Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Liftoff

When I was about 12 my mother, who at the time was the dean of a graduate school in Colorado, had a faculty member who also happened to be an astronaut in his spare time. (I guess you could call it moonlighting....ba, dum, bah!) Anyway, bad puns aside, I thought this was pretty cool because 1) I had never met an actual astronaut before and was forever intrigued by the idea of freeze-dried ice cream, and 2) her association with this particular astronaut meant that my family was invited down to Florida to watch the shuttle launch when he was sent up to the International Space Station. A trip to Florida to watch the shuttle launch, by the way, gets you waaaay more street cred in elementary school than your run-of-the-mill visit to Mickey. This was the big time, and in my head it was going to be replete with visits to the "cockpit" (do shuttles have cockpits?) and time spent in one of those zero gravity spinning things you used to see on ads for Space Camp. I was, to put it mildly, super stoked at the prospect.

The launch was a night launch, which is both rare and spectacularly beautiful. We huddled on bleachers in the middle of some very uninhabited strip of land/dust, with the lights of the launching station spotlighting the shuttle in the distance. We weren't close by any stretch -- at least a mile away, I would guess, if not more -- and we had to get there early, so for the first hour or so all I really remember was a sense of being uncomfortable and bored. I was excited, sure, but I was also a pre-teen sitting with my parents in the Florida wilderness before the age of texting and cell phones and with nary a spinning zero-gravity ride in sight. I was, truth be told, kind of over it.

Over it, that is, until the countdown clock hit about 5 minutes to liftoff. At that point I swear I felt a tingle go through my entire body. I sat up straighter, I looked off into the distance at the lights surrounding the shuttle. I imagined the astronauts -- a crew of 5, including two women I had seen the day before at a panel -- strapping themselves into their chairs and straining their eyes for a last look at the family and loved ones seated with us in the distance. I even considered the name of the shuttle, The Atlantis, and its implications of worlds lost and the constant quest for hidden treasures. I stayed lost in these thoughts for about 4 minutes and 30 seconds, and then I joined the crowd in counting down toward the release of that vessel into the universe, full of the hope, joy, fear, light, and sheer anticipation of our collective human desire to live and to learn and to discover new wonders.

It is now T minus 11 hours before I, having finally finished my last round of inhaled and oral treatment for RSV, will be released back into my own little bustling universe of New York City. And though I can't claim a goal quite as lofty as those of the astronauts I watched so long ago, I have to admit that my skin is once again tingling with anticipation at the simple thought of making my way through the night and the snow that falls like so many stars to my family, my friends, my puppy, and my life.

I am so beyond grateful.

The nurses, staff, and doctors here are too amazing for words. I felt so cared for and looked after, which (while I may occasionally complain about all the interruptions) is something I am unbelievably thankful for. The care I get at my hospital is aggressive, compassionate, and even occasionally mixed in with a healthy dose of good fun and humor. I truly hope never to take that for granted.

That said, I am ready for liftoff. The past 8 days in here have felt somewhat dreamlike both in their intensity and in their timeless, floaty quality. The drugs they've had me on in here mess with my senses, to the extent that I can't even really feel my own body (case in point: this morning I bit my tongue due to numbness, and it's hard to type because my fingers can't feel the keys). For the past 5 days I've also been behind double doors, removed from the normal sounds off the hospital and unable to see my visitors, who must enter my room looking frankly ridiculous in paper gowns, orange masks (sometimes with plastic eye visors on them), and latex gloves. When I checked in here I was texting back and forth with a friend who I will never text with again, and that is the most unreal part of all. But somehow or another, like floating through space, time still managed to pass, and now I'm just a short while away from my own night launch. And happy as I am that I have such a wonderful hospital and dedicated team, that moment honestly can't come soon enough. Once again I am over the boring part and ready to skip ahead to the action, please.

So I'm officially commencing the countdown -- and I hope to see you all out there among the stars.

5 comments:

  1. So glad you are getting close to blasting out of there! But also glad you were in good hands...

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  2. Yay! I am happy for you, following along and wishing continued recovery

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  3. God speed Piper...

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  4. So glad you'll be back on the 'outside' soon!

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