Saturday, October 19, 2013

Breathe In, Breathe Out

They can't decide what to do with me and the PA says as much. She's standing at the end of my bed with her perky ponytail and her white coat and I've already decided that I do not like her, not because of the perkiness of her pony, but rather because of the air of condescension floating off her like so many dandelion seeds carried on the wind. This is the first conversation I've had with her, but she is quick to point out that she saw me earlier in the day.

"I saw you by the elevators," she says.

I saw her too, holding her folders close to her chest as she looked over at me. I had been walking but needed to stop, choosing the most unfortunate spot I could find, a padded bench by the busy elevators. I sat, clinging to my IV pole and willing the floor to stop rising and falling.

Call, don't fall.

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.

I was feeling better as my eyes met hers. It didn't bother me that she was looking, everyone who passed stopped to look. With one eye patched, a turban of gauze that I did not know was blood soaked in the back, and my wrists and arms already turning a vibrant purple from an endless number of needle sticks, I wanted to grin at all of them and boast, "LOOK! Look at what I did!" But from her I could sense disdain, a silent "tsk, tsk, surgical patients should be up and walking, not lazily people-watching from the bench."

"So..." she trails off, flipping through papers from the foot of my bed. "We're trying to decide whether or not you should go home today. I'm...I'm trying to reconcile what the doctor wants for you and what I think YOU want." She looks up at me.

I hate her.

"What I want," I begin, "is to go home, so long as you can tell me it's medically safe for me to do so. But when you come in here telling me that you can't decide, I'm not convinced."

She frowns.

"You have family set up to stay with you?"

"Yes," I answer. Despite having committed the most egregious sin of getting sick without a husband, without a 'in sickness and in health' clause to enact, a barrage of family and friends have come forward, volunteering to take care of me for the next three weeks. They will wake me in the night to taper me off my steroids. They will be there to watch for seizures and confusion. They will dole out medications from the giant grid that houses pills of yellow, pink, white, and brown. They will help me up the stairs. They will make me smoothies and scrambled eggs.

They will wash blood out of my hair, an act so tender and sorrowful that even now, four months later, I cannot speak of it without crying. I cannot yet write about it.

They will rest a warm, steady hand on my back when I cry.

"You had a rough day yesterday," she says, her voice rising at the end so that I can't tell if she's making an observation or asking me a question.

I lean my head back against the pillow.

Yes. Yesterday was a rough day.

It was the day after brain surgery. I was in pain. A sweet girl in scrubs fed me a few spoonfuls of soup until I could drink a strawberry milkshake on my own. I was groggy, in and out of consciousness throughout the day.

A priest came into my room, making his introduction from the side of the bed.

I said hello. I fell asleep.

I opened my eyes to find my brother reading by my bedside.

I said hello. I fell asleep.

A woman who smelled like peppermint came in to take my vitals.

I said hello. I fell asleep.

"Jennifer," the nurse was calling to me in the afternoon as I tried to wake up. "Honey, we have to get you out of bed and walking. They REALLY want you walking."

I nodded. The neurosurgeons had told me this before the surgery. "You'll be up and walking the next day. We'll be sure of it." They had laughed and I had laughed, so eager to prove what a cooperative patient I could be. Oh yes, oh yes, you take out the tumor and I'll take over from there, I'll walk as much as you want me to walk, just get this thing out of my head without killing me and I'll do anything you want.

"Why don't we move you to the chair to start with," the nurse suggested.

 She removed the compression cuffs from my legs and helped me swing them to the side of the bed. I was surprised to see how weak they looked, so pale and thin. They were foreign, these soft, unsteady, timid legs.

I sat for a moment, then nodded to her that I was ready. The floor was shockingly cold beneath my feet as she took my arm and lifted me up. I stood for a moment, suddenly aware of pain in my lower back from the lumbar drain, took three small steps to the chair, and collapsed into it.

"Good!" she cheered.

"I'm going to throw up," I sputtered before leaning forward and beginning to retch. She moved quickly, shoving a blue basin under my chin just in time.

"Sit back," she was saying urgently, but my body was automatically doubling itself over as my stomach emptied. A brilliant white pain burst before my eyes and I cried out, "My head!" but could not stop vomiting long enough to realize that this was why she wanted me to sit back.

"-too much pressure on your head-" she was saying, and I suddenly shoved the basin at my mother and managed to squeak, "I'm going to pass out" before a sparkling warm blackness flooded over me. I felt the nurse's hand push me back against the chair. I could no longer see her. She was calling my name.

"Stay with me, Jennifer. JENNIFER, STAY WITH ME."

I tried to grab on to her voice, tried to take a deep breath, tried to tell her I was trying, trying to stay with her.

-just get this thing out of my head without killing me and I'll do anything you want-

But I couldn't speak again until minutes later, when I was back in the bed breathing in oxygen from a mask and nodding at another doctor, the nurse taking my hand and telling me, "You scared me."

Yeah. Me too.

