Saturday, November 14, 2020

To Catch One's Breath While Sobbing

 by 2020 Creative Nonfiction contributor Ann Kathryn Kelly

When I wrote "Singultus," my essay in this year's Bacopa Literary Review, I was enrolled in a six-week writing workshop where we were encouraged to include basic research in one of our essays to round out a personal story we wanted to tell. I was about 60,000 words into my memoir-in-progress at the time, and had already written the pub scene.

     I hiccupped and slid into the booth beside Shelly. 
     "I'm late. Sorry."
     I wiggled out of my down coat. It was March, slushy, with a bite in the air. Colleagues Tina and Shelly joined me every Thursday for happy hour.
     "We got chicken nachos, they should be out any minute," Shelly said.
     I hiccupped again and she rubbed my back. "You alright?"
     I'd drawn in a big breath. Holding it, I turned to her and nodded. I pointed to Shelly's pint glass when our server approached. Exhaled. "The same, please." 
     Our server dropped a coaster. "Comin' right up."
     I hiccupped again.
    "You sure beer's the answer?" Tina asked, eyebrow raised . . .

I decided  to build a standalone essay around my hiccupping scene, and ran with the workshop prompt, spending a Saturday morning Googling hiccups. The causes, the home remedies to stop them. I went down a rabbit hole with etymology and discovered the wonderful list of words that various countries use for hiccups. I found it interesting that so many of them are similar--with the exception of the Italian word, singhiozza, which rolls off the tongue with pleasing flair. When I came across the Latin definition of hiccup--to catch one's breath while sobbing--I knew I had my essay ending.

     There were times when deep breaths were hard to pull in, times when sobbing would have been an understandable reaction. I fought it, stoically weighing options. I agonized over what I may be left like, with surgery. I brooded on the deficits that could come, without it. An endless tug of war.
     Mostly, I prayed.
     I put the half dollar back in the drawer, opened a Google window, stared at my computer. Minutes passed. The cursor blinked. My hiccups punctuated the quiet.    
     I typed, 'Brain surgeons in Boston.'

I went into my manuscript and cherry-picked a few scenes from the pub, then wove in alternating sections from my research. Interestingly, I was prescribed Chlorpromazine, an anti-psychotic drug that also treats intractable hiccupping, during my month-long stay in a brain injury rehab facility that followed my twelve-hour open-head surgery and my five-day stay in ICU. 

At the time of this post, November 14, 2020, I am eleven years, one month, and eight days past my surgery. On October 6, 2009, I left my house in southern New Hampshire at 3:00 in the morning. One of my brothers drove me an hour south into Boston to Brigham and Women's Hospital. A team of doctors, led by the Chief of Neurosurgery, spent a day with me in the OR while my brother and mother waited for more than fourteen hours to see me again in ICU. 

I celebrate every October 6 by traveling to a far-flung corner of our globe--with the exception of this unique, socially distant year that I'm spending at home, polishing my manuscript that I hope to start pitching to agents starting with the December #PitMad event on Twitter!

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Ann Kathryn Kelly lives in New Hampshire's Seacoast region. She's a contributing editor with Barren Magazine, works in the technology sector, and leads writing workshops for a nonprofit serving people with brain injury. Her essays have appeared in a number of literary journals.

Read Ann Kathryn Kelly's "Singultus," pages 145-150,
and other provocative Fiction, Creative Nonfiction,
Poetry, Short-Short, and Humor
in Bacopa Literary Review 2020