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.


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