Grilled Cheese Meltdown

The following is a short piece I wrote on the subject of being in the hospital for a week.


I don’t know how it’s possible to make a completely tasteless grilled cheese sandwich, but somehow, the hospital managed. There’s no sign of the grill, no unctuous cheese seeping out of the concoction—it’s somehow dry as a bone. It tastes of disappointment, but it’s disappointing that the only word that comes to mind is disappointment; it’s a boring, tasteless word. I want to say it tastes of insomnia, because that sounds flashy, but here I sleep very well. Maybe the only true way to communicate absolute blandness is to say “it’s bland,” which is also a disappointment.

Meals are exciting here, the cart full of beige cloches is wheeled across the shiny tiled floor, carrying two cups of tea or coffee for everyone with breakfast. Presumably they give us two because they don’t want to have to bother with anyone asking for a refill. We get real coffee in the morning (for a questionable value of “real”) and decaf with lunch and dinner. I’m afraid of what the coffee will do to my stomach, let alone my heart, so I drink tea; tea that actually has some flavor to it. Tea bolsters me, really. I should go out of my mind if I didn’t at least have my tea.

Passing the hours is hard. I’m engaged in books, children’s literature mostly, just trying to break up the giant blocks of time. I never knew before going to the hospital how oppressive and suffocating free time can be. There are two beds, beds like army barracks with firm mattresses and no frills; beds that serve as a home base in enemy territory. I have to take my toilet paper into the bathroom with me, there was some problem with the toilets not being built to code and thus there can be no toilet paper roll in the bathroom itself, it’s unbelievable that even going to pee is now so irritating. I feel dirty, trying to keep my feet off the bed as much as possible, but eventually I give up and just accept the fact that I’m a filthy piece of trash.

They weigh me, and I’m thin: not really thin (I’m not capable of that), but thinner than I usually am. Once I was here soon after I gave birth, I wasn’t thin then, but now I am. The doctor with the thick Chinese accent says I’m “a good weight” and I preen a little bit, but the effect doesn’t last long. Perhaps I’ll lose weight the longer I eat the food here, maybe the inexplicable grilled cheese sandwiches work as some sort of negative nutrition and I’ll die of starvation. I don’t want to die of starvation, there are many better ways to go, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the part about being thin, at least for a short while, is appealing. My idea of attractiveness is still based on the supermodels that were around in 1995, out of date I suppose.

For dessert, there’s sugar-free pudding, and I believe I am justified in wanting sugar, but there’s no one to complain to; if I want real pudding, I would have to switch hospitals, and maybe I should. Everything is so tasteless that it comes back around and becomes a kind of oppressive flavor, my mouth full of grit and sawdust. It’s like moving through mountains of dust, finding everything that surrounds me covered by it, no matter how clean I try to be. It’s dust and it’s dirty and it’s mortifying. Can’t believe I’m back here again.

All I wanted was to hide in my army bed for a few weeks, just relax into nothingness, but that’s not what’s happening. I’m high-strung, keyed-up, awake. Everything is more than it should be, I am more myself than I would like. I don’t understand why I can’t get away from myself even here, where I’m supposed to be dormant. I drink weak tea and I sigh and count the hours as they slowly click by, feeling hopeful only to the extent that those hours do pass consistently.

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