I had to take a $35 cab ride to the center. I was late, too, but it wasn't the cabbie's fault. He actually arrived earlier than expected. How can a person be late for an 11:00 am appointment and not blame it on the cab? Because she overslept. Seriously, I woke up around 10:00 am. Why? Because I had been up half of the night for no particular reason, and because I knew that no coffee was waiting for me when I woke up. That's how. Just the act of getting coffee, the coffee ritual, has become part of the waking up process. Take that away, and why bother waking?
Because you have places to go.
So, I woke up and took a shower -- no lotion, no deodorant, no perfume, no make up, no jewelry, no need to do anything but dry my hair, no need to put together an outfit. Normally I take about 1 1/2 hours to get ready. I'm not joking! I treat it like putting on a costume for the day, and sometimes that is the most creative part of my day. I like it because of that. Still, it does take time, and -- man! -- just having to wash and throw on any ole thing gets the job done a lot faster.
I arrived at the surgical center about 10 minutes late, expecting some sort of patronizing speech from some harried receptionist or nurse who was on her last nerve after having to deal with patients since 5:30 am. Nope. The receptionist didn't bat an eye, gave me about a zillion forms of consent and approval and questions that I had to answer YET again, and treated me very politely. She also received a phone call from my urologist. The urologist was running 30 minutes late.
"Great," I thought; but, given the issues that I've had with her office, not particularly surprising. I turned in the zillion forms, with my signature by all of the Xs, and all of the boxes checked, and all of the "prescriptions taken" filled out, and all of the "allergies" filled out, then found a place by the window and settled in, expecting to spend the next 30 minutes with Kay Scarpetta.*
By the way, when they ask you about "allergies," they mean ANY allergies. I used to tell the nurses my usual avocado and melon allergies, but they weren't interested. "To any medication," they would emphasize. Now, they want to know about the avocados and melons. Turns out that people with allergies to avocados tend to develop allergies to latex. If the patient starts to break out during the procedure, and they see that she has an avocado allergy, they can narrow down the problem.
"How very House," I thought.**
Back in the waiting room, just as I'd draped myself over the chair and opened my book and the geeky recluse, Shrew, had just discovered the intimidating Marino knocking on her door, a nurse came out and called my name.
She brought me back to a dressing room, complete with a lovely full length mirror and fluorescent lights angled just so you can see every flaw you your body. She was quite friendly, and introduced herself as "Lucky." That was her real name, short for "Luckymon." That seemed to be a good omen.
She directed me to put on the lovely backless robe. In the robe's defence, the ties were place so as not to leave a gap. The one on my left side was fixed to the edge of the fabric, but the one on the right side was sewn about 6 inches from the edge. My ass was not exposed for one second while I was conscious. That was one of the nice touches that I mentioned. Then, Lucky directed me to put on some sexy support stockings that went from my the joint between my toes and foot up to my thighs. Over that, I had some cute little sox with rubber paw prints on the bottom for treads.
"Hawt!" I thought, and pulled out my camera. My camera gave a little sigh and signaled that the batteries were dead. These were the same batteries that I put in when the helicopter was in front of my apartment. See what I mean about how they drain? I had no more batteries in my purse. "Shoot!" I thought. "No pictures for the blog." Because I live to provide fodder for the blog!
You think I jest, don't you?
All suited up, with about half of my belongings tucked into a tiny little bag that Lucky later carted off to a locker, I ambled down the hall to a little curtained nook with a bed. Lucky took my vitals and hooked me all up to a monitor that beeped and flashed, just like on t.v.. "I'll be back with the i.v.," she said.
The beeping got faster. "Take deep breaths," she suggested.
"I am," I laughed. I can take really deep breaths in my chest, despite those torturous years of band when the directors ordered, "breathe from the diaphragm," and my girlfriends and I in the flute section all glanced at each other sideways and giggled because we, at age 11, had just learned about another type of "diaphragm" in our "just for girls" unit of p.e.
The laughing actually normalized all of the effects of the stress from the fear of an i.v. "Have you ever been stuck before?" Lucky asked.
"Only for blood and some shots," I said. "I don't get along with needles. In fact, I might faint from holding my breath. I'm afraid the needle will break off in my arm." Really, I am. "Of course, I'm working on an understanding of medicine as it was in 1950." Actually, I'm working on an understanding of medicine as it was in 1850.
This is where I knew that I was in quality hands. Lucky did all of the "you will only feel a pinch," bits that nurses tell you when they stick you, but then, she explained to me all about how the i.v. works. She told me that the needle just makes a hole for the tube. Once the tube goes in, then the needle is out. The tube, I knew was quite flexible. Then, she told me that the needle is just as flexible. Better than that: she showed me the needle and bent it in half for me. It's like a very flexible wire. I still felt a little creeped by having a plastic tube in my hand, but otherwise, my goofy fears started to go away.
