In “A Life Less Terrifying: The Revisionary Lens of Illness,” a non-fiction piece published in the Spring 2016 Intima, writer Ann Wallace notes that “The act of living and of moving forward requires a constant recursive motion of looking back and re-visioning.” I’m newly aware of that recursive motion, as my essay “Fluid” opened an unexpected conversation with my family around my bout with sepsis pneumonia. In 2010, I had a sore throat that progressed to crippling pain in the back of my lungs. A trip to an urgent care clinic led to an ambulance trip to the hospital, which led to an induced coma. For a week, my family willed my heart to keep beating as the doctors waited to see which of my organs would succumb to the flesh-eating bacteria rampant in my bloodstream.
I revived. They brought me out of the coma with all my organs intact. After that, I spent a grisly few weeks in the hospital, battling pneumonia and recovering from lung surgery, and walked out of the hospital, healed.
I spent the next year trying to bring to voice what I had experienced in the darkness of my body, trying to describe how human connection had anchored my mind to my body.
Yet, now, years later, members of my family protested:. “How can you write a memoir when you were not conscious for the worst part?” Some felt my narrative had discounted their stories by not including their perspectives on the harrowing week when they waited with me, facing the oblivion of death.
They were right, of course. I was consumed with trying to understand my own experiences and had not adequately seen the dear ones who brought me through it.
Clearly, it’s time to re-vise, to see again. Ann Wallace encourages me: “To live up to the word re-vision, we need to stop when we want to walk away: turn around, walk back, look again from new angles, even enlisting our friends to ask what they see. Sometimes this kind of re-vision is easy, but often it is work, for it entails a willingness to let go of what we first thought was true.”
This re-vision certainly feels like work. It also feels like shame, like regret. How could I have missed this crucial part of the story? But as Ann Wallace reminds us, vision and revision are recursive, not linear. In learning to listen, I can learn to see again. How often do the people near us hold the map to navigating the lacunae in our stories of self?
Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser, a native of El Paso, TX, lives in San Antonio, where she explores the city and the surrounding hill country with her two daughters and husband. She earned a doctorate in English Literature from Saint Louis University and has published academic essays on war literature, trauma, and teaching. Currently, Elisabeth is writing a series of essays meditating on experiences of motherhood through the paradigm of pilgrimage. One of these, “Speed and Space of Mind” was recently published in Lucia journal; another, “Pilgrim, Mother,” was recently a finalist in Talking Writing’s Writing and Faith contest. Her non-fiction piece "Fluid" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.