Yesterday, I was listening to my writing teacher as she talked about the three kinds of research writers need to do–functional, to find facts; inspirational, to uncover and discover which opens the desire to write; and imaginative, to think about and plan the story they want to write. She guided us through several exercises of imagining ourselves in different settings. While I’ve always thought of myself as having a good imagination, I appreciated the fullness of the exercise. Being able to flesh out my writing with more details and complexity will make my story a better story, and that’s a good thing.
She did warn us though that it would be hard to stay in one setting for a full three minutes without our minds wandering. She was right. I constantly had to battle thoughts of what I needed to be doing, what was happening later on that day, and what was happening where I was. I found that I couldn’t keep my mind in the particular setting for very long. In fact, I had to try the exercise several times before I manage the particulars of it. I found it illuminating. Imagining myself in a particular setting could add more detail to my writing. I just needed to master the technique.
I listened to the rest of the lectures before arriving at the assignment for this module. My teacher wanted us to set a story in one of three particular areas and write the first pages of it. I looked at the three choices, and though I had personally been in each setting, nothing came to me. I couldn’t think of anything that would be a good beginning for a story so I decided to let it sit overnight. It turned out to be a good thing because when I woke up, it came to me. I could write a fictional memoir of one of the most traumatic times I had ever been in a hospital setting. I could bring awareness to a disease that’s rarely talked about, and it might end up being something I would want to finish. So, hospital setting it is. One more thing before I start my story. I do believe a story can be written without an author having personal experience with a setting. This is where functional research comes in so detail and context can be added to make the setting more layered. Now, without further adieu, here is the story I wrote for writing class.
An Invisible Illness
Kristen took the cup of coffee from her mother-in-law. “Thanks, Linda.” She blew on the top to cool it off and took a sip. ‘Ugh, typical hospital coffee,’ she thought to herself placing it on the table next to her. Linda had tried. She could see where creamer and sugar had been mixed in, but it still tasted awful. She settled back in her seat wishing that the bright, blinking lights could be turned down or off. “So, how long has he been in there?”
Of course, her father-in-law answered. “Fifteen minutes.” He tapped his watch. “It’s been fifteen minutes since you came out here. I’m keeping track.”
The calm that had enveloped her after the surgeon had prayed with her and Daniel threatened to evaporate. She took a deep breath. “Thanks, Bill.” The surgery Daniel was having wasn’t supposed to be complicated. ‘Just temporary,’ he had said, ‘and hopefully, it can be reversed in a few months.’ She took another breath trying to corral her thoughts. A colostomy shouldn’t be that bad, right? And if the medicine worked, they could put everything back together in three months. Then, Daniel would be healthy, and they could get back to living.
Another fifteen minutes passed. Then, thirty. They had been joined by the pastor, deacon, and women’s ministry leader of hers and Daniel’s church and her best friend, Bonnie, who leaned over and whispered to her, “Why do they all look like sourpusses? Aren’t church people supposed to be nice?”
Kristin covered her mouth so no one would hear her giggle. Bonnie could always make her laugh. She was right though. They all looked like sourpusses. She closed her eyes trying to fend off the raging headache that was threatening to come out. Bill’s voice roused her. “The surgery is taking longer than he told us. Shouldn’t the nurse come out here and give us an update?” He glanced around and then back at his watch, his movements competing with the bright, blinking lights.
As if almost on cue, the intercom sounded. “Mrs. Miller, we have an update for you. Mrs. Miller, there’s an update.”
Kristin rose and walked to the desk noticing that Linda had pulled Bill back down to his seat. She knew Linda had told him she was entitled to the information first, and she was grateful. Mother-in-laws didn’t come any better than Linda. She took the phone from the smiling nurse and said, “This is Mrs. Miller.” It seemed like the voice on the other end talked forever. Her eyes and mouth widened in shock. “Thank you for your update, ma’am.”
She handed the phone back to the nurse and walked slowly back to her group. Bill noticed her shocked look first. “What’s wrong, Kristin? Is Daniel ok?”
“They think he will be, Bill.” Kristin took a breath so she could get the info out. “But, he’s going to be in surgery for another seven-eight hours. His colon and rectum both need to come out, and they will be creating a permanent ileostomy. It’s all damaged beyond repair.” She sat in the chair like a balloon had deflated.
It seemed like everyone started talking at once and wanting further information. Finally, the pastor was able to get a word in edgewise. “I’m sorry, Kristin. I hope everything goes well, but,” he motioned to the other two from the church, “we will need to leave. We have other visits to make.”
Kristin schooled her features like she didn’t care. “Of course, Dr. Wilson.” She got up and shook his hand and the others. “Thank you all for coming.” The group left, and all she could think was that she didn’t have to maintain a church face anymore. She sat back down. “Anyone else want to take off?”
Linda shook her head. “Of course not, honey. We’re gonna stay…”
Bill interrupted her holding up his phone. “I just looked up what you said on this new-fangled phone. Daniel might be dying…” He stretched out the last syllable before rapidly speaking every possible thing that could happen.
Linda and Bill started arguing about his hypochondria and about appropriate things to say in the hospital. It was maddening to Kristin though she was familiar with Bill’s quirks. Finally, she had enough. “He almost died, you fucking moron.” Her volume increased with her anger and frustration. “He coded on the table, and they had to restart his heart. Hopefully, it won’t happen again, but right now, I need you to go away!”
Her in-laws and Bonnie stood with their mouths agape having never seen her that angry. Linda grabbed Bill’s arm and drug him away despite his protests. “You didn’t need to say that to her. And she’s right. You are a fucking moron.” She called over her shoulder to Kristin and Bonnie. “We’ll bring lunch back for you girls.”
Once they entered the elevator, Kristin sat back down feeling the tension ebb out of her. Were people always this stupid in hospitals? Bonnie joined her. “Better?”
Kristin shook her head. “I might have killed him if he had stayed.”
“What happened? Did Daniel really code?”
“Yes.” Kristin nodded grimly. “His Crohn’s has progressed further than the doctors thought. His colon and rectum are beyond repair. If they hadn’t opened him up today…” She left the thought unspoken.
“But, they did,” said Bonnie, “and they’re gonna fix it. Daniel’s gonna be there for you and your girls.”
“I hope so.”
“I know so.” Bonnie took her hands in hers. “You’ve taught me so much about Crohn’s Disease. I didn’t even know it existed until I met you and Daniel.”
“Yeah, it’s an invisible illness, all right. No one knows a lot about it unless they know someone with it or have it themselves.” She felt someone tap her shoulder and turned to see an older woman. “Can I help you, ma’am?”
The woman had short brown hair and welcoming brown eyes. “Hi, my name’s Stacy. My husband’s having a brain tumor taken out. She shook their hands. “I couldn’t help but overhear. Your husband has Crohn’s Disease?” At Kristin’s nod, she continued, “I try to learn something new every time we come to the hospital. Keeps my mind off of… Anyway, tell me about it. What’s Crohn’s Disease?
Kristin’s eyes teared up as she motioned for Stacy to join them. No one had ever been interested before. As she launched into her explanation, she smiled at Bonnie and her new friend. Maybe things would be okay after all.