categories: Cocktail Hour
At some point during my nap before the football game, one of the nurses had taken the IV port out of my hand—I kept crimping the line with my thrashings and setting off an alarm. So at midnight the Queen came in and said I’d have to take my pain meds by mouth, but first I’d have to eat something. The last thing dripped into the IV had been an anti-emetic and I was feeling pretty good and actually a tiny bit hungry. My dinner had mysteriously disappeared without my ever having looked under the pressed post-consumer recycled-plastic cover, and I felt this as a loss.
The Queen brought me a little plastic cup of orange sherbet and nothing ever tasted so delicious. I wanted vanilla, too, to make a Creamsicle out of it—that’s how long it had been since I’d tasted orange sherbet, like at Friendly’s with the whole family in the wood-paneled Dodge station wagon back in Connecticut, 1965 or so. And the last time I’d had care like this—pneumonia in high school, a terrible cough, no voice. My mom got me a bell to ring when I needed something up in the hinterlands of my attic room and the first day every time I rang it someone came trotting up the stairs, one or another of my brothers and sisters, mother, father: You rang? The next day, only my mother would come, and sometimes Doug. Day after that, no one would come at all. Well, Mom, but only on her own schedule. Third day she brought me a book by someone named Ruth Ben’Ary, how to teach yourself to type in ten lessons. The idea being that if I was going to miss two weeks of school I should put the time to good use. And how clearly I remember sitting up at the desk coughing away and smoking tiny hits of hashish and coughing even more and timing myself typing exotic sentences with perfect proper hand position, every letter used, and then onto numbers and punctuation. My friend Kurt visited and we typed up profane inventions together–he brought me a pack of Kools with the idea that the menthol would be good for my throat. I’m a great blind typist to this day, and to this day don’t expect anyone to come when I ring.
So imagine my surprise when the Queen came back with my meds. I ate them and put the TV off and next thing I knew, 4:00 a.m., a young woman was hovering over me, wrapping my arm in the blood pressure cuff. “Taking your vitals,” she said.
“I would prefer you left them,” I said.
“You are funny,” she said in the same tone you’d say, Please shut-up.
My blood pressure was comically low, like 54 over 12, having been highish at check-in, back when I was still so scared.
“Nutrition will be here at 7:00,” she said.
I haven’t mentioned the leg cuffs. All this time I have these amazing leg cuffs on—they fill with air every three minutes or so, then slowly deflate, keep the blood circulation strong in your legs to prevent clots, another way to die. It’s like this robot massage, very nice, a little click as the pump comes on, and then the little motor working.
Nutrition woke me at 7:00, saying only one word: “Nutrition,” a person with no identity issues.
I noticed for the first time a pamphlet on my bedside table: Welcome to the Short Stay Unit. So, it was not the Short Story unit at all, very distressing. I was returning to reality, a strange, serious place. I checked my cell phone remembering I’d texted Drew and found I’d texted a lot of people, many of them multiple times, none of the messages as rosy as my memory of the day was, more like this morose and self-pitying message to my friend Kris: “v. sick.” Or Carlita: “not dead but close.” Very, very warm messages back, none of which had lodged in memory. And a lot about puking, back and forth with my surgery-wise brother Randy, whose last message was simple and a bit cryptic after the fact: “suppositories!”
The anesthesia was still working its way out of my system, though. I opened the breakfast: French toast and oatmeal. I don’t really think French toast should be steamed for hours after the griddle part, but wasn’t in a position to complain. And I am allergic to oats, sadly, because I love oatmeal and anything to do with oats. Gastric distress exactly four hours after consumption, is the shortest way to say what happens when I eat them, even very small amounts. So I ate the French toast: hungry. And the Queen was still in attendance, arrived with her retinue, all kinds of adjustments of my wardrobe, as apparently my balls were showing. One of her coterie brought some more sherbet, delectable with pain pills. And the Queen herself said, “You ready to leave?”
“I think so.”
“P.A. will be here later, let you go if you’re ready?”
“I can go?”
“If you’re ready. You have to be able to pee.”
Easy as that!
The P.A. (physician’s assistant, what’s that all about?) was a kindly man in glasses and clipboard who knew about Farmington from skiing up this way, but had to ask me what operation I’d had, or maybe that was a test. If so I passed, and then we talked about skiing a lot, and then about how I shouldn’t try to do it till next year, and shouldn’t work with my hands over my head and shouldn’t do things that hurt. He gave me instructions about my incision, which I promptly and thoroughly forgot. “Have you peed?” he said. “Yes,” I told him valiantly. “How much?” he said. “Like a lot,” I said, “I carried the circulation cuffs thing in the bathroom twice in the night.” “Was it pretty shy?” “Very shy, but then it came out. Not gallons.” He said, “Like a pint?” And I said, “That would mean something different in a pub.” No reaction, so I said, “Yes, like a pint.” “You’re good to go,” he said. “Get dressed.” “May I take off the cuffs?” Finally, a smile: “You don’t need the cuffs.”
I called Juliet at the hotel and she said she’d promised Elysia they’d go to Denny’s for breakfast and that they were still in jammies and weren’t in very good moods so it would take a couple of hours.