Then she told me that, in India, they still use the old method of i.v.s, the kind that I was paranoid about with the needles that aren't flexible. "People are so poor there," she said, "that they can't afford this plastic kind, so they have to have their arms tied straight or the needle will puncture the vein." See, that was what I was afraid of.
Later, as I flipped through a magazine -- Forbes Lifestyle, to give you the context -- I saw an ad for a lovely resort in India. Blue ocean in the background, private patios from which you could dive in to a pool that surrounded the resort like a moat, and lovely Jacuzzis at various points along the edges. $4,000 for a night. I thought about the people in the hospitals with their arms tied straight so that the needles wouldn't puncture their veins because they were too poor to have this sort of i.v.
I didn't get the magazines for a while. They had prepped me for a 12:00 procedure because the news that I had been rescheduled for 12:30 had not gotten around to all of the nurses. That wouldn't have mattered anyway, because they had other patients to prep for doctors who were actually on time.
So, I lay there. I bit the inside of my mouth to distract myself from the itching of the tape at the i.v. Then, I bit harder to distract me from the growing migraine. The support legwarmers started to itch. I adjusted them. The blood pressure cuff started to itch. I adjusted it. I noticed a smear of dried blood above the doorbell to call for the nurse. I admired the purple paint on the wall by the nurse's station. I listened to the nurses chat. They are usually annoyed with doctors. I listened to the other patients talk to their nurses. I tried to think of Douglass, but my mind wandered. I tried to write this blog post in my head, but my mind wandered. I stared at the curtain at the foot of my bed, and thought of The Yellow Wallpaper. "This must have been what the rest cure felt like," I thought. "I'd go insane, too."
Periodically, someone would come in to talk with me about stuff. A nurse, Andrea, came in to ask all of the same questions about medical history and allergies that I have answered a gazillion times already. She's the one who told me about avocados and latex. I thanked her for letting me know about that because it seemed sort of odd that the avocados had become an issue. I mean, I figured there was some chemical reason going on, like avocados might have a chemical or enzyme common in some sort of medication.
Still, I also had visions of them trying to pump guacamole into my arm. Bendable plastic i.v. tubes or not, that would hurt like all hell. Andrea said that an avocado allergy was good because they were so full of fat and they were sooooo good! I agreed; but I left out the part in which I discovered my allergy for avocados at an age in which I still thought they were nasty.
In fact, I discovered the allergy when taking a mini-course on natural cosmetics at a Girl Scout came, and avaocados were used as mosturizer -- the high fat content, you understand. I broke out in hives both outside and in (I had taste tested the avacado, just to see if I had developed a liking for them. I hadn't.)
The anesthesiologist came in. He asked if I had any pain. "My head," I said, "from no caffeine." I kinda hoped that they might slip a little into the i.v. I've always joked about doing that, but maybe it could really happen. Instead, he said that what he was going to use would take care of that and anything else. I liked this guy.
Then, I stared at the curtain some more and thought of The Yellow Wallpaper some more. I tried to remember the details of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's rest treatment. I tried to think of anything to distract me from the migraine. I stared at the hooks that attached the curtain to the runners. I remembered in 7th grade when I was a big scifi/fantasy/supernatural phenomena freak and would try to work on my powers of ESP and moving objects with my mind, like Matilda. It's not such a fun game when you don't believe, or want to believe. Then, I started thinking of Matilda, and how that was really Embeth Davitz playing Miss Honey, and what a great actress she is just for that role, and how I just saw Junebug, and how she was so lovely in that, as was Amy Adams, and then I wondered if I could ask for my book, or if that would be too much trouble, or if my doctor had shown up yet, and I didn't know what time it was.
The nurses started calling my doctor's name up and down the hall. "Thank goodness!" I thought. Then, I thought, "This is too good to be true."
Sure enough, another nurse, Jenn, came in. "You doctor is running about 15 more minutes late," she said. "Which in surgeon time means about 30 minutes late."
"Yeah," I said. "Her office seems to run on surgeon time." Her office also runs on what I used to call a "minimum wage attitude," but I'm now learning is a "in the District" attitude.
Jenn offered to bring me some magazines. "What kind?" she asked.
"Decorating or gossip," I said. After all, what other kind is there? News? I hadn't taken my antidepressants that day. Business? Again, I hadn't taken my antidepressants that day. That's how I ended up with Forbes Lifestyle, which had lots of shiny pretty things advertised, especially watches.
Finally, the doctor arrived. "How are you?" she asked.
"Ready to get this show on the road," I said.
