Before I go, I have something to say

Cinderella’s Corner

Here’s the weird thing about being hospitalized, as I was a couple of months ago. Someone else cleans up after you. This sounds like heaven to most women, but I found it a bit uncomfortable after the first few days.

Of course, if you’re in the hospital recovering from surgery or coping with a terminal illness, the last thing you want to worry about is whether there are dust bunnies breeding under the bed. But I was there to get control of migraines that had plagued me for years. They hurt; they hurt a lot, but I’d learned to live my life despite them, to grit my teeth and do what needed to be done in the midst of them, at least most of the time.

So it felt strange to have someone else mopping and tidying up every day as I sat in bed or went off to classes or for yet another fun treatment involving long needles and numbing agents. The only part of the room I had any responsibility for was my bed table, which, I discovered, had two nifty drawers where I could store whatever small things my heart desired. In went the iPod, the TV channel guide, the nail file, the eyeshade. The top of the table was laden with my laptop, plus snacks ranging from perfect purple grapes to three-packs of Nabisco graham crackers, and at least four paper cups of ice water at any given time. Those nurses made sure we were well-hydrated.

When I was feeling lousy (a headache rated 3, 4, or, God forbid, 5), I couldn’t have cared less what shape my little corner of the hospital world was in. But wait – that’s not quite true. Stop me if this sounds insane, but when I’m sick, it really does make me feel better if my environment is in order; or rather, it only makes me feel worse if it’s not. I have been known to clean the bathroom (quickly) before retreating to it to throw up.

My parents would understand. Not just Mom, but Dad, too. Once his mother and sisters stopped over unexpectedly, and I was amazed to find him frantically polishing the bathroom mirror and faucet. Good grief, I thought. If he’s worried about what they might think, I’d better be, too.

But honestly, that’s not why I do it. I do it for me. There’s something soothing about putting things in order. A place for everything, and everything in its place means having control. Sure, you can take it too far. A friend reports that at her workplace, everyone is urged to mark their desks with colored tape so they know the phone goes here, and the tape dispenser there. Please, spare me. If I come in tomorrow and want my phone to the left of my PC, I reserve the right to move it.

In fact, that’s why it is good to arrange one’s little corner of the world, to paraphrase Leslie Ann Warren as Cinderella. She worked all day to satisfy her evil stepmother and sisters, whereas I find great comfort in having some choice about what I do and how I do it and what goes on my bulletin board and where to keep the paperclips.

As I said, it took me a few days to realize I was going stir-crazy in the hospital, and not just because we were not allowed to go outdoors unescorted, even though spring was busting out all over. I missed taking care of my own space.

So I began arranging things. My bed was the one by the window, so I made the window ledge my library, complete with books, magazines, DVDs, and the box of chocolates my daughter sent. (Thank goodness, chocolate does not trigger my headaches. If they did, you might as well shoot me.) Somebody informed me that if I wanted my bed changed, I had to do it myself, helpfully pointing out the linen closet. What joy, to strip that hospital bed and tuck in new sheets and blankets and pillow cases.

As for my own clothes, which had to last eighteen days, we Head Pain patients were allowed to use a washer and dryer downstairs, free of charge, complete with non-scented detergent and fabric softener. What a treat, to launder one’s own clothes. It reminded me of an interview I read ages ago in Rolling Stone, in which one of the leaders of the rock band Heart confessed that she drew the line at letting someone else wash her clothes for her. Doing that herself kept her sane. Now I know what she was talking about.

Once my headaches began to retreat and I was released into the real world, I came back to Dubuque and started right back to work. And what did I find myself doing, that first day back? Cleaning out my desk drawers, that’s what. Laugh if you will – I’m a librarian, after all, and putting things in order is part of what we do – it works wonders to create order, not only to the workplace, but also to the soul.

That silly saying, “A clean desk is the sign of a messy mind” is completely off-base, if you ask me. To me, a clean desk allows the mind to soar, to be as creatively messy as it desires. I mean, if you get a great idea, it’s nice to be able to put your hands on paper and pencil to write it down. So if you’re feeling out of sorts, try straightening up a little corner of your world. Chances are it will make you feel better. It works for me every time.

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