“Maybe every time you get into a paper gown you summon the ghosts of all the other times you got into a paper gown…” Leslie Jamison, “Empathy Exams.”
My eyes opened but everything was blurry. The florescent light was bright and I remained squinting. I heard an unfamiliar voice, a woman’s voice, speak softly. I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me. I turned my head in her direction, not bothering to find her body with my sight, and said to her, “I’m going back to sleep now.” I heard a slight chuckle as I drifted off again into darkness.
Later that day, as I rested on the couch, propped up by deflated pillows and covered in an afghan crocheted by my mother, my brother perched himself on the edge of the cushion and told me funny stories from his day. This made my body react with laughter, but I hadn’t a voice, so no sound came out, and my throat was ripped to shreds, so instead of joy, I felt pain. My mouth winced a smile, but it was clear I was uncomfortable. “Oh, no,” he said, eyes wide in panic. “I’m sorry. I won’t make you laugh anymore.”
For ten years after that, whenever I filled out a form at the doctor’s office that asked what surgeries I’ve had, I had only one to put down: tonsillectomy. These days, the list has gotten quite a bit longer.
I was awake for the next one, which made it seem less like a surgery, but I was getting cut open, so that’s what it was. My arm draped above my head, not unlike Kate Winslet’s in that memorable scene from *Titanic*, but not nearly as romantic, as my fingers were going numb after resting in that position for a half hour. I stared over my left shoulder so I wouldn’t see the length of the needle, the size of the incision, a squirt of blood. I didn’t want to know where I was or what was happening to me. I didn’t even want to know what they had found, what it was, what it contained. But the doctors did, so I let them perform the biopsy.
Amost ten years later, and I’m lying on a table again awake. I feel slight touches on my thighs, and I turn to the small Asian woman next to me and tell her I can feel that. She nods and orders more of some drug, and soon I can’t feel the touches anymore. The anesthesiologist speaks softly with a thick accent, and I’m under the influence of who knows how many drugs, and I can’t see her mouth because it’s covered by a surgical mask, but she has kind eyes, and I trust her to protect me. It takes ten minutes for my daughter to be born, and she lays on my chest for maybe five. My husband tells me we were in surgery for almost two hours, but I don’t remember much between after they took my daughter off my chest and when they wheeled me to my recovery room.
If you ask me, prepping for the surgery is the worst part. There’s so much anticipation. They wheel you into a large bright room with lots of scary artifacts and lots of strange people whose faces you can’t see. For everyone else, this is just another day of work. They make small talk as they arrange their instruments and wipe me with antiseptic. For me, it’s the start of a horror film. What will happen to me when I’m asleep? Will I wake up? I get so nervous that I feel like throwing up, or maybe it’s the drugs that have me feeling so woozy. I tell someone and they bring a small pink curved tray and place it by my face just in case. I get a cold compress for my forehead and try to take deep breaths. I stare into the blinding light above my face, but before I am conscious of it, I am asleep and the world is silent.
!(/content/images/2018/01/surgery.jpg)*What surgeries have you had? How were they alike? How were they different? Get our your timer and write.*