The show got on the road immediately. They wheeled me down to the operating room. Since the room was cold, they not only brought me blankets, but they heated them up. I put my head on this foam donut thing, kind of like on a massage table, but higher. They covered me with the heated blankets, and then pulled my arms out from my sides onto shelves at right degree angles to the table.
"Dead Man Walking," I thought. Then, I started to wonder what it felt like on death row or about to be crucified like Jesus or Spartacus and thought that, with that context, this really wasn't so bad. They didn't even uncover me below the waist, or take any peeks down there, or put my legs in these stirrups that have your feet way up in the air. They were going to knock me out cold before they set me up in any position that caused me to die of embarrassment. "That's nice," I thought. "Where are those drugs, by the way."
A voice behind me said, "here comes the headache cure." Then a plastic oxygen mask went over my face. "Breath deep," the voice said. I tried.
"I'm suffocating," I said. I was. The mask clamped down and smelled funny and no air came in. The mask disappeared for a second, then came back, looser, smelling a little funny, but --- oh! I could breathe and what a lovely feeling!
"Ms. Bluestocking." I felt a touch somewhere on my arm. "Ms. Bluestocking." I cracked my eyes. An empty chair sat across from me. I had a vague awareness that this was not the same room. "Ms. Bluestocking. It's all over."
"I feel groovy," I said. "This is awesome." I have to stop saying "awesome" but it's stuck in my head like a scratched record. People were saying things about my well-being and what I should do next and what was going to happen next, but all I could do was use my mind to venture into the affected areas.
No pain. No itching, no discomfort, no nothing. Not even numbness. Just a vague but not urgent need to visit the ladies'. Nothing felt torn up. Nothing felt ripped. Nothing felt sore. "Wow!" I thought. "This wasn't so bad."
They got me to move into a comfy chair, then wheeled me into another room behind some curtains, where other people were sitting in their comfy chairs behind curtains. Then they brought me a diet Coke and some graham crackers, and my ride came in.
She and I talked for a bit about her life in grad school. She went to Yale in the 1980s, and she told me about what a life changing experience that was. Not, would you believe, because she became a big star, but because she accepted her limitations, was relieved to have limitations, and just enjoyed learning and living around Yale.
My doctor showed up with the pictures of my insides:
She said nothing was wrong, just a little irritation from another UTI that I have acquired. Otherwise, no cysts or tumors or anything at all. Also, I have a very large bladder capacity. She seemed amazed. I think it's the long road trips, combined with a disgust of rest stop restrooms.
My ride got me home, then I called Gentleman Caller, who felt bad that his schedule hadn't allowed him to come down to take care of me and has been checking up on me regularly since then. I felt physically alert, but the synapses in my brain were not quite firing. The mouse kinda dangled at the bottom of the clock. I had the munchies, too. So, I watched t.v., ate lots of frozen yogurt, broke into my candy stash and finished it off, ate some popcorn, and drank all of the cranberry juice in the house. From then until -- well about two hours ago -- I was either wide awake or out cold. No in between. The last out cold had dreams. Dreams of me trying to rescue small animals. That one hasn't shown up in a while. This must mean that the drugs have worn off.
Now, I have had caffeine, and I'm going to have some more in a minute, and I don't have even the slightest bit of pain down below. All of the vestigial blood seems to have disappeared in the restroom, as well.
Shakespeare had Julius Ceasar say "a coward dies a thousand times before his death. The valiant never taste of death but once." My dad used to beat me over the head with that one because his motto was "it's better to berate someone for the way that they are -- because the way that they are is always wrong -- than to help them cope with life's challenges." Whatever. I think that the valiant gets mighty surprised at the end, while the coward knows exactly what to expect.
I'm a coward. A big coward, but I find the cowardice a source of creativity and of delight. After all, if you think things are going to be dreadful and you imagine that dreadfulness is explicit and gory detail, then, when they aren't nearly as bad, you are always thrilled.
Thank you to everyone for your support and helpful comments on my last post about this!
*At least I wasn't in the condition of most of her patients! Also, Cornwell needs better editors, to break up Scarpetta and Benton, and have Scarpetta get together with Jaime Berger. Represent for the lesbians, woman! Also, it's time for her to delve into some seriously philosophical issues about brain chemistry and evil and such -- she almost went there in the last one I read, then copped out in the last 50 pages with the worst cliche of crime writing, and zoomed to the end.***
**Yeah, I know, my taste in t.v. and novels sometimes veers toward the sensationalist and the trashy. But think about it, Scarpetta and House both look at evidence to find solutions to problems. Isn't that what historians do?***
***Can I earn your respect back by saying that the last novel I read was A.S. Byatt's amazing The Children's Book? I have no excuse for t.v.