"Yes," I confirm for the PA. "Yesterday was a rough day. But if I can, I want to go home."

She nods. "Alright," she says finally. "We'll get your discharge papers ready."

Surgery was on Wednesday. Today is Friday. I'm going home.

I'm relieved.

I'm terrified.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

In the Still of the Night (Part 2)

Need a recap? Part 1

     He looked back down at the phone, at this former lover of hers and his engagement announcement. There was a pounding in his head, as if he could hear the beating of his own heart from within, that was growing as he clicked through to Jenna Burke’s Facebook page. 
     Her profile picture was of her and a friend, each with her blonde hair braided and wearing a straw cowboy hat, red plastic cups in the hands they had slung over each other’s shoulders to pose for the camera.  She was conventionally attractive; nice hair, nice tan, nice teeth, but generic, unlike Kyla who stood out in a crowd with her long legs and wildly curly auburn hair.  He had dated plenty just like this Jenna Burke, although none seriously, as he found that once he had fucked a girl like that, he grew tired of her quickly.
     He was scrolling down to find her status just as Kyla returned to the table, placing his shot before him and then sitting down.  She picked up her own glass, raised it in his direction, and tossed it back. 
     He looked down and read the post.
     “Baby Greene will be arriving in November!!!!” it said.    
     “Bottoms up, my friend,” she said, nodding at his drink.
     The pounding in his head continued as he looked across the table at her.  He had once asked her if she wanted children someday, but she had waved her hand at the question as if brushing away a small, annoying bug.
     “No kids for me,” she had said, leaning forward with a smirk, a glass of red wine dangling precariously by its stem between her fingers.
     “I’m not exactly the maternal type.”
     He did not take his eyes off of her face as he tipped his head back and let the warm liquid slide down his throat. He was feeling dizzy as the alcohol hit him. Nothing about this night was going the way he wanted it to. Nothing about this night was making any fucking sense.  Adam Greene and his pregnant fiancĂ© and Kyla - his Kyla, HIS FUCKING KYLA - trying to drink them off her mind. He took a deep breath, held the side of the table to steady himself, and tried to tell himself that she was still the same, still the same Kyla she had been when she walked into the bar that night. She was not slipping through his fingers.
     No, she was sitting there, across from him, her same hair that he had run his fingers through, the same mouth that had met his, the same long fingers that had scratched down his own back. No. Everything was alright. They would leave soon and go back to his place and he would hold her close to him and she wouldn't be thinking of Adam Greene or his wedding or his baby. She would wrap her legs around HIM and be his and everything would be the way it was. 
     “You drunk yet?” she asked.  He nodded.
     “Great. Then we should probably go before I buy us another round and wind up throwing up all over the bartender.”
     He wasn't sure exactly where the feeling was coming from, but he suddenly felt bold. Rather than let her decide whether or not the evening was over, he stood and said, “Let’s go back to my place.”
     “Perfect,” she replied and in a moment he was steering her through the crowd and out into the night air.  He wanted to hurry. The sooner he had her in his apartment, the lights low, her naked body beneath his, the sooner everything would feel right again.
     They walked silently for a few minutes, until she slowed a bit. 
     “I’m drunk,” she said quietly.
     He was happy for this. Maybe she would pass out in his bed and stay the night. That would certainly go a long way to fix things.   
     “Wow,” she said with a small, forced laugh. “Wow. I am…I am REALLY drunk.”
     “Come on,” he said, taking her arm and walking quickly but she pulled away.
     “No, I…I need air, I need…” she trailed off. Her eyes were shiny but remained sharp as she suddenly looked at him.
     “Got a cigarette?”
     “At my apartment,” he said.
     “Bullshit,” she said, laughing and grabbing playfully at his waist where she knew he always had a pack.
     He was growing impatient, even as he stopped to pull a cigarette out for her. He couldn't be sure she wouldn't still turn toward the street, hail a cab, and slip away, leaving him alone with no relief for this feeling of urgency.  But as he leaned in to light the cigarette for her, she looked up at him with wide eyes and he felt, for a moment, better.  They were only a few blocks away from his apartment now. She was almost his again.
     She dragged on the cigarette as they walked, their pace slower than he would have liked. She hadn't exaggerated her drunken state; she stumbled for a moment, reaching out for him as she steadied herself.
     “Fuck,” she said, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Her breast brushed against his arm as she did. His heart raced. Three more blocks.
     “FUCK,” she yelled, turning her face up towards the sky and laughing. She let go of his arm and sped up her pace.
     “I mean,” she laughed bitterly, “I mean do you believe this shit?” She was in front of him now, turning back to face him, her hair bouncing as she did. He wanted her to stop. He wanted her to stop moving, stop thinking and, for fuck’s sake, to stop talking.
     As if he had made it happen himself, she stopped.
     “You know,” she began, and he wondered if, since he had made her stop moving, he could make her stop talking before the next words slipped out of her perfect, delicious mouth.
     “I was pregnant once.”
     He had failed.