The New Abnormal

February 15, 2013

The morning after my hospital stay a nurse brought me breakfast in my hospital room. Because I don’t have a lot of experience with hospitals I assumed hospital food would be terrible, but, in fact, it was pretty good. They gave me eggs, juice, milk, toast with butter and jelly, pancakes, a bagel with cream cheese, waffles, hash browns, and a whole roast suckling pig. I think they were following the same principle that dentists used when I was a kid and they’d give me a lollipop at the end of my visit. They said it was for being good, but I think it was meant to guarantee a return visit.

The only other time I’ve stayed in a hospital is when I was four and had to have minor surgery for an undescended testicle. That’s probably not information I should share, although I think I got over any shame I might have felt about it when I was four and would proudly show off my stitches until my mother explained that people in the grocery store checkout line really didn’t need to see them. Although it seems like it wasn’t too long afterward that I became very concerned about whether I was normal, a concern that would follow me well into my teenage years. Or it might have been the surgery, although I understand that is a pretty common problem. It was common enough that I’m pretty sure the doctor who performed the surgery was a temp. But I didn’t have any of the other surgical procedures I would regularly hear about. I never had my appendix removed. Admittedly neither did any of my friends, but I got the impression from television that this was something most people would undergo. And I never had my tonsils removed. None of my friends did either, but, again, this seemed to be a normal rite of passage, plus I kept hearing about how you’d get to eat all the ice cream you wanted. The only downside of that was seeing the dentist afterward. In fact I still have all my wisdom teeth except one, which either makes me wise or stupid, I’m not sure which, although teeth don’t have brains that I know of, and if they did they’d be smart enough to avoid the dentist.

I never had a broken arm or broken leg. I really didn’t want to break either an arm or leg, but it seemed like most of my friends and even a couple of adults, including my father, did. This not only seemed like something that happened normally to everyone, but wearing a cast seemed cool because everyone would sign it. At one point I even thought about asking the doctor if I could just get a cast for a couple of weeks. Anyway, as I grew older I stopped worrying about whether I was normal. In fact I took a certain amount of pride in what I thought was a certain level of abnormality, although I never did work hard at standing out or separating myself from the crowd, unlike some of my high school friends who were goths and who tried to assert their individuality by looking as much like each other as possible. One of them was also named Chris, and I think was aware that his desire for individuality conflicted with his desire to look like the crowd he hung out with. He even once mentioned to me that "Chris" was such a common name that walking down the hall of our school and yelling "Hey Chris!" was like going to a Cure concert and yelling "Hey, you in the black!" but that’s another story.

As an adult I don’t much care whether I’m normal or abnormal, especially since I suspect I’m so normal it’s abnormal, but sometimes I do wonder. My hospital breakfast also included a bowl of grapes. I dropped one of the grapes on the floor and it rolled under the bed. I thought briefly about leaving it there. I figured this was a hospital room and they probably hose it out with bleach between patients anyway. Then I started worrying that whoever came to clean up the room after I left would think I was a horrible slob. This is part of the reason why when I stay in hotel rooms I try not to leave them looking like a complete mess. It’s not like I carry a portable vacuum, but I keep my clothes in a single neat pile in a corner and straighten up the bed a little. I don’t want the maid coming in to clean up and thinking, "Who’s staying here, Keith Moon?" Not that it really matters. Chances are good I’m never going to meet the hotel maid. In fact I try to avoid them. If I have to go to my room to get something and it’s being cleaned I’ll wait until they’re done regardless of what it is I need to get. Is that normal? I don’t know, although in my limited experience it’s not. Several years running I went to an annual science fiction convention with my friends, which I know isn’t normal, but my friends and their tonsils and appendices also went so that made it sort of normal.

If my friends happened to be in or even near the room when the maid came to clean they’d hang out and chat with her, and later tell me about the fascinating conversation they’d had, how the woman cleaning the room had emigrated from Greenland and was going to night school to be a CPA. And I felt so envious of my friends. It’s even worse when I’m home alone and someone comes to do repair work on the house. If my wife’s there it’s fine because she can talk to them. When it’s just me I can barely manage telling them that the faucet is leaking or that the stove exploded. I really am fascinated by whatever they’re doing and would love to talk to them about it or about their lives, and generally I’m not a shy person, but for some reason I always end up locking myself in the bedroom and hyperventilating and hoping they’ll just give me a bill to sign and not ask me something complicated like what color caulk I want under the sink. I’m pretty sure that’s not normal, and it’s also gotten us a long way from that grape that rolled under the bed. So I crawled under the bed and got the grape, which I’m pretty sure is something most normal people would do. And then, figuring that hospital rooms are clean enough that the five second rule can probably safely be expanded to five minutes, I ate the grape. That’s normal, isn’t it?

APPENDIX

It may seem pretty abnormal that I’m talking about surgeries, goths, and grapes on Valentine’s Day, but my wife and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. It seems silly to set aside one day a year to say what I should say every day, which is, Holly, I love you because you make me laugh, because you know exactly what to say to the repair people, and for a hundred other reasons, including the fact that you know I love surprises and sometimes surprise me with things like brewery tours and Valentine’s Day cards even though we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, and even though you say you don’t like surprises I hope once in a while I surprise you in ways that make you as happy as you make me.

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