In The House of God by Miriam Sagan (#3)

Here is the hardest bit–the ICU. In which my soul, which I didn’t believe in, left my body. It was interesting, though, the more I wrote the more I remembered.


Dr, Frank performed surgery along the lines of a thoracotomy, cut on my right side, although he did not remove my ribs. Two tubes were inserted to drain the lung. Pleurisy had become empyema, a stew of anaerobic organisms in the right lung, a famous killer in the 19th century but almost unknown after the discovery of antibiotics. The left lung had collapsed from stress. There was pneumonia in both. An I.V. fed a broad spectrum antibiotic into my veins, along with frequent doses of morphine. A mask delivered oxygen and a warm mist. The draining machine bubbled.
The doctors informed my parents that I would most probably die.
I lay in the I.C.U., dying. Several visions tipped me off to my critical state. The first was that my soul left my body and my point of view changed. I saw everything as if from above, the I.C.U., the blinking green lights and hiss of the machinery, my body in the bed. This was disconcerting for many reasons, not the least of which was that I had not been raised to believe in the existence of the soul. But something was certainly no longer in my body.
I also approached a thick black line somewhere in an alternate reality, came up against it as if it were an actual wall, and quite purposively decided not to cross it. And finally, I saw huge gates open and rays of light stream out.
I had been raised as an atheist. My father worshiped Marx and Freud. This was before Kubler-Ross’s writing, or the use of the phrase “near death experience.” I simply assumed that those majestic light filled gates were the towers of the George Washington Bridge that had somehow been transported to the I.C.U. Afterwards, for many years, I spoke of these experiences to no one.
Six weeks passed in the I.C.U. Soon, I was a victim of sleep deprivation psychosis. I was awakened every four hours, and my vitals were checked. I experience complete dissociation from my body and surroundings. I begged the staff: “Please put the body of the girl back into the bed. I know that only moments ago there was the body of a girl in the bed.”
I meant myself, of course, but had lost the orientation to say so. I also couldn’t recall my name. But I knew that wasn’t good. So I’d sneak peaks at my wrist, where my name was clearly printed on a hospital bracelet: MIRIAM SAGAN. It did look familiar.
A young intern took pity on me.
“You have sleep deprivation psychosis,” he said as I sobbed that I didn’t know where I was. “You’re in the B.I” he told me.
“Of course!” It all came back to me.
“And you’re doing better than most people with it,” he added. “Usually I can never convince them they’re here.”
I felt better. My condition had a name. I was doing better than most people (music to a Harvard student’s ears.). But I was still insane.
“Then let me sleep,” I pleaded.”Hey,” I continued, struck by a clever if paranoid notion. “I bet you 25 cents you won’t let me sleep.”
I thought I could motivate him for the sum of a quarter.
He did let me sleep, and I am still grateful after all these years. And they stopped waking me for the vitals. I could remember my name again, and that I was the body in the bed.
Things went less smoothly with another young guy, the psychiatric intern.
“How does it feel to be twenty-one and have almost died??” he asked me, pen and pad poised.
“Get out!” I screamed. I was sitting half naked on the bedside commode. And I wasn’t about to talk to an insensitive nerdy guy my own age. Besides, I had no idea how to answer the question.

In The House of God by Miriam Sagan (#2)

