When bad things happen

Published by pam on Mon, 03/19/2012 - 10:17am


Writers are told not to hold back when it comes to sticking it to their characters.  We are too nice to them.  We never make them go through the REALLY hard things.  We like them too much.  Maybe because on some level, they are us.  We don't want them to suffer.  


I always thought part of the problem was that handing a character one obstacle after another seemed so improbable that it would quickly become unbelievable.  On the other hand, the reason editors might push for more bad-things-to-happen-to-good-people is that readers delight in seeing characters get knocked down and pull themselves back up regardless of the believability of the situation.  It could be there is even added benefit to the improbability factor, call it the It Can't Happen To Me syndrome.  It can't happen to me, but theres a perverse pleasure in watching it happen to some one else.


But I was wrong.  Bad things happen to people.  Over and over again.  The reason we are too nice to our characters is that we don't want to do to them what the world does to us.  Sure, we're not likely to battle aliens and dinosaurs on the same day.  But we take hits we can't believe.  And we don't always see them coming.


Authors don't hit their characters hard because they don't want their characters  to suffer like they do.  As writers, we create the world we want, not the world we have.


But I digress.


I have a breast tumor.  That much I knew.  I did the tests, cut the tumor out, and prepared myself physically and mentally for chemo.  I felt almost ready.  There was only last biopsy, and the odds that it was anything that would effect my chemo was minimal.  The scans picked up a spot on my kidney.  My oncologist sends me off to a urologist who says it doesn't look like a tumor, but we should biopsy it just in case.  90% of all tumors are benign.  But in the unlikely scenario the tumor is malignant, the chemo may accelerate its growth.  You can tell where this is going, can't you.  You know whoever is writing this story is about to stick it to me.  


The biopsy doesn't go well.  And that is before the path results come back.  They lie me on my belly - exactly what every mastectomy patent dreams of - lying flat on their bellies with their arms stretched high above their chests.  The procedure itself is fine, but there is bleeding.  We don't know this when we leave the hospital.  When we leave the hospital there is a cramp but not much more.   It will pass, we are told.  But it doesn't.  Waiting in line for the ferry, it gets worse.  A lot worse.


I don't think we should get on that boat, I tell Marc.


I'm sure its nothing, he says.  


What makes you think it's nothing?


I always think its nothing, he admits.


I don't think its nothing.  


We call the hospital to check.  It doesn't seem wise to be too far from the hospital right at the moment.  


By the time we arrive back at the front entrance, I am screaming.  Marc tries to remove me from the car and I scream STOP so many times, that when he runs off to get wheelchair, a man comes up and asks me if I know that man - pointing to Marc.  He's worried I'm being abducted.


They find a hematoma around the kidney.  The pain is probably disproportional to the blood because there is nerve radiating around my belly that is being impacted by the fluid.  They admit me to the hospital just to be sure.  By morning I can walk, but my surgical drain is leaking and the stitches have been pulled.  Two days later, the pain is still intense and I have developed an infection in my breast.  I'm put on a cycle of antibiotics which will delay my chemo.  Sounds bad.  Another delay.  I move the hair shaving (again).  And I wait for the path results to come back.