Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dealing with Things Directly

I called home one afternoon, while at my local watering hole, the hospital, to inform my roommate the doctor was behind on his patients and as a consequence, I was late. At this time, the doctor either admitted me for the night or I was late. I regularly called to prevent worry. This day, however, was different. She answered the phone in a New Jersey mob boss accent. Or a Midwestern, young girl version of a New Jersey mob boss accent. A few weeks prior, we purchased HBO and HBO on demand. Sex and the City was in its final few seasons, and of course, we needed to watch it live. Shows weren't as readily available as they are today, so this was very important. Jos, my roommate, home for the day on a well deserved break from her doctoral studies, chose to watch a few of the featured shows on HBO. As she answered every question in this hilarious accent, I hysterically laughed and then asked the reason behind the accent. She explained she happened to turn on an on demand episode of The Sopranos and was hooked. She continued to say things like, fuh-gedda-boud-dit, and use the f word in every other sentence with an emphasis on the f. After a day at the hospital, I loved and appreciated the humorous and theatrical impression. Jos informed me I must return home and watch an episode. When I finally arrived, I watched one episode and it grabbed me like a magnet.

I never thought I was a Sopranos type of girl. Violence in movies or film was just not my thing. At twenty, the summer before my accident, I saw Saving Private Ryan and almost left the theater while the opening scene brutally played out in front of me. So, the idea of a show about murder, rape, and brutal crime didn't spark much interest in me. But, I caved and sat through the episode on the edge of my wheelchair and turned to Jos, stunned and in awe. The Sopranos, while horrifically violent and filled with vile characters, carried an unparalleled weight of thematic presence, accompanied by a slew of brilliant writers, fantastic actors and actresses. We quickly morphed into avid Sopranos watchers. In fact, as Jos put it, Carrie Bradshaw and Tony Soprano became our third and fourth roommates. Our show nights, were a happy, bright time, amongst my many, dark days.

After a few years, Jos moved to Colorado and I to another building just down the road from our old apartment. My illness was at its worst. Survival was the only thing I knew. I spent my days at the hospital, where I underwent Hyperbaric Oxygen treatments, and the nights at home, struggling to stay alive. My diagnosis was unknown at this time and my doctors, incompetent. I administered heavy intravenous antibiotics, twice daily, through a PICC line, only to learn years later, they were the incorrect antibiotic, which is why the fevers and daily purging continued. Every morning, I took a shower, put on my special scrubs, the only thing safe to wear in the hyperbaric chamber, and drove to the hospital for treatment. There is a small flatscreen attached to the top of the chamber and the technician played the patient's choice of DVD. At first, I watched light hearted movies and shows. But after a few sessions grew tired of too much happy. I was ill, depressed, and dying. Light, happy movies only irritated me. It was so tiresome to watch perfectly healthy people live perfect and happy lives. And at this time, I grasped for anything with some ounce of meaning. I prayed constantly, tried to meditate regularly, but ultimately felt worse. I know this was because of the illness and not the methods, but still, I was angry and sad. I finally asked to watch The Sopranos during treatment. I needed to see something dark, something filled with as much punishment as I felt I received for whatever wrongdoing I felt I committed. I had trouble escaping this mindset. I felt my accident and illness were punishments for a previous mistake or sin. 

