I was late.
Twenty minutes, to be exact. I walked up to the desk to check in, refusing to acknowledge my tardiness. If I didn’t say anything, maybe they wouldn’t notice.
The nurse at the desk was ready for me, my paperwork fanned out in front of her, my admission bracelet ready to be wrapped around my wrist. “I got all your things together so you don’t have to wait,” she said, fastening the bracelet that gave my patient ID, my name and birthdate around my chilly forearm. “I just need one signature from you,” she looked down and grabbed my consent form and put it on the ledge of desk between us, “and then I have instructions to take you right back to get prepped.”
I signed my name, long and lean letters in blue ink, saying that I consented to the surgery at hand, as well as any measures necessary to keep me alive. She put her hands on the white counter she sat behind and pushed herself up, smiled at me and nodded in the direction of the hallway. “C’mon.”
I gave my purse to my mom. “I’ll wait here for Billy,” she said. He had dropped us off at the doors and went to park. She gave me a quick hug and I followed the nurse.
She hit the big square button that opened the doors to the pre-op area. The section was throbbing with people, nurses and patients and patients’ families, scuttling around on the shiny floors. We stopped at the front desk, and I put my hand up to my ear, searching for my earring, the one I fiddle with when I’m nervous. The smoothness of my earlobe startled me; I’d forgotten that I’d taken out my earrings, as per my pre-op instructions. And up until that moment, I’d never even really noticed my nervous habit. It made me feel awkward, to have nothing to give my nervous fingers to play with. I dropped my arm back to my side, unsure of what to do with my hands. When no one came to us, she glanced at me and smiled. “Right this way,” she said.
Machines beeped and whirred, people chatted in hushed voices as the nurse led me to a La-Z-Boy chair. She motioned for me to sit in it, then looked around for a free nurse. “Hmph,” she said to herself, watching one uniformed nurse after another hurry past us. “Well,” she said, turning her attention to me, “I’ll let them know you’re here, and I’ll give you these,” she bent, handing me a pile of hospital papers, “so that they don’t get lost somewhere under a pile of someone else’s papers.” She laughed, warm and sweet, and patted me on the arm. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” I said, clutching the papers she gave me.
I wasn’t prepared for this – the speed with which I was actually being admitted. I thought they’d just start my IV and let me go back to the waiting room for a few hours, like they had last time. I’d left my book with my mom. I wondered if they’d tell my mom and Billy when it was time for me to go in. But I also felt strangely calm, familiar already with the nurses around me and what the hours ahead of me entailed. I looked around; I was the only person in the wide room who hadn’t yet gone into surgery.
They wheeled in a man who lay on his side on a gurney, oxygen strapped to his face, his thick arm limp and draped over his stomach. An older nurse rolled him past me, his sleeping face facing me, and backed him into a spot just across the hall. A woman waited for him there, her heels nervously tapping the floor at her feet. She smiled a worried smile at the nurse, and reached instantly for the patient’s hand. “Tom,” she said quietly. “Wake up, honey. You’re all done.” He barely stirred. “Honey, wake up.” She smoothed the gray hair that was left on his head, kissed him gently on his forehead. “It’s over.” When his only response was a weary stirring, the nurse stepped in.
“TOM. WAKE UP.” She demanded, not beckoned, that he wake up. “IT’S TIME TO GET UP.” His eyes fluttered open, then closed again. The nurse faced Tom’s other half. “I think we had this problem last time, didn’t we?”
The woman ran her fingers over Tom’s. “Yes. I think so.” Her voice was so quiet. Sweet and scared at the same time. “He can sleep if he needs to. I’m not going anywhere.” It was touching, the way she looked at him, the way she caressed him sweetly even though he wasn’t aware of her.
I tried not to stare, but there was nothing else to see. I was surrounded on either side by pink curtains that separated me from the bodies beyond them. Disembodied voices recounted what they did while the patient was in surgery. Meek, post-surgery voices eeked out questions like “how did it go?” and “when can I eat?” Questions were met with confident answers, or at the very least, hushed assurance that a nurse would be asked.
