6/2012: in sickness and in health


it's the first week of june, so it's warm and i'm wearing sandals on the early morning ride to the hospital.

i change into a gown, open in the back so that the pudgy nurse who waddles in can sponge bathe my right side. she opens up a packet of disinfectant or some such and asks, breathing heavily, are you allergic to iodine? no drug allergies, i say, and she commences washing while i secretly wish i had shaved.

the tv is stuck on a game show that i hate while my sister sits in a chair by the window with her laptop, falling asleep as doctor after doctor comes in to introduce themselves. they all ask me the same questions: my name, birthday, and what i am here for today--a sort of protocol to prevent medical mishaps like cutting into the wrong limb. i respond iquo b. essien, october 14th, and it is the right hip that needs fixing. 

the last doctor marks his initials in black pen on my right leg before an orderly pushes me toward the door. you will have to leave these in here, he says, removing my glasses and handing them to my sister. 

i am lost in a world of blurry, garish faces that appear to be smiling, pushed down a series of long corridors that grow colder and colder still past aged, graying patients in line for hip and knee replacements. 

i am certainly the youngest patient they will see today--mine is an injury not of age, but of youth and too much activity: dancing, running, jumping. i have been moving through pain for years and was told that this operation--debridement--will cure me and perhaps prevent the onset of early arthritis. so i am here for them to shave off a bit of my bone to stop the pinching i feel every time i lift my leg up. 

the orderly wheels me into the operating room where a blurry doctor appears to be arranging a row of scary, steel instruments into a line. he doesn't greet me so i stare instead at some traction device that i'm told will hold my leg apart from my hip joint--distraction, they call it--and a set of xrays up on a lightboard, my entire pelvis, as the gravity of this operation finally sinks in. all my parts will be on view and yet i cannot even see any of these people's faces, i think. at that moment the drugs claim me and i fall into a dreamless, black sleep. 

when i awake i cannot feel my legs and my sister's face floats above me. she will tell me later that i started sobbing, crying that my boyfriend did not even call to wish me good luck. (this confused her because we had broken up; i did not tell her we got back together.) a nurse asks if i am okay. she says that some people cry, the numbness and all too frightening. 

i cannot tell her that this is the way i felt waking up in that awful room all those years ago, screaming at the top of my lungs, wondering what happened, why the pain, while the nurses watched warily asking whether i wanted counseling. they never prepare you for the pain, i think. but i know it is not the same room, tho, because my sister is here and she is smiling and i know that they have not taken something from me, that i am not empty and alone, can stop crying now.

it takes hours for the anesthesia to wear off and, in the meantime, we talk to the nurse about so many things like school, her mission and volunteer work. and finally, when i can feel my legs again, she helps me into my purple skinny jeans and sandals--the wrong attire for a hip operation, she says--and wheels me down to the car where she hugs my sister goodbye and kisses me on the cheek.

i manage to slide myself into the backseat butt first, leg outstretched, and it is a long, curious ride home to the bronx staring at the street lamps through the window, cradling a plastic bag and willing the narcotic-induced nausea to subside. 

there is a flurry at the house, my brother-in-law helping to carry me up the front stairs, my sister preparing a bed for me on the couch, me trying (unsuccessfully) to boost myself up the stairs to the bathroom so i can pee. i need a lot of help. and i am not used to being infirm--find it at once debilitating, infuriating, humbling. 

my boyfriend finally calls me after i have taken my nightly meds and the nausea has started up again. i ask my sister to answer my phone and tell him that i am not feeling well, will talk to him tomorrow. she hangs up and tells me that he said 'hey baby' to her, thinking that she was me. i want to laugh, but it hurts too much, more than anything i have ever felt before. so i sit and watch tv until sleep claims me. --AL.

Update: i wrote the above the day after surgery seven months ago to repair a torn hip flexor and shave down some excess bone on my hip joint. it's personal, and i had not seen fit to publish it on my blog, tho it seems to hold up here now.  i will keep it up for a time and probably take it down.

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  1. It's been a while. I saw the link somewhere and decided to come by and say hi. I'm glad the surgery went well, and by now, your leg should be much better. Hope 2013 brings health and life.


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