DOMES OF WORDS
Where are the words that are spoken by the bedsides of patients in the hospital? I imagine that over each one of those beds is a dome made up of the conversations between mothers and fathers, doctors and family members, spouses and children. Some beds may have a string of words rising from the bed into the dome, but this line is less dense and ornate than the tangle of sentences that is woven over the patients’ heads.
My husband and I began weaving our dome of words—an upside down nest really that didn’t cup Nadia but spilled her out below us—from the moment of her diagnosis. We whispered over her head the details of her treatment. I delivered reports of doctor visits while John asked, “What does that mean?” and “How is she feeling?” I answered as if Nadia had deputized me. She hadn’t. We knew Nadia wasn’t sleeping during these conversations. Still, we were surprised each time she interrupted us to say, “Stop talking about me!” Did we think because she was sick she had become deaf and dumb? Was it because she was a child that we acted as if she had no voice? Was it easier to speculate how she was feeling rather than ask her? Were we trying to protect her by having only happy conversations with her, ones about a TV show, a friend coming to visit, what the activity was in the playroom that day?
Nadia had become sick Nadia, and sick Nadia had somehow become less the owner of her own space, the way illness made her less the owner of her body. Who was I to think that that space was mine? Not only did I bring my words into her space; I brought friends, whom Nadia asked to go away; I brought my food, which made Nadia’s chemo infused stomach turn; I brought my false cheer, my I-know-what’s-good-for-you attitude.
What were the conversations that were woven around and above you? Who was having them? What were they about? Did you say anything? If so, what? Were these conversations ever comforting—like a womb made of the soft murmurs of favorite voices.
Were you the one having the conversations over the bed of a patient? What kinds of conversations were these and who were they with? Were you aware of what you were doing? What was your reaction if the person you were talking around spoke up?
Be specific in describing your scene. It doesn’t have to be in a hospital. It could be in the car, a waiting room, or a dinner table. It could be a telephone conversation where one person is automatically isolated. It could be at a meeting with a member of the clergy. Tell who the characters are. Use dialogue. Was this a one-time incident or did it happen often?
Now write the scene again but from another character’s perspective. Because the experience of illness can cause so much fear and confusion, anger often arises during writing. Notice what happens to your emotions when you write from a different point of view
Can you think of other occasions, beyond or before those having to do with illness, when you were made to feel marginal—perhaps by a parent or teacher, maybe by friends who seemed to know things you didn’t? Or perhaps there was a time when you made another person feel excluded. Write about that experience. See if you recognize any patterns in your own behavior and response that might have had bearing on your experience as a patient or caregiver.