"Surgical dread"   

    I was too angry to write after the last surgery. I woke in the night so many times to the ghosts of hospitals past. I was haunted by the very worst moments as well as the mundane times—I’d roll over in the night and open my eyes, only to remember being awakened so many times by officious nurses bustling in and out, checking my wires and hoses, rolling me to ensure even doneness, stuffing me with pills and injections and alternately drawing out my blood.
    April 23.
    The specter haunting every conversation, every harmless advertisement of a movie premiere, every concert billboard turned slap in the face, announced for that fateful day, flaunting how little the world cared, how much it didn’t stop for me and my trauma. An oil spill, a reunion concert, a fair—all somehow callously unaware of my suffering.
    Driving down the highway, I’d look away, pained by the flashing casino billboards, manically pushing their D-list bands. Brian McKnight April 22. I’d be washing myself with antiseptic soap and fasting in a climax of dread.
    After the fast jump cuts and one-liners of a movie preview on TV, the date April 23 in stark white on a black background. I pictured myself unconscious on a table, draped in blue, my slack mouth pulled to one side, a tube taped to it, complacent nurses standing around doling out scalpels, nervous residents twitching, a bored anesthesiologist studying blips and stats. Several gaping holes in my abdomen stretched wide with metal clamps, Dr. Sirk fishing around inside.
    By the time of the Daffodil Parade, each day I felt the pressure increase a little inside, not unlike the oil well that would burst a mile underwater just a few days before my big reveal. As we watched the clowns on bicycles, the pirates shooting off canons, the endless stream of convertibles driven by old men and topped by pretty girls, a harried woman stuffed coupons in our hands. They were for the Puyallup Spring Fair.
    “Do you want to go?” my sister-in-law asked me as one of my nieces leaned up against me. I braced myself on the cold concrete where I sat, tired from standing too long.
    I glanced at the flyer and said without a trace of bitterness, “I’ll be in the hospital.”
    “Oh, of course!” she exclaimed even before I finished speaking. Kristen was always considerate and polite. She never complained about minor ailments ever since I got choked up last spring when things were just starting to look bad. I pictured myself in a confusion of Dilaudid, wondering if I would have a tube in my nose, drains trailing out of my abdomen, whether they’d be able to take down the ileostomy after all.
    I had already grown resigned to people outside my immediate family finding themselves unable to keep track of my many surgeries. A week after the parade, I called a coworker to check on book orders for next year.
    “You sound great!” she exclaimed.
    “Thanks,” I said.
    “I thought your surgery was Friday,” she explained, realizing her mistake.
    I had told her a week ago my surgery was in two weeks.
    “No, it’s next week.”
    When I complained to Jeff about the thoughtless billboards and forgetful coworkers, he gently admonished me. I didn’t want to hear it. The world should stop for me—that was all I required.


questions to prompt writing:

  • Have you ever obsessively dreaded a medical procedure or other stressful event?
  • Can you remember a time you felt like the world needed to stