I used to be one of those high-pitched, whiny kids, but only at home — I barely opened my mouth at school — when I decided the boys were unfair. This usually happened after someone bumped me back to Start in “Sorry.” I was only so sensitive about it because I was paranoid they didn’t really want to play with me anyway; they were teaming up to bankrupt me in Monopoly, to force me to miss our self-imposed cut in Rummy, so then they could go play football, without that baby sister hanging around. So I got a little screechy.
“You’re at an 8. I’m gonna need you at a 2.”
I’m hovering somewhere around a 1.5 most days, unable to say most things. I have a lot of trouble with my Ls and Ss and spend too much time writing in the air, on my hands, drawing pictures, scribbling notes. It’s exhausting. This is why babies cry. Because they know exactly what they’re talking about and can’t you see the distress on their face? They want you so badly to know that all they want is for their teeth to stop hurting so they can chew something and you just look at them and ask, “Applesauce?”
“NO,” the baby wails. “Keep that shit away from me.”
And the baby will get hungry and change its mind and it will eat something, eventually, poor thing.
I was quiet all day during school, but unleash me on the playground or in the cafeteria and I couldn’t have enough to say. By the time I got home, I was bursting. All these things happened! It was crazy! You don’t even understand! When my voice was more of a squeal, it was a pain in the ass, I know, to have this jabbering person with so much to say. Where did all these things, all this pent up energy come from?
Part of my silence was wanting to be the good kid and usually the good, smart kids are pretty demure. The other reason is I was trying not to draw attention to myself. When you start getting self-conscious about your appearance and the things you say, you start finding ways to hide so the other kids don’t pick on you. And one surefire way to avoid the hailstorm is to wander around all day under an industrial-sized umbrella. And sure, that giant umbrella keeps out the rain (heavy-handed metaphor alert) to protect yourself because that’s your main concern, but it also blocks out the sun.
So for now I am forced to silence, or speaking slowly and carefully, which is not my style. I’ve got so much going on in my head that I trip over my own words and half of what I was aiming for slips out, confused and jumbled. I have to remind myself to slow down, to take a breath to not be so eager to speak.
But now, I do have things to say. Especially in the house when I forget that my mouth is shut for the next little while and that my mom can’t understand me when I speak quickly and I’ll ask something like, “Are there clothes in the dryer?” and it’s all lost. It often irks me to the point where I say all kinds of things. My mom (God bless her for putting up with me) picks up on about 2 out of 3 words, but it’s more like speaking to a toddler, where they are perfectly content in their own jibber-jabber because they don’t know any better and you are mostly there to listen to the sputterings of incredible imaginations, not to offer advice or support. Besides, mostly what toddlers want when they’re not having the best day is a hug. I, however, would stab someone to be able to eat a salad and a biscuit.
Until then, I’m distracting myself with television and then reading about television. Also, about Gatsby and music and reading about Gatsby and music. I’m still that screechy little kid, except now when you disagree with me, I’ll sit and think about it for awhile, and then I pick up a pen. I like it better that way.
About a week after my surgery, I started to get the nagging feeling that this was all much more serious than everyone was letting on. Or maybe it was serious all along and I wasn’t paying enough attention. I mean, my grandmother, aunt and cousin showed up on Saturday morning, the one morning I just cried, but that is mostly because of the pain and my giant swollen, beach ball face. My surgery was supposed to end in the afternoon, I told my family I would see them in the afternoon, and as I looked around my little curtained recovery area, I could just feel that it was wrong. It just felt…late. It was nearly nine, which isn’t normal when your surgery was supposed to end 8 hours before.