It began when my boyfriend got strep throat. Of course I continued to make out with him. He was a handsome WASP, tall, dark-haired. and too cute for me really with his high cheekbones and athletic build. He was a completely unfaithful run-around. If I neglected him for fifteen minutes or left a dull party early, he’d go off with someone else. So I kissed him despite his white-spotted tonsils.
Soon, I was sick with a fever. I was a year ahead of most of my friends in college, and had graduated the previous spring. I lived on Mass Ave. in cavernous apartment with an old friend. She was still at Harvard. My boyfriend was still in the dorms, working on his thesis about the Swedish penal system, an admiring view for its liberalism.
I went to a clinic in north Cambridge and tested negative for strep. I did not have health insurance, wasn’t even really aware of the need for it, a fact overlooked by my family. I had inherited some money from my grandfather at the age of twenty-one, and a season or two into this I was considered to be completely on my own in terms of finances and practicalities. I was teaching part-time and trying to become a writer. I had been rejected from grad school, and was re-applying. I lived on a tight budget, and ate mostly bagels, doughnuts, and coffee. I did not have a doctor in Boston.
My fever got worse. It spiked 104 and I went to Cambridge City Hospital in the middle of the night. I had an agonizing pain on the right side. In that crowded hell of an ER I was not given a chest X-ray, was prescribed valium, and sent home.
Over the next few days I grew steadily worse, sleeping a lot and reading the depressing, if proto-feminist, diaries of Sophia Tolstoy, and sleeping with my boyfriend.
My parents were somewhat aware that I was sick in Boston. Call Dr. Z., my father suggested. He was a doctor I had seen once for something minor in the autumn. I called, and he berated me forcefully: I’ve told you before there is nothing wrong with you! Stop calling this office. I won’t speak to you again.
Horrified, I hung up the phone.
I later found out that he had confused me with another patient. He actually tracked me down months later when I was hospitalized to apologize, and to say he hoped he hadn’t been part of my inability to get care. Although of course he had been.
I went again to City Cambridge, was again sent home with a diagnosis of flu. I then, half unconsciously, must have settled in to either live or more likely die. A clinic, two ER visits, a doctor, my parents, and my friends did not think there was anything seriously wrong with me. I must have been making it up, I concluded, or “overreacting”as I was often accused of doing. The excruciating pain on my right side, which I later found out was called devil’s grip pleurisy, and the high fever were messages I was now set to ignore.
My father, however, was concerned enough to stop by on his way to his weekly class in Boston. He took one look at me, called a cab, and took me to the Beth Israel Hospital, which in those days was an enormous chaotic center looming over the slums of the Fenway and Roxbury beyond. I was wearing jeans and a lose white Indian tunic embroidered in purple. No bra—it was too painful. Also, a tiny ring of yellow enamel flowers, which was a token from my boyfriend. I had my purse, but otherwise not so much as a toothbrush.
I was admitted from the ER and given a room.They wanted a sputum sample, but my lungs no longer had the strength to expel anything. I was given a lung tap with a local anesthetic block on the skin of my back. The pain was so severe that I screamed uncontrollably, completely disoriented, unaware that the sounds were emanating from me. “Would someone please tell that woman screaming down the hall to shut up,” I murmured.
Dr. Frank, a famous surgeon, decided to cut me open. My parents were no doubt distraught, but also on reassuring turf, a Jewish hospital, a famous surgeon. In fact, in this very same Jewish hospital my paternal grandfather had been given one of the first pace makers to ever be installed and my maternal grandfather had been diagnosed and treated for tuberculosis of the liver. This was the B.I. This was Boston, covered in sleet and snow and rain, but the greatest medical center on my family’s map. Indeed, its name was House of God.

In The House of God by Miriam Sagan (#1)

So folks, I’ve finally decided to try and describe my near death experience of 40 years ago. More is coming soon! I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

In The House of God

I’ll tell this story.

Why? I am 61 years old, crippled on my right side, with half a lung. I am scarred over twenty-five percent of my torso. I’ve been in chronic pain for 40 years. Essentially I am disabled, a state I have ignored, treated, hidden, and expressed. Although each approach has seemed exciting and important at the time, something is always lacking.
A narrative.

How? Decade after decade, I will avoid this topic. Then suddenly I will find myself in the interior of Bluebeard’s castle, opening the frightening locked doors of my story. I am not propelled towards this by a therapeutic breakthrough, a traumatic event, or an act of personal redemption. My father has a stroke, and dies, and can’t read what I write anymore.
However, I cannot write this alone. My friend Kathleen and I have set up a series of writing dates—at her house, the library, a cafe. We each write our own material, and then read to each other.
Her presence makes this possible.

Where? I have actually entered another gigantic ominous building, a place of death and dismemberment, and perhaps survival. It is not Bluebeard’s fairy tale castle, but the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.

Poem for Basia Irland

I so admire Basia Irland’s eco art. And was honored to be asked to write a poem for a catalog of her work in a European show.



CONFLUENCE: On The Art of Basia Irland
by Miriam Sagan

The river
Flows with its currents
Of ice and time’s seeds;
Polar caps may melt, drawn
Into warming seas, winding
Into a lost geography.

Water might be a library, an archive, a graphology
Marking the globe with endless patterned rivers
And each direction gives birth to wind
As you try to stay current
As if you might draw,
In moist sand, a flower gone to seed.

Or maybe it is seed
Gone to flower—who can measure all the hydrography,
Aquatic maps, and constellations, drawn
With a stick in dirt, to mark an estuary, a river
Or the heart’s currents
As they wind and unwind.

