how much time you’ll spend on earning the money to buy and maintain a car” and he shaded in one third of the pie.

“Here’s how much time and work goes into purchasing a home” Another third of the pie took a dose of chalk.

“And this last third, that’s for sleep, recreation, and leisure time”.

It was a pretty scrawny slice. I raised my hand. “If you rode a bike, and rented your apartment instead of bought a house, would that give you a bigger hunk of the pie?” “How would you like to visit the vice-principal’s office?” He was joking. Mr. V always counted on me to have the off-camber opinion. So here we are now, nearly a lifetime later, with me pigged out on all the pie I could possibly eat, trying to figure out about the other two thirds. Since I don’t know the answer to the question, “Is it better to take your retirement when you’re young and fit, risking a lifetime of marginal survival, or after you’ve got financial security, like probably after you’re 65?”

Thanks to WOMBATS, and my ability to jot down a thought or two, I’ve managed to share some of that pie-saving strategy with many thousands of people, women and men, but mostly women since they are better listeners. If just a handful of women take control of their right to hog a little of the fun pie, and then show their friends how they did it, then I can rest easy that I’ve done a better job than I would have traveling the road I was expected to take.

posted by jacquie phelan/Alice B. Toeclips on December 3, 2006 #

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