Chapter 39: Wheeling into Surgery
A hysterectomy is a common enough operation, but this is my first surgery, and I am attuned to every detail. While some women may experience this as routine, I am like an explorer in a foreign land, my newly acquired access both terrifying and fascinating.
The back of my bed is raised so that I am sitting almost upright as I’m wheeled from the little yellow, curtained “room” through a hallway, past a reception desk of some kind, and into the operating room. I’ve had to say goodbye to Craig and Mom. For a moment I’m bereft and afraid, and then I’m reminded, not unpleasantly, that we are all essentially alone, that every journey comes down to this moment, when only our eyes see what we experience, only we feel our hearts thumping, only we notice the green tile of the operating room and how enormous and bright the operating lights are. They look like bugs’ eyes, with countless bulbs built to reflect the brightest light possible right up inside me, where no eyes or light have ever been, like the deepest darkest ocean cave—from utter darkness to blinding light. This is my life, I think, taking it all in. This is my life.
I am wide, wide awake, and a nurse leans into my face, smiling gently as she puts the back of my bed down so that I am lying flat. I smile back. She tells me her name. I don’t remember it. There is a man in there too, fussing around. He has dark hair and is not the doctor. The nurse calls for the doctor on a phone, I guess, although I can’t see her. Where is he, she wants to know. I can tell he’s supposed to be there already, or maybe it’s the anesthesiologist who’s missing. I miss the anesthesiologist myself.
The guy with the dark hair and green scrubs who is fussing around is near my hand and I say, very quietly, “Hello,” and although he’s wearing a mask, I can see that he smiles at me with real warmth, as though he’d forgotten I was there and is so pleased to see me. He looks very busy but I can’t help myself. “Will you hold my hand?” I ask him. He stops what he’s doing and slips his gloved, but warm, hand into mine and pauses, and smiles again. He is better than anesthesia. "
And then the anesthesiologist slams into the room, and the man in green scrubs drops my hand. “Sorry,” says the anesthesiologist, sounding not really apologetic. He asks me what I like to drink, and I tell him I like martinis. “Vodka?” he asks me.
“No, gin,” I admit, although I don’t mind vodka. He fills a syringe, or maybe it was already filled when he arrives. As he syringes it into my IV bag, he says, “Imagine this is Bombay Sapphire, then,” bless his fucking heart. No kidding, even though I prefer Hendrick’s.
By the time the word Hendrick’s has gone across my synapses, the bright lights and green tiles and the smiling nurse and the fussing man with the warm hand are all quite disappeared.
Reprinted courtesy of Algonquin Books.
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