I wished you well, reminded you of the love I’ve felt for years now towards your quaint face, your serene beauty in the face of immense terror, the awesome horror felt by millions as they lie in a gurney, wired to machines of which they knew the purpose but not the workings. We are truly cyborgs in this moment, man and machine, reliant upon the century of research that has brought us penicillin, Netflix, and the atomic bomb.
You’re face was one of eternity, of staring into the unknown and acknowledging it as a real fate, a necessary evil (if cliches are beyond repose). I kissed you on every end of your face, your lips full of blood and your forehead so clean and moisturized. Your mustachioed gynecologist told me he’d see me soon, and I walked away, a body of worry in transport from a body of fear.
I entered the sad, paisley-laden room of chairs and televisions. Kathie Lee and Hoda promised replays of whatever the hell they found on Reddit, SNL, and Youtube (an imperfect world shown by perfectly manufactured faces). I listened to St. Vincent and reveled in a smartphone that consistently beats me at chess. I’ve never memorized a number quicker than I did your HIPPA-authorized code number, #313348, staring far more at the update screen than anything else.
A child of a culture built upon staring, the most miraculous moments came upon identifying you–in the secrets afforded by data, coding, and my own memory–as a number on a plasma screen.
“Patient has arrived in Operating or Procedure Room” read the plasma screen as I sought out on Spotify a female vocalist as soothing as you in worry. None could match that memory of you, that clear distinction between the rational fear of what may be and the calm distress of facing the stainless steel counters, the doctors and nurses doing their best to be calm and confident. I thought of you, with every anxiety embedded in you, facing the masked men ready to heal you of an illness we had only begun to learn how to spell a mere month ago. The instruments laid clean, the orders clear and precise, the operation the third of its kind done by these very brave people this morning. It was 10:16 AM. Even with the full trust of modern medicine behind both our paranoia, I could feel your distress like a whale song emitting through as many walls as the hospital saw fit. The smartphone still beat me in chess.
“Surgery or procedure has started” stated your status on the screen, so different than the useless markers of social media. I tweeted once while waiting with an immense sense of guilt, realizing for the first time the liberty and freedom of being in control of your own fate, of facing the pixels and characters which can become your own status and realizing you were without this right. I learned through you the meaning of loneliness, the abject disconnect from the world only anesthesia can bring. I thought of nasty tools like knives and scalpels and frames holding your innards open, the cushioned bedding their to soak up your very existence as you rested in a timeless place, frozen until you awake in far more relaxed state.
We had been told by your doctor’s office administrator the procedure would take a mere 45 minutes. Well, by golly, that’s just a commercial-free episode of Mad Men! That’s not nearly the eventful statement of an hour, the small stick on a clock barely moving towards its next stop.
“Patient is doing fine. Surgery is still in progress” read the infuriating message, the dictum possibly as full of lies as an airline pilot’s promise to a delayed craft. I began stress-eating the food you wouldn’t see for days: Doritos, green tea, BLT’s, bagels. I watched the other worried families, seemingly contented with local news reports about murder and robbery and failed health care websites. I watched faux-intellectuals argue with strangers about the purpose of government and the meaning of health while hearing Ezra Koenig personally scream through my headphones “If I can’t trust you, then, dammit Hannah! There’s no future! There’s no answer!”
My heart was an animal within a cage modern medicine had built. For a full two hours, an excruciating expanse of time, I stared at that message: “Patient is doing fine” it said, almost mockingly, almost as if I would believe that lie until your Super Mario-esque doctor confronted me with the terrible, the complications we denied for months could ever possibly be a reality. I feared for you like a mother bird watching its nestlings try to fly. I feared for you like a freshman poet releasing work upon the literary world. You are a work of art of your own making, and I feared consistently it would be all for naught, for a doctor staring adamantly and purposefully at the toes of my shoes.