Yes, I do agree The Sopranos is an odd choice. I do agree the violence is too much sometimes. There are a few episodes during which I must reach for the remote control and fast forward for a few minutes. However, among the violence, and the brutality, and the hate, and the darkness, and the sin, and the suffering, and the selfishness, there lies hope. This anti-hero, Tony Soprano, endeared me and intrigued me. I watched, day after day, as he confessed to his psychiatrist and somehow thought his life deserved redemption. I finally started to think if Tony felt worthy of redemption, maybe I could feel this way too. He saw his violence and lewd behavior as an escape from his demons and despair and I needed an escape from my own demons and despair. I saw in his eyes, the same depression and angst I saw in my eyes. Yes, our eyes told very different stories, but I felt a bit of him inside of me. I felt the rage and the depression. I felt unlovable and broken. I know it is just a television show. I know Tony is just a character on this television show. But, the place I was in, the feelings I conjured on a daily basis, needed a hard hit of something, and this just happened to be it. One episode tells the story of his daughter, Meadow, and how and why she begs him not to clip, or kill, her soccer coach. Tony is enraged because he discovers this coach is molesting his daughter's teammate. She implores him to call the authorities instead of his usual approach, inflicting harm or death. In the end, Tony honors her wishes and arrives home later that evening, drunk, repeating the words, I didn't hurt nobody, Carm, I didn't hurt nobody. Carmela or Carm, as he calls her, sits with him as he sobs. He changed, if only for a minute, he changed his behavior and did something right.

I used many methods to overcome my battle with this nasty blood infection. I, honestly, think every one of them worked. Praying led me to an undiscovered and powerful faith and a forgiveness and love I never thought possible. Meditation calmed me and taught me to appreciate silence. And along the way and along the discovery of the plethora of available techniques to heal, I found visualization. There is, yet, another episode in the series where Tony's psychiatrist experiences a traumatic and brutal attack. The police, her son, and her husband are futile in their efforts to help her and fail to apprehend her attacker. She knows if she tells Tony he can squash her predator like an ant. She even has a dream and sees Tony in the form of a Rottweiler, as he devours her attacker. One aspect of visualization therapy involves a method of picturing a character of a movie, book, or film, attacking the infection or particular illness. I chose Tony, as the Rottweiler. As dark and brutal as this sounds, this is what depression and illness were like for me. They were an angry, dark, relentless quicksand, that sucked me in and forced me to grasp for breath and relief any way possible. And the Tony character and the Rottweiler were my relief and fighters. 

In addition to this visualization, I heard Tony say a few words that never, ever left me. I started my life as a paralyzed individual with what I like to call, a Pollyanna approach, to paralysis. I smiled and nodded and comforted everyone around me. I agreed with doctors and followed directions. I allowed nurses to make decisions for me and relied on the advice of the medical professionals that surrounded me. And then one day, in the middle of this tornado of devastation, and after the realization this approach was quickly taking my life, I heard a few words that changed me. I like to deal with things directly. Tony said these very words to his psychiatrist. In the moment I heard them, they resonated right away. I said them over and over to myself the entire treatment that day, as to not forget. I repeated the line the entire drive home and when I arrived back at my place, I wrote them on a piece of paper and taped it to the wall of my bedroom. I decided right then and there, no more Pollyanna, it was time for Tony Soprano. I adopted this new attitude and pressed forward and fixed many broken pieces. I fought my way to my current doctor and finally experienced healing.

I know this is unconventional and strange. I know it sounds vile and deplorable to trust a mob boss character's flaws and imperfections. But, I, too, felt this vile and deplorable. I felt I didn't deserve to live. I felt misunderstood and selfish. I wanted what everyone else had, I wanted to be well and I wasn't and begged for a reason. I quickly learned there wasn't an explanation behind the suffering, that part didn't matter. What mattered, was my response. And yes, I needed a little New Jersey mob boss attitude to fix the mess. But, I also learned, I needed a little God, a little Buddha, a little peace, and a little trust. Now, I use much more positive thinking and less of the Rottweiler. I visualize my wounds peacefully healing, filling in bit by bit, instead of a big, strong animal and man attacking the infection that caused them. The infection is gone now, I don't need the dog or the larger than life man as much, or at all. Although, when I need a new wheelchair and exhaust every peaceful, positive avenue to get it, I might jump into character and tap into my inner mob boss, but Tony and the Rottweiler are, mostly, a thing of the past for now. I don't forget their help and I certainly credit them as a large part of my healing.

