Failure #19: Stay in hospital

A man goes to the doctor and says, “Doctor, I broke my arm in three places.” The doctor says, “Stop going to those places.”

Failures can be tricky. Sometimes there are successes lurking within the failures. Ever the pessimist, I am still willing to present success in the form of failure. It’s less “braggy” that way. Many people will find stories of my sheltered childhood to be sad and pitiful, if not vaguely amusing. On the positive side, none of these stories end with my going to the hospital. Thanks to paranoia and borderline poverty, I have entered my 30s with bones unbroken and all of my original parts in near mint condition. All right…”gently used” condition. My life has never been threatened by illness or injuries. Although I’m sure certain people have wished me physical harm at some point.

Make no mistake, I was not a healthy child. I’ve had strep throat so many times that I probably hacked out my tonsils during a coughing fit. With two of my major senses dulled, I lacked the grace and poise necessary for those child beauty pageants my sister always wanted to enter with me. It was those leg bruises and my aversion to frilly dresses that kept me from being the next Morgan Brittany. (And totally not the fact that my mother pre-emptively cut my hair so that my father wouldn’t kidnap me and try to pass me off as a boy…but I digress.) My most common childhood ailment was insect stings. We discovered by chance that I possessed the power of severe allergic reactions to a common fire ant bite. And in my day, adults were still prone to tossing children outdoors under the guise of allowing us to partake of that “fresh air and sunshine” while they sipped martinis and told dirty doctor jokes. Inevitably, I would get bitten. And, inevitably, some wise-crackin’ adult would insinuate that I sought out the fire ant beds and stood in them for several hours. Let me assure you, of all my oddball childhood hobbies—and there were some doozies—taunting the stinging insects was not one of them.

Living without health insurance is living life without a safety net. I learned to exercise the utmost caution in day-to-day existence. The simplest pleasures—jumping on the bed or sucking on hard candy—were forbidden lest they lead to an expensive trip to the emergency room. So I am lacking in awesome stories of treehouse shenanigans and bicycle pileups and emergency room hijinks. And I approach every activity cautiously, weighing the dangers involved. The obvious action for me to have taken was to become more adventurous once I struck out on my own, to celebrate my independence from my mother (the original helicopter parent) by skydiving or riding a motorcycle. Admittedly, I’ve had a few pieces of hard candy in my adult life. Maybe I’ve stood on the bed. Okay, and there was that one time when I walked at a brisk pace with an X-acto knife.

I suppose it’s a success that through my own self-control I have managed some semblance of self-preservation. My own idiocy has not led me into surgery—elective or otherwise. I have surrounded myself with mostly responsible people who have not put me in harm’s way through their own idiocy. I have not yet had a close encounter with Death. Why do I still feel like I’m missing out on something?

I’m missing the social aspect of injury and illness. When people are telling injury stories at the bar or comparing scars, I just sit there silently contemplating whether I want to talk about infected ooze-filled ant bites with strangers or continue nodding and ummming until it’s time to go home. Would anyone really be impressed that I sprained my ankle every time I tried roller skating? I have no funny albeit embarrassing stories about how I broke my arm. I had no plaster cast that the cute nerdy boy signed, which allowed us to strike up a meaningful but short-lived friendship. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to bond with others over the battle—and survival—of a deadly disease.

With few family and friends, my time in hospitals as a visitor has been limited. Most people associate hospitals with disease and death. Of the five times I’ve been in a hospital, three were baby-related. If you’re familiar with my feelings about babies, you’ll understand that my perception of hospitals is also negative. But to some people hospitals are like Club Med. Those people must have good insurance coverage. My mother had a lady acquaintance who was always going to the hospital for tests and staying overnight for observation. Ninety percent of the time nothing was wrong with her. Ten percent of the time it was nothing that couldn’t have been cured by “fresh air and sunshine.” Or giving up her smokes and going for a walk once in a while. A popular theory was that she enjoyed the sympathy she received while in the hospital. She could rally her family to her bedside for a pap smear. Oh, if I only knew people that could be so easily manipulated! As it is, I could post a status update on Facebook announcing that I have cancer and the response would be one “dislike” and a snarky comment like “You brought ‘er, uterine cancer.” And then I’d go to the hospital for treatment and someone would try to give me a baby.

I do have one good hospital memory from childhood. When I was three or four I had a Fisher Price Little People hospital set. I would spend hours playing with its elevator, clanking the plastic hospital beds together, tuning out my sister’s General Hospital references. This was during my “updownside” phase where I turned all of my toys upside down and played with them that way. I put puzzles together upside down when I was two and my mother thought I was a genius. I turned the hospital upside down and she threw out my application for baby Mensa.