A rise in the wind
Scatters seed
Across a current
Navigated by books of ice, a library
Dissolving in the river
Like converging lines drawn

Towards an infinite point. Drawing
Down the voices of the wind
That sculpt cliffs with the river;
Thoughts seeded
To create a story, biography,
In which the past remains current.

We ourselves must join the current.
Ice turns to water, mist draws
Moisture from the graphs
Of wind
Encircling the earth, seeding
A hope that can only be called river.

All rivers head for the sea, flow, debris, currents.
A seed is resurrection, you draw
A manuscript of earth which is everyone’s autobiography.

Haiku Response to Fairley Barnes

There was such an interesting outpouring of haiku to the installation, I’m giving the work its own post. Thank you all!

torn moments

Sondra Byrnes

Our nests are burdened/
Excess of largess; to bleach/
Then return to dirt

Su Zi


climbing ivy
out of the sun
out of itself

after Nick Virgilio
Alan Summers

dandelion fluff
I lose count of my time
on this earth

orange commas
I remember drawing blood
for kinship

iron oxide moon-
ghost ships in a desert
once upon a sea

mojo verde –
I tune out the piano
for the birdsong

stray casuality
my tears reflected
as bandages

a viola
caught up in netting
you play the street

Khamsin winds
the piano tunes itself
in a war conflict

a packet of souls
the day moon becomes
a harbinger

stick moon
we move our bones
in unison

Alan Summers


pigeons on empty branches –
flowing through the lace curtains
a breath of wind

Ana Drobot


a bundle of sticks
each twisted
as if to get away

clouds hang
off the branches
for a while

dried leaves

shoe, abandoned
with a tongue
marked by miles

a bundle of rags
I say it
for warmth

Jose Angel Araguz


sage sticks-
the smudging takes away
my mascara too
gauze veils-
an old bundle of clothes
someones dreams?

Angelee Deodhar, India


Installation by Fairley Barnes and Call for Haiku Response

This fascinating installation was on SFCC campus, ranging from a studio into the courtyard.



The artist is interested in haiku response. Readers, if you are interested, just post below in comments. I may create a post, too if I get enough.



Here are mine:

In the arroyo
just one

To read the rest:


Look forward to your response.

Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel

I’ve finally finished the third and last season of what might be described as the Spanish Downton Abbey—except it is a hotel. Great scenery, great clothes, and every plot know to humankind crammed in. Revelation scene: I’m your brother! Check. You murdered my father! Ditto. Swapped babies. Certainly. Plus, watching it, I can pretend I am learning Spanish.
I’ve now spent the equivalent of two work weeks in this company. The docile sister (stolen baby, murderess, affair with priest) is one of the mildest characters. But Alicia—feisty and gorgeous—is our real heroine. She is the owner’s daughter. She loves Julio, a waiter.
Well, we love him too. He is an Adonis with long eyelashes. He spends a fair amount of time injured, beaten, shot, bleeding, bedridden, concussed—usually half naked. There is actually a resurrection of a different cute character. Spanish Catholicism? Well, it translates.
As does the cult of the mother. Mothers here are apt to scheme—or kill—on behalf of their offspring. Or pressure and manipulate them. But they are central. No one is too old to cry out to his mother.
This is a very woman friendly drama. Middle-aged and downright elderly women are courted and admired by dashing age appropriate suitors (who sport mustaches and weapons)—plump ladies and downright stout ones are objects of desire (some of them are killers too.) No discrimination here. You don’t need to be skinny and young to have an adorable love interest—or a weapon in your hand and revenge in your heart. This is the early 20th century but women have jobs—ranging from working class maids to hotel manager to lawyer to ladies of ill repute to, of course, murderesses. They are never idle, constantly rushing about moving the plot hither and yon.
And look at Alicia’s character curve. She loves Julio, but gives in to an arranged marriage. Here she suffers from the sadism of her husband, but her spirit isn’t broken. She rallies, survives, and beats him at his own game. Then, she dithers at the end, inhibited about running off to happiness with Julio. UNTIL her mother, the often evil yet somehow sympathetic very well dressed Dona Teresa, engages her in mutual forgiveness and letting go.
Then Alicia can live happily ever after. So it is all about redeeming the mother-daughter relationship. With lace collars, lavish meals, and half naked waiters.