At the beginning of the semester I described my Narrative Thinking professor, Dr. VanOosting, as flamboyant but really it is more accurate to say that he is theatrical. From the stresses he puts on certain words to his dramatic pauses and the way he frequently interruptions in his own monologue to gaze off pensively into the ceiling tiles you always feel more like he is performing more than teaching. He spends the majority of the class telling us stories. They are all related to some point that he is making but their telling compromises the majority of class time. Since the class is narrative thinking, it’s fitting that he would lead it in this narrative fashion but it’s still quite the production. His physical appearance adds to the dramatic effect. He is a relatively thin man, age 58 and most likely around 5′ 9″ or 5′ 10″. He has long, voluminous white hair that hits just below his shoulders and a goatee. I have never actually noticed the color of his eyes, though I would assume they would be blue, because I am too distracted by his red plastic rimmed glasses that are just a size or two smaller than the style of glasses that were popular in the 80s. His clothes are never really that remarkable just nice-ish dress pants and a button down shirt.
Last week he told us his most interesting personal narrative in class. I remembered it tonight and decided that I wanted to share it because I think it should be shared.
When I walked into class last Wednesday evening the first thing I noticed, besides the sandwiche platter he had sitting on the front desk, was that he had thick, white bandages wrapped around the top of his head covering most of his forehead and making his hair awkwardly poof out below it. It wasn’t until we were an hour into class that he explained what had happened.
Previously he had told us that he has a medical condition that causes him to randomly pass out. It is not a blood sugar issue, it has to do with a problem in his adrelinal system (he gave us the name but, of course, I don’t remember it and even if I did I probably couldn’t spell it). This had been the cause of his injury which he had received the Thursday night before, while his wife was out of town. He couldn’t actually remember most of what had happened but he had pieced together a narrative account of it, in large part by following the trails of blood throughout the house.
That night he had been watching something on TV (quite possibly a baseball game) and went into the kitchen for something, presumably food. While in there he passed out. Instead of falling forward toward the ground he fell backward, hitting his head against the kitchen counter than sliding down and hitting it again on three cupboard knobs. When he woke up he made his way back to the couch and sat there for a while then decided to go up to bed. He had a severe concussion by this time, which of course means the worst thing he could do was fall asleep but that is what he did.
Though he could not remember any of this he said that he must have at least been aware that his wife was not home because whenever she is gone he either sleeps on her pillow or on her side of the bed, because he misses her, and that night he fell asleep on her side of the bed. A few hours later he woke up and realized that the bed was soaked in blood. He doesn’t remember being aware that it was his blood but he knew something was amiss so he called 911 and then passed out again while on the phone. When the police arrived and knocked on his door he assumes that he crawled down the stairs to the door because of the blood on the carpet. He was then taken to the hospital. It seems that the hospital experience is all he really remembers.
At the hospital his large head injury was finally cleansed and he received 7 or 9 staples. Presumably because he had gone so long without medical attention (I think they believe he got the injury around 9pm and didn’t get to the hospital until around midnight/1am) when they stapled his head they did not have time to put him under or numb him. His description of this scene was rather amusing. “She [the doctor] told me that it was really going to hurt, which usually they just say it is going to pinch so I thought ‘Yeah, this is probably going to be terrible but thanks for being honest.’ Then she stapled me. You know with head injuries like that they have to use staples and they’re like the big staples you’d use for construction. Nothing ever hurt so much in my life. So, of course, I screamed. Then she apologized, and being the good Midwestern boy I am, I apologize: ‘I’m sorry I shouldn’t have screamed like that.’ With each staple we would go through our little banter. She would apologize and then I would apologize. When she was nearly done she asked if I wanted just a 10 second break, I said ‘No’ we could just go on. Then she put the staple in and I said, ‘Well, you could have given me those damn 10 seconds!'”
While he was in the hospital a friend of his who is a doctor and specializes in trauma, or something like that, came to visit. His friend told him that he really should have died twice: once when he fell asleep for those three or so hours with his concussion and twice from the extreme amount of blood that he lost. This was actually the second time that he had an experience when he should have died. Telling us this story led him to mention that and say that he’s never come back from one of these experiences with a feeling that he needs to completely turn his life around. He’s had no dramatic epiphanies. “I just think, ‘Well… I have just been given more time to keep doing what I’m doing.”
When he said that I thought (in a rather VanOosting fashion), “Well…now here is a man who is actually living in a way that he finds meaningful.” I think that’s why he feels no need to do a 180. He strikes me as the kind of man who is actually living the life that he wants to live not just dreaming about it. I don’t know if there really are that many adults who are like that. I don’t feel like I meet many. Even those who seem content I don’t know if I sense the same kind of feeling of purpose (if that is the right word). From the multiple narratives he has shared, it seems that he has very much chosen and, to some extent, meaningfully constructed his life. Rather comically he added, “I was thinking that if I knew I only had 24 hours to live the only thing I would really do differently is I wouldn’t grade your damn papers.” I appreciate this attitude. Something about it reminds me of Out of Africa (though really what eventually doesn’t?), when Isak Dinesen states, “My life, I will not let you go except you bless me, but then I will let you go.” I think he’s received his blessing. Quite possibly I’m idealizing him but who don’t I idealize in some way or other?