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Amy Brenneman: The Hospital Helped Me Think

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During many painful moments, I was able to meditate on what's really important: the present.

amy brenneman woman in the hospital

Amy Brenneman: I had surgery a month ago, to correct a longstanding and chronic problem. At Christmas, when I scheduled the surgery, it seemed basically elective. By January 26, it was not. It was as if my body knew that relief was in sight; that it didn't need to be a good camper anymore and hang on. Around January 15, it fell apart altogether and I found myself limping into the ER.

Everything went well. Of course it did -- how could it not? I was with the top surgeon in the country for this sort of thing, at a major medical institution that did this kind of surgery all the time. I had sanitary surroundings, top-notch nursing and kind people constantly asking me if I was in pain -- and if I was, doing something to rectify it.

That said, the journey was not without drama. Because my body was failing, there were emergency situations, and I was in the emergency room three times in two weeks. My top surgeon said, "Tell them I sent you!" -- as if murmuring his name to the ER nurse would somehow roll out the red carpet. I tried, of course, but the ER nurse kindly but firmly reminded me that the emergency room works under the laws of triage, and if I could breathe and speak I was not at the top of their list. Which is as it should be. So we have to wait, we denizens of the ER, while discussions happen behind closed doors which will decide who gets treated first, and when.

Of the many lessons I've learned during the past few months (and they are myriad), here's one I was thinking about today. 

When you're in physical distress, higher thoughts go out the window. Here I am -- me, who loves thinking about God and art and politics and social justice; me, who is always looking for signs and portents and the Meaning Of Life -- here are the kinds of thoughts I've had during the last month:

I'm in pain. When am I not going to be in pain? I need to sleep. I need to eat. I'm cold. How can I get to the restroom with an IV and a catheter? And how the hell do the ties on a hospital gown work?

My world became very, very small. It reminded me of when my kids were newborns. Moment to moment -- can't think beyond that. Eating, sleeping, pooping, crying. Elemental and animal. I was reduced to this.

Or was I elevated by it? After all, aren't all meditation techniques, cross-culturally, trying to help us to be in the present? To attend to what's actually happening, rather than to our illusions? I grew to love this state -- even though I was in pain; even though it was actually REALLY hard negotiating that catheter -- because there was simplicity and clarity of mission. Be here now. Do what needs to be done. The next moment will come, and then I'll attend to it.

Perhaps by letting go of the search for the Meaning of Life, I stumbled into a piece of it, right there in hospital room 804. Now, if I could just figure out how to detangle that IV ....


amy brenneman

Amy Brenneman


next: Don't Fight in Front of Your Baby!
29 comments so far | Post a comment now
Linda Yanchuck February 26, 2010, 9:17 AM

Amy,

I can so relate to your 2/26 blog! First of all I have been an RN for 20 yrs and worked in the ER for 11 of those years. But, last year I was on your side. I had surgeries in 8 months; 3 shoulder surgeries; and yes, I do realize I only have 2 shoulders lol; and 2 female surgeries. One was trying to correct the problem so I would not have to have a hysterectomy….it didn’t work!

I worked at the hospital that my surgeries took place and got neglected, passed over and given the wrong meds (which I didn’t take)! I was basically taking care of myself, which was not easy.

Hopefully you will never need it again, but I can give you some tips on how to get past triage, how to walk with the pole and catheter (it’s easier w/a buddy)..and the ties on the gowns NEVER work!!!

I love reading your blog and your twitter updates!! And love you on PP!! Miss you on Judging Amy-one of the best shows that was on! God bless you!

Davad February 26, 2010, 9:23 AM

Excellent article. Pain does take all thoughts of productivity and toss them out the window, often without opening it first. Then comes the frustration and anger at your body for betraying you. I can so totally relate. I’d like to inject pure painkillers straight into my spine and left shoulder right now, but that isn’t going to happen I’m sure.

Glad you were able to get yours fixed. It’s even more frustrating than hearing that you just have to live with it because there is nothing they can go in and do that wouldn’t just make it worse. Sigh….

Gabi February 26, 2010, 9:24 AM

It’s tough to be at the hospital, specially when you’re the patient.

It’s nice to now that you’re great now and that everything went well :)

You’re doing a fantastic work at Private Practice, you rock, girl! Best wishes and kisses from Brazil.
Regards,

Gabriella Andrade

AT  March 1, 2010, 5:27 AM

Hello Amy, great to know that all’s good with you, and thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I enjoy reading your blog posts, as much as I enjoyed (ie, very much!!) Judging Amy, and now, Private Practice! We’re only getting the first coupla episodes of PP Season Two on cable here in Singapore, but I just got hold of the DVD set… for the bonus features! (By the way, I went to great lengths to try and buy the JA dvd set, was stumped that there was none, or no “real” ones… and finally “created” my own… haha) Have a great week, and keep posting! ;-)
cheers, anna

Nancy Farkas March 11, 2010, 11:54 PM

I am an ER volunteer so I know what you are saying about the wait. People always get angry with me for the wait but there is not much that can be done. I hope you are feeling better and I hope to see back on Prp soon.

Maria August 27, 2010, 2:46 AM

I’m happy you manage to go through. Life can be hard, but there’s always something to learn from it.

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gammaof3 September 16, 2010, 6:27 PM

Hi Amy,
Saw you on view & heard about your surgery. I also have colitis for bout 15yrs now. Lately it has been acting up & not getting better. I can’t get into see my GI Doctor till Oct.6th. I am really scared what they might find out beings it won’t get better. I hope I don’t need surgery but I would like to know more about it, exactly what all was done etc. I’m still reading your remarks so not sure if you tell all or not. I’m sure glad you are doing well tho : )

Lauren October 15, 2010, 5:54 PM

Hi Amy. Thanks for sharing your story. I recently read an article about you on People.com. It was about UC and how you had surgery to correct it. I also suffered from UC for many years. About a year ago my UC took a turn for the worse. I lost 21 lbs in a month, I was in and out of the hospital. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I can relate to what you were going through: the pain, the lack of appetite, the sleepless nights, the medications, the mind games of going to the bathroom. It got to the point where I had no other option but to have the surgery. I know you didn’t mention exactly what you had done, but I had a 3-step surgery over a span of 6 months. It was a long road to recovery! Today, I am happy to say that I am doing better and I hope you are too! I find you very inspiring and courageous for being able to share your story with everyone. You are a wonderful actress and I look forward to watching you every Thursday night! Be well and I would love to hear how you are doing to please feel free to keep me posted.

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Steven88 January 21, 2011, 5:22 AM

It is nice to hear that hospital helps to Hollywood stars. However the situation with simple people is not so great at all. There are many unprofessional doctors working in suburbs and nothing is made about it. Some of them don’t even have their cna certification exam passed so what can we talk about? I hope that historical health care reform will change that situation and everything will be great after few years. Thanks for the post here by the way.

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