A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"There is a pain so utter..."

There is a pain—so utter—
It swallows substance up—
Then covers the Abyss with Trance—
So Memory can step
Around—across—upon it—
As one within a Swoon—
Goes safely—where an open eye—
Would drop Him—Bone by Bone.

Emily Dickinson, who never (so far as we know) gave birth, was still acquainted with time's anodyne, the erasure of the experience of pain most often associated with the recovery from childbirth. But there are other kinds of pain that time trances over as well. In my hospital stay, I never suffered much physical pain -- on the familiar 1-to-10 scale that doctors and nurses use, I don't think I ever got much past a 6. (My roommate, however, who came back from intestinal surgery howling in agony as the anesthetic wore off and before the morphine drip could be installed, responded to the 1-to-10 question, "It's a 12, goddammit!")

In my case, it was more the psychological pain, the disorientation, the hallucinations, that grew most acute as the fever spiked. Those I have mostly forgotten, but every now and then one of them resurfaces.

One night in the hospital, I awoke to find a strange, pale animal, something like a naked rat, in bed with me. As I reached in panic for the intercom to summon the nurse, the thing lunged for the call button.

It was my own hand.