I have no plans to cheat Death. If he beats me at Boggle, I’ll be a gracious loser. As I get older, though, it will become harder to avoid serious health issues. Given my previous diet of heavily processed foodstuffs and mere existence in this fantastic plastic world of ours, it might not be a matter of whether I get cancer but which kind. My bones will crumble soon enough from osteoporosis thanks to 30 years of carbonated beverage consumption. If my idiocy does catch up with me and I break my leg by falling off the escalator, please make sure I’m in a hospital room with an internet connection and far away from the maternity ward.

Failure #18: Ride a Roller Coaster

I know what you’re thinking. The items on my failure list typically get one of three responses:
1. “That’s not really a failure.”
2. “Oh, that’s okay. Not everyone does that anyway.”
3. “You haven’t done _____?! Everybody’s done that!”

Your incredulity over my failure to ride a proper roller coaster is not without merit. I’ve had countless opportunities. My boyfriend was a member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts (which is not, as you might first imagine, an organization against condensation rings on the coffee table). I lived mere steps from an amusement park with a giant roller coaster. I can offer only one solid reason for my failure: I am a weenie.

By nature, I am not a thrill seeker. Given the option of bungee jumping (remember when people did that? good times.) or watching Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey on cable, I’m going to pick the dumb movie on cable every time. But then, even the mundane things can give me pause. Escalators, for example. Until I was 16 I had no idea that escalators could terrify me. Then I met the one in the CNN building—steep, multi-storied, and chock-a-block full of people. So steep you couldn’t see the top. And the handrail was out of sync with the steps, so my arm kept creeping up to my neighbour in front of me. I would later learn that Atlanta is full of long, steep escalators. This is not a fact they advertise on their postcards.

I am not afraid of heights. I have an irrational fear of being some distance above ground and then being dropped from that distance. I love playground swings but even then, I don’t want to get swinging too high. And, of course, if I do relent and go on a Ferris wheel or gondola, the other people in my party like to make me squirm by rocking our vehicle as if to show me that we’re in a sturdy piece of machinery and we’re not going to plummet to our deaths on a silly amusement park ride. This method of reassurance might have worked some 20-odd years ago. But we’re living in a different time. A time where things are not well made  and people don’t take as much pride in their work. I’m not saying all roller coasters are shoddily made or unkempt. I’m saying you don’t need to be a jerk in the face of someone’s fear, however convoluted and irrational.

As a kid, I went with various groups of people to the state fair. My participation at the state fair was limited to playing carnival games and eating carnival food. No rides—except for a couple of dinky “baby” rides—and no scary things. In those days, I was also forbidden to eat hard candy or popcorn for fear that I’d choke (or actually enjoy childhood). Irrational fears are hereditary, apparently. The fair is a magical place—bright lights illuminating the normally vacant fairgrounds, the air thick with cheap cigarette smoke and manure. It’s a place where even your dreams can be deep fried! Who needs a roller coaster when there are caged monkeys demanding you roll grapes down their PVC pipes? Wait…I’m not sure the state fair had a roller coaster.

“But Katharine,” I hear you saying, “you lived in Orlando for six years. How could you resist the siren song of the many roller coasters surrounding you?” Just lucky, I guess. Well, luck and my discovery of another irrational intolerance—theme park lines. Bless the brave souls who can stand around in the Florida heat in former swampland amongst other sweaty souls of varying girth and odors. Godspeed to the ones willing to withstand whiny brats and their cranky parents, oblivious teenagers, and bitter Florida residents. If you can survive two hours of all that, you deserve much more than seven minutes of a cheesy amusement park ride.

I understand the appeal of riding a roller coaster—the anticipation as you creak up the hill quickly followed by the exhilaration of whooshing down the other side, the wind pulling at your face as you fwish around the corners and thwipp down another quick hill. I’ve seen those first person POV videos. The whole experience looks a bit cathartic. A former theme park employee friend of mine would often ride a coaster at the end of his shift so he could scream out the frustrations of the day. Imagine a whole train full of people riding the Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster just to release tension, shrieking and screaming away the stress and anxiety of life. That’s kind of poetic. And kind of creepy. But also kind of apt for the kind of mass-individualized culture we live in these days. I prefer my stress and anxiety to be gently prodded away by the hands of a skilled masseur.

It is doubtful that I will ever find the courage to ride a coaster, to feel the wind in my eyes (drying out my contact lenses) and hair (not my own) in my mouth. I do work everyday to overcome my apprehension on escalators—I’ve stopped bursting into tears whenever a heavyset person is in front of me. And, if you promise not to be a jerk and rock the car, I might go on the Ferris wheel with you. I’ll buy the deep fried cotton candy.