This past Wednesday the actor, James Gandolfini, died of a massive heart attack. He played Tony Soprano. I cried. I cried because as a man, he is far to young to die, but mostly I cried because of the memories his passing conjured up inside of me. For a second, I worried it was a sign, my anti-hero, my Rottweiler, was dead. I worried it meant I might acquire an illness again and not be able to fight it. However, after the tears and the recognition of the fear, I discovered I was very, very wrong. James Gandolfini left behind Tony and that dog. I have the box set of the entire series of his show stored in a cabinet, next to my television. I can see them anytime I want. Also, it dawned on me this man, this actor, may have left behind a great work of art, a great story, a fantastic show, but what he didn't know he left behind, was a tiny piece of himself that helped a sick, hopeless, pathetic, and scared girl who felt alone and terrified and one day decided to use this grand, giant character as protection. He will always be remembered for this show, this masterpiece, but this tiny dot he left behind inside of me, will go largely unknown. 

And since I am positive now. Since I believe in the good and finally decided to trust in a better day and the proliferation of a bright and shining light, I see this is a lesson to learn. No matter how big of an impact I desire to leave behind, no matter how great I think my stamp must be to honor the gifts I have received along this dark and scary path of healing, it is the small moments, the small gestures, the small kindnesses, the small moments of love, that truly matter. I may never know their impact. I may never know whom I touch or what I heal, but it doesn't matter. What really counts, is that I try. James Gandolfini knew his character was large and impactful, but he didn't know the small ways it affected people, especially me. I only hope, one day, to pay this gift forward, no matter how small. Because it is the little things that count. It is the moments that resonate, when I least expect it, that count the most. And always giving of myself will pay it forward in the best way possible. Our lives are a gift to us, what we do with them is our gift to others. May we all rest in peace. 


  1. I hope this story finds it's way to his family one day. I think they would feel almost honored to read how he "helped" you in your darkest time.

  2. I totally agree with PeggyMomma!

  3. What a great tribute to James Gandolfini as well as a tribute to your determination to get well and stay strong, and find peace and give love - I am so proud of you!

  4. Sometimes we find comfort and wisdom in the most unlikely of sources. Your post made it easy to see how you could relate to, and learn from, the character of Tony Soprano

  5. Sarah,
    Another great post! I really enjoyed this one, and also the last post, "Oneness", which opened my eyes and mind and heart to so much. You mentioned reading everything out there about spirituality--I am wondering if you could recommend a few of your favorite books that helped pave your way. Thanks much! Brigette

  6. This is a beautiful post, Sarah. Well thought out and well written. You really should write a memoir. Seriously.

    I am so glad you're doing better. We all need a little Tony Soprano in us when we are in a fight for our life.

    Many blessings to you.

  7. Dear Sarah,
    I found your blog through Kelle Hampton's. Like her, you weave such beautiful stories with your words and your life. I've visited your blog from time to time and some of the things you write, I've never heard before... :) They speak of discoveries that maybe most of us are to scared too face...? But that you, because of the turn your life took, have been forced to face. And other things that you write, I read and recognize and smile-- I too use a wheelchair and daydream about being careless with time and a body that, just for once, please-dear-God, would do exactly what I instructed it to do, and receive weird comments from strangers that make me wonder who I am or who they are and what part I'm meant to play. Anyway, not sure why I felt impelled to write to you, except maybe it's nice for you to know that people catch your words as you send them out into the ether...? That they resonate. I don't know you, of course, but I imagine that you are the sort of person one would like to sit down with for coffee and talk and talk and be brutally honest with, and laugh too. Funny, isn't it? :) Anyway, my e-mail:, in case you ever want to swap war/wheelchair stories :)
    Blessings to you,,

  8. Sarah, your message is really powerful. Especially, the idea that small things may have huge effects. I hope you hang on to some of the Tony Soprano in you. It sounds like a useful power to conjure up! Ciao bella.

  9. I spend far too much time thinking about what I could do if I had a different body rather than just accepting what I have. Thank you for reminding me to love what I DO have.


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