Tuesday, September 09, 2008


This post is Too Much Information. So be forewarned.

Today, while reclining in a dental chair, I vomited with such force that my dentist (I later learned) dashed to the bathroom and shampooed her hair. I only half knew what was going on, because I was so doped on the nitrous that was supposed to relax my gag reflex.

Barely conscious, I'd felt only a little gurgle in my throat, then heard my doc say, "That was spectacular." What I knew was that I was damp and unhappy and people were dabbing at my clothes. I felt like a sick person being trundled through a carwash on a stretcher.

When I woke up, I learned how truly spectacular the event had been. I will spare you further details except to say that I borrowed a lab coat to wear and a plastic bag for my clothing. While I was in the bathroom "freshening up," staff had gathered in the front office to marvel at my capabilities and to see me off.

On the way back to my office, I stopped at a thrift shop to buy a top so I could change out of the medical outfit that, I then discovered, I had snapped up all wrong.

Now to wring meaning from this, which I like to do, especially with unpleasant experiences.

Here's what I've come to: a brief glimmer of the freedom of not being fully responsible.

I go around acting civilized and in charge about 98% of the time. This morning, by contrast, I felt undone, literally swamped, back to chaos and primordial slime. While still zonked, I had the thought: this is how it would feel to be sick and dying, too weak to do anything, but still aware. I felt how close and huge the universe-of-what-I-don't-control is all of the time. I felt amazed that it's ever possible to forget that. (See Ernest Becker's thrillingly profound Denial of Death for more about this sort of thing.)

So throwing up on my dentist simply brings me back to the old mortality thing, the business of being temporary. I've been here before very briefly. Most of the time I find a gut awareness of death to be Too Much Information.

For one thing, it's a bit insulting, since I go to so much trouble to keep my shoes lined up in my closet, and my email all answered.

I do see the potential, though, for the awareness to be liberating, not having to be in charge, but staying interested in the ride. All of which is much easier to think about in clean dry clothes.

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