“Laurie?” The head nurse made her way to me, my records weighing down her hand. “How are you?”
“Considering I’m in surgery again? Awesome.” We laughed as she opened the blood pressure arm band she had tucked in the crook of her elbow. The velco ripped open in one loud shriek, and she wrapped it around my arm. She announced my pressure, asked me some questions, and wrote in my file. “I’ll go get you a gown and a robe, then I’ll bring your family in, and we’ll take you down to surgery.”
I was shocked at the speed with which I was being sent into the OR. I thought, for sure, I’d be waiting for hours, my stomach thundering with hunger pains, my nose tucked into a book, reading the same sentence over and over because I couldn’t concentrate. But, here, before I knew it, I was in an unflattering gown, the back open to the world, putting my arms through the soft, often-washed cotton blend of a robe that would cover my exposed rear end. I emerged from the bathroom, my clothes in a bag, to be greeted by my mom and Billy. “Oh,” I said, smiling. “I’m glad you guys are here. I just slipped into something sexy for you.”
“I don’t know if I want to be here for that,” my mom said, kissing me on the cheek. Billy held my red and blue purse, and smiled, following me to my section of the pre-op room.
“Thanks for carrying my purse, baby,” I said to him. He held it in his long hands, his arms hanging in front of his body, the purse dangling there like an unwanted appendage.
“Hey, no problem. It goes with my outfit.”
A bed had been rolled out for me, and I was instructed to lay down. “It’s time to go,” the nurse said. “You guys can come, too.” So we left, Billy, my mom, the nurse and me, rolling down the hall in a sad little parade, with me as the Grand Master.
But I wasn’t scared, or even the slightest bit nervous. All of this, the cysts and pre-cancer, it’s just made me more calm. Since July, my house has been robbed, I was turned away from one surgery, I’ve had two actual surgeries, I’ve had a biopsy, I’ve found out that whether or not my boyfriend will ever marry me is questionable. There were littler, simply annoying, things, too: I’ve had heat rash, mosquito bites that grew to the size of softballs, and, after this last surgery, our toilet decided to quit working. I’ve had a rough few months. But, all of it has made me shrug my shoulders and tilt my head, “What are you gonna do?” I say. It could be better, but it could also be worse.
Billy leaned over and kissed me, full and soft on the lips. “I love you,” he said, right into my mouth. I inhaled his words, repeated them back to him.
My mom kissed me, and pressed her soft face against mine. She whispered I love you into my hair. I said it back loudly enough to fill the room.
The anesthesiologist welcomed me back. “Well,” I said, tucking a stray hair into my oh-so-lovely sterile cap, “I missed you.”
He laughed and patted my face with his big dark hand. “If you miss me, beautiful,” he said, his accent thick and comforting, “you don’t have to have surgery again. Just call.” The nurses giggled along with me.
I don’t even remember going under this time. I remember asking “Did you put the medicine in?” after I started to feel groggy and light…
Next thing I knew, I was face to face with Betsy, the same the nurse who woke me up last night. She had a sweet pink face, full cheeks, a kind smile. She just radiates sweet and caring, her body now naturally arched to the level of the beds she’s hovering over all day. She reminded me of my mom, so sweet and attentive, holding my hand. I think I cried when I woke up. Then I laughed. It’s my standard waking up routine. She patted my face and told me she remembered me. I felt safe with her.
She brought me to my family, who welcomed me back and made fun of my drugged giddiness. I was eager to prove I could go home, so I stood and walked earlier than they wanted me to. I just wanted to be home.
Which is where I was from 5:00 on Wednesday afternoon, until this morning at 7:00. Relatively pain-free and functioning, I’m back at work and just hoping this whole ordeal is behind me.
It almost feels like it is.