How Many Seconds In Eternity?

Anna Legassie is many things. She is a sister, a partner, an advocate. A survivor. 

This is a retelling of the darkest moment of her health journey.

She blogs at and tweets from @sixhips

There’s an old story that Einstein once explained relativity to someone by comparing a minute spent talking to a pretty woman, to a minute with one’s hand pressed against a hot stove; the former feels like a millisecond and the latter feels like eternity.

Within the minutes of human life, there are many moments of milliseconds, and, if you’re lucky, only a few moments of eternity.

Anna Legassie lived an eternity in a hospital bed.

In 2009, Anna was twenty-five years old and a veteran of five surgeries, when a follow up for her most recent hip replacements uncovered something alarming: The replacements had failed catastrophically and they’d need to be replaced as soon as possible.

Within the minutes of human life, there are many moments of milliseconds, and, if you’re lucky, only a few moments of eternity.

No surgery is routine. Each patient brings into the operating room a constellation of past treatments, conditions, and concerns. Anna’s medical constellation is more star-filled than most: Severe intra-operative bleeding, prior surgeries - each leaving behind their own scars - and an allergy that makes anesthesia extremely risky, along with her systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic constrictive pericarditis, advanced RA-related heart disease, costochondritis, and early onset osteoporosis.

A four hour surgery turned into a ten hour marathon of sweaty, furrowed brows, gleaming scalpels, and the background music of beeping off-white machines. Everything that could go wrong did. At the end of those hours, Anna wasn’t stable enough to even be wheeled into an elevator.

She stayed overnight in the post-anesthesia care unit. Once she made the long trip, confined to a hospital bed, to her room, eternity began.

Night arrived.

Anna’s hips, both freshly cut, drilled, and bolted, screamed for relief, and with her allergies preventing the use of morphine to dull the pain, they screamed louder and shriller as time wore on. The pain came in stereo, one side just as agonizing as the other. Unable to move even a millimeter without aggravating one side or the other, Anna found herself stapled to her bed and falling deeper into a pit of suffering.

As the pain possessed her, some foreign entity seemed to possess her tongue and lips. Seemingly from a distance, Anna heard herself begging and pleading with her sister and her boyfriend.

“I just want to go and be with Mom. Please, please, please let me go."

Her mother had died years before. From some corner of her mind, Anna thought about how bizarre and far from her belief structure the request was. She doesn’t believe in a God or an afterlife. Nor had she ever experienced suicidal thoughts.

And yet, in that moment, she regressed to some childlike version of herself, desperate for motherly comfort, reaching out into a void to grasp at some respite that was never an offer.

One interminable minute stretched into the next and the pain, a hundred times worse than anything she’d felt before, left her in near delirium. And all through the night, she heard herself saying things that she surely could not have said.

“Please let me go.”

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry but I can’t do this anymore.”

“I don’t want to wake up again tomorrow.”

I just want to go and be with Mom.

But an eternity later, Anna woke up. July in New England means cloudless skies and blinding sunshine. The light cascaded into her hospital room through the blinds, falling upon the hands of a nurse trying her best to keep from being disruptive.  

She thought, Can’t I have a moment of peace?

But the pain had receded. Anna thought for a moment how strange it was to emerge from hell into the most mundane of hospital mornings, into a world of nurses making their routine rounds and of murmured conversations in the hallways.

Weeks later, she’d learn that her younger sister had run out to the hallway to demand that someone find some way to deal with the pain. That the nurses and doctors had decided to sedate Anna when it became clear that her sister would not relent to the word “no.” That her then-brand-new boyfriend sat by her bedside while the drama unfolded outside so that Anna wouldn’t have to spend one second alone.

But back in the ordinary still of the very next morning, Anna had only a few more tranquil moments to enjoy before events turned back to the frenzied and decidedly unordinary: picking a rehab hospital; fighting with insurance to get an ambulance ride to that hospital covered; preparing herself mentally for weeks of rehabilitation. She picked the hospital closest to family and went off into another eternal stretch of fluorescent lights and the too-clean smell of white, linoleum corridors.

The several weeks of rehab went well. The staff moved heaven and earth and some of the stars above to accommodate Anna. And she eventually made it out to the other side whole and ready to be herself once more.

But even now, the survivor of so much trauma and so much stronger for it all; even now, with so many endurance races and so much advocacy work accomplished (and with so much more on the near horizon).

Recalling it all, even after the intervening years, she feels rage at having dragging her partner and younger sister through eternity with her. Of not having been able to protect the ones she loved from her darkest, most anguished cries.

The rage carries her forward - an eternal companion, a counterweight to her love of life - in her journey as a patient. 

Even now, in the glow of the empowered patient advocate she’s become, Anna feels rage.


Aaron is the Head of Growth and Storytelling at Clara. He tweets at @aaronjun_.