“Procedure is done. Patient is in recovery” came the most meaningful message I’ve received in my life, pixelated without meaning to the dozen or so caring for their own. I thought of my father, lost to surgery while I was thousands of miles away. I thought of my mother, dragged into emergency care after the drugs had already removed the possibility of such a message. I cried quietly, tears streaming down red cheeks with anticipation of seeing your well-drugged face. I needed to see you, beyond the infinity of this technology that had saved you. I furiously drained my phone’s battery as I called your sister, your mother, your aunt, and your coworkers. I was the proud messenger of what I felt was a miracle, a lengthened surgery which had caused as much unconscious strength from you as it caused conscious strength from me. I breathed fully for the first time in an hour, remarkably within a mental state as to remind myself of all the confident reassurances I had restated to you like a poem I had memorized long ago: “You’re going to be okay. I’ll see you soon. I love you. Be brave. I love you.”
A few minutes later, the scrawny figure of your surgeon pronounced your name. I rose quickly, nearly shouting with pride that I was the one to answer for the survivor, the secretary of your well-being. He drew me astride into the coat-room, away from the playful children and daytime television noise.
“Standard” was the word he used. The comfort of normalcy surrounded me as I knew you were just fine, another perfect product of a procedure this suddenly very serious figure was going to fulfill several times that day. Your organs had been removed; everything was just fine.
“45 minutes?!” he scorned. “Who told you it would only take 45 minutes?”
I shuffled my words, hoping to make this as easy as possible. “Must have been a miscommunication.”
“Obviously” said the sage of truths of medicine. “If I do a hysterectomy in under two hours, you and everyone else will know about it.”
For the next hour, I watched your status grow from “being medicated” to “resting quietly“. I thought of all the times I’ve rolled blankets up to your neck, your contented face prepared for rest. My only anger came from my inability to do it when you most needed it.
Hysterectomy is a funny a word, one usually used for women two decades or more past your age. It is the admission of being done with procreation, of turning your back on a Catholic ideal as women as childbearers. We both knew it was a nasty road to cure you of many ills, those present and yet to be seen. We both knew the biology of cells, the danger hidden within a perceptibly forgotten phrase as squamous.
Your sister arrived, in her cynical humor and swagger-laden know-how. Through the same sort of bureaucratic trickery which has benefited many an ordinary person, we found your room number: 160, the first room on the first floor. We rushed, following the many-colored arrows of the hospital’s guidance system. There you were, eyes open and adorned in the polka-dotted gowns of the ill and cured. You stared about as if you were Ulysses after the journey, Chief Broom after the murder, Dick Whitman after the Hershey’s pitch.
Your tired facade spoke to me the thousands of ages you had just lived, but all I wanted was a smile. All I wanted from you was the mere shade of your laughter. It didn’t take a well-timed joke, the infinite power of sarcasm, or a physical gag befitting a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving. I reached out my hand as you grabbed it tightly, the tubes and wires flexing with your muscles, and a single moment of eye contact. You smiled nervously, staring into my eyes as if I was the first face you’ve ever seen. I made a comment–it’s not important what–and you laughed, despite yourself. The mere physical expulsion (the gripping of the belly, the constricting of the throat, the myriad shaking of all things south) brought you tired pain and me great joy. “Try not to laugh” warned the perm-adorned nurse. We knew that’d be impossible. We knew this was merely the beginning of yet another joke.
A few hours later, after your rested and filled yourself on broth, I walked you around the unit, carrying a catheter bag and an IV stand. You stared into other rooms, into the blue walls and season-appropriate decorations. I began laughing nervously, the laugh of someone who is merely a standby to the real star. “Why are you laughing?” you asked nervously, consistently afraid of a mocking that never came.
“Nothing,” I said. “It’s just…we will remember this the rest of our lives.”
You smiled, staring at the clipboards and strange machinery. I’ve never loved you more, appreciating the absurdity of your own life in the hands of so much innovation. You stepped slowly, holding your own piss in a bag, with more dignity than anyone I have ever known.