What started as a simple surgery to remove an abscess, turned into a deadly situation less than eight hours later. My Mom was taken into surgery late on Wednesday. The call I got from the doctor the following morning changed my plans for that day, the next, the following weeks and ultimately, the rest of my life.
Parts 1 through 4 of this blog series focused, primarily on fiction and the journey we, as authors take to develop a great story. This entry is about the journey we take as non-fiction writers. Well, my journey anyway.
When I answered the phone that Thursday morning, the Eastern European accent greeted me, "Hi Pete, this is Doctor Chabenne. I removed the abscess, but I need you to understand something. There was quite a bit of necrotic tissue around the abscess that I also had to cut away." He explained the best he could and ended the call with, "You understand what I'm saying, right?" I confirmed and he finished the call with, "Your mother is very sick."
I had no idea when I confirmed I understood just how wrong I was. I didn't understand. She was moved to ICU by the time I got to the hospital and was in surgery to remove more necrosis by 2:00 that afternoon. That time, he said, "I cut very aggressively." Her care staff threw medical terms around like they were speaking a different language, and were patient every time I asked them to explain. The part that was the most shocking was the explanation of necrotic tissue. It was necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as the flesh-eating bacteria.
There was so much information to take in. I was Mom's medical representative. My closest sibling lived nearly two hours away and my Dad was in a rehab facility after his third hip replacement. It was overwhelming, and incredibly emotional. My brain tried to process all of it so I could pass it on to family members. All my heart could process was that my Mother was very sick. The only way I could begin to comprehend the information that was thrown at me was to keep a journal that started with, "Day 1: Mom's acting strangely. Talking hysterically and after not going to the doctor in 42 years, suggests she needs a doctor because of this 'bump' she has."
Day 2, I recorded the doctor's phone call in the morning, trying the best I could to remember the medical terms he used as well as the ER staff. I noted the surgery at 2:00 and phone calls with my family. Recording the details of each event allowed a separation between my brain and my heart. Everything I needed to process in my brain was in a document on my computer. That allowed my heart to do what it needed to; love my Mom, and nothing more.
On day 28, she was released from the hospital. I personally wheeled her outdoors into the sunlit fresh air for the first time in four weeks. The following year, I gathered all of the journal entries into a memoir and published it as, One Hundred Seventy Days, a Caregivers Memoir of Necrotizing Fasciitis and Cancer. I don't like to recall the details and that's exactly why I wrote everything down. I don't have to. If I want to remember, I'll read the book.
I can't speak for all authors who write non-fiction. For authors that write biographies and historical non-fiction, I imagine it's probably far more research. I had plenty of research to do when I heard a new medical term, but the journey I took as an author of a memoir was the most therapeutic process possible in such a terrible situation.
For a more detailed account of the twenty-eight days, see my 29-minute interview on YouTube.