I don’t have any overwhelming sense of danger, but I was completely at the mercy of whatever might have happened to me, which is probably why I started poking around, flipping through my mom’s little notebook, reading her texts from the day I had surgery. In the notebook, I had scribbled a third note to her, after asking her about my room and the late hour. I wrote, “Nurse is weird,” in this sloppy, loopy, ‘I have an IV in my arm and I don’t care,’ script. I remember she just smiled at me and said, “Get some sleep,” although I swear she gave that weird woman a glance. The nurse had this off-tone to her, I can’t describe it. Well, actually I can: It’s that feeling you get when you’re in a store and you ask an employee for help and they completely blow you off, because they’re texting, or tired, or just don’t want to deal with you. And in a store, you can say, (or think), “Screw this, I’ll do it myself.” But when you’re in a hospital bed, with IVs snaking out of both arms and a foot, an open wound on the other leg, with your jaw wired shut…when you reach over to touch your lips and you can tell that you’re touching them and they’re HUGE but you can’t really feel your fingertips and your face is expanding like a hot air balloon. It’s just not the feeling you want to get from your nurse. She made me nervous.
Days later, you’ll start to come out of the fog. Days later, you’ll start to evaluate this strange face in the mirror and start telling people that you look like a suburnt ninja turtle. Brian’s response: Gotta roll with the punches. Cowabunga!!!!
You’ll think to yourself, well, this is interesting, and jot things down in your own notebook to take a look at later. Send texts you won’t remember sending and post updates on facebook that will make you think someone else posted them — someone with your brain. You’ll think that’s odd, but you’re not really thinking because you have to change your bandage and take your meds. You’ll forget and try to talk and realize that you can’t and then you’ll get really frustrated. And then you’ll realize this whole thing wasn’t even hard on you, not at all, because everyone else was panicking while you were asleep and dreaming — of nothing, I usually remember my dreams, out for 12 hours and no super awesome tales to show for all that time.
And so days later, you’ll feel guilty and then amazed. You’ll keep looking in the mirror because you’re starting to look more like yourself, you’re starting to get the feeling back in your face. Take less medicine and read a bit more, because what else are you using this time for? Friends have sent you well wishes and cards and flowers and you are overcome with their generosity. You’ve already figured out who you are, so you take some time during the med cycle where your least amount of pain coincides with your most alert self and get some writing done, apply for some jobs. Go back to sleep, or work a sudoku puzzle or gleefully devour some Breaking Bad, because you realize that this may not have turned out the way you expected it to, but you are lucky and loved and blessed, beyond measure.
Before I went under, the resident anesthesiologist came in to ask me the same questions the nurse, the OR nurse, the resident surgeon, and the head anesthesiologist would ask me.
Nope, not pregnant. Already peed in a cup to prove it. Not breast-feeding, either, no. And no to the list of diseases, allergies, conditions. Normal blood pressure, good vitals.
I’m propped up in my hospital bed in a pre-op room, already hooked up to an IV and just waiting. I’ve been up since 4 am. It’s now 7 am. I’m wearing a lilac, paneled hospital gown (Genius idea, whoever came up with Bair Paws) with small cut-out vents where I can pump in warm air from what appears to be a child’s vacuum cleaner installed on the wall. Mom thinks it’s adorable, but she’s a morning person. She has also already asked (twice) to take a picture of me in the gown. I’m horrified.
He flips through the pages of my chart again, confused.
“How much do you weigh?”
I tell him the strange three-digit number that is somehow supposed to be connected to my self-worth. The number is also right in front of him on my chart.
“Oh, I thought your weight was written wrong. That’s surprising. Patients aren’t usually this healthy.”
He looks up at me. I smirk.
“You just don’t look it, that’s all. You look smaller.” He sizes me up in my billowing hospital gown, a deep purple cartoon paw print hovering above my left breast. Backtracking, he flips the pages again. “You’re really healthy.”
“The gown is slimming,” I say.
So, listen. Wouldn’t it be ridiculously freaking awesome if at the end of this I had dropped 10, 20, 30 pounds? Like, pffft, gone, with some sparkles and magic and Whitney Houston-fairy godmother type action. But, I’m human, and my body seems to sustain itself in hibernation mode, like an aging Homer Simpson-bear and will not relinquish this easily. Fine, body, ok. Because I’m healthy and even if random anesthesiologist was surprised that I take care of myself, I’m not. The only reason I haven’t been sweating my ass off on the elliptical lately is because it’s rather difficult to breathe through my mouth, seeing as how my jaw is wired shut.
I’m trying to get really zen about this process, is all I’m saying. I have a post about gratitude up next.
*Thanks, Caroline. I can feel that book deal coming my way, ahahaha