“But,” I said.
“You’ll have to stall,” she said
I dressed in clothes from the pink garbage bag I’d put them in, day before, and put my i-pod on and sat in the stiff arm chair, head whirling pleasantly, more Fresh Air, wonderful interview with the incredibly louche Keith Richards, fell asleep. In an unspecified while a nurse came in and took the light dressing off my incision, had a look, gave me instructions that I forgot completely except that I was to keep it uncovered, which seemed wrong.
Keith Richards dreamed the music and part of the lyrics to “Satisfaction,” he said. The guitar parts on some of their best songs are just an acoustic amped through a radio, something like that, anyway, all that distortion of the rich sound is natural, and “Under My Thumb” is not misogynistic. They played a bit of that and I remembered hearing it at the snack bar at Roton Point, a beach club my family attended, could perfectly see the breakwater there and the huge wooden structures of the place and the perfect smell of the French fries, the heat of the sun, tennis lessons futile, and a certain girl in her bikini, same girl in the abandoned ping-pong room with the neck part of the bikini untied and hanging down, and cigarettes.
I woke to Elysia and Juliet arriving. They were in the midst of a disagreement of some sort. “I can go,” I said.
“Is it covered?” Elysia said. My incision, she meant.
I pulled my collar up and then she’d come in, but didn’t want to get too close. Her experience of hospitals is her two grandmothers, who both went in and didn’t come out.
Two hours later after various perfectly charming and understandable delays the nurse’s assistant who’d attended me the day and then evening before was wheeling me out in a wheelchair amid waves of unreality, Keith Richards in scrubs, for one example. We passed the big sign for the Short Stay Unit and really, it’s very hard to make these people laugh but my attendant giggled at the Short Story Unit thing and said she couldn’t wait to tell everyone that and delivered me through a revolving door to my girls and to my car, which I wouldn’t be allowed to drive for a month or so.
It turned out that what Elysia was mad about was that I was getting all the attention. And that what Juliet needed despite Denny’s was desperately to eat. Also, Elysia wanted to listen to Fleetwood Mac, which Juliet was sick of, Juliet to Furthur bootlegs, Elysia: sick of. Full bore tussle. I was brought in as the tie breaker but voted for Mikado, and prevailed, since no one was sick of Mikado. I’d been advised to stop on the way home and stand and walk—it’s about two hours going slow. But I didn’t want to stop–I wanted to get somewhere with a bed. I sat up very straight, wearing the soft collar they’d given me for the ride, asked Elysia to tell me how it had been taking charge of Melissa’s baby. She took a moment to warm to her subject but then she talked a blue streak and I asked her many, many questions. A crying baby, what’s that like? It’s no big deal if you just can think what’s wrong. It might be the diaper, it might be he’s hungry. And so we talked for an hour to the strains of Gilbert and Sullivan, though I could only picture Keith Richards in any of the roles. Three little girls from school are we!
Halfway or so we stopped for lunch at the ghastly and overcrowded Panterra in Augusta, surprisingly good soup and even better bread, so I may revise my review at some point, but for now ghastly must stand. Hunger! That was the source of the discord! Everyone stared at my collar or didn’t look at me at all, no middle ground. You can’t flirt with soup girls in a neck brace, at least not Panterra soup girls, except one goth gal, who probably knew from incisions. My throat! Swallowing was awful, awful. I’d been warned–no way around bruising the esophogus and trachea pushing them out of the way for almost three hours. I’d quit smoking thirty years before, so there would be no Kool cigarettes, and no hashish to soothe me. Food, though, and everyone cheered up; in fact the girls giggled and sang the rest of the way home, shadows in the snow like the stripes of zebras and flashes of light on my eyelids and sleep haunting me.
My road is pretty normal for western Maine but would be arrested for first-degree felonious assault anyplace else, just a loose assemblage of asphalt pieces and ice and chasms and axle parts, but I wouldn’t have to traverse it again for at least two weeks. Home was where the heart was. I staggered in and straight upstairs and into bed and blessed sleep to Terry Gross talking about terrorism and then about True Grit, all crazily interwoven with my dreams of latticework wildlife. Later, I choked a soft dinner down and ate my next hit of oxycodone, then some more at bedtime, the full dose, baby, the anesthesia still working its way through my system, and watched TV, or really stared at it in shock, could make nothing of what was on, people saying things, doing things, totally bizarre behavior regardless of channel. I panicked that what I’d expected was not available: gentle laughs. So to bed, my familiar pillow at least, incision unwrapped, sudden frenzied sleep, sudden awake: a dream that the world had become abstract, that everything was abstraction, and in the extrapolation of the idea of library were only the ideas of books, a lot of actual labels, interpolations, very hard to explain the horror of this, like working in an English department, but woke and couldn’t shake the dream, my whole house an abstraction, staggered downstairs into the “bathroom” and could not pee and the dream was still with “me”—I was dreaming awake. I paced the “house” an “hour,” finally crashed my way back up the “stairs” to “bed,” slept till noon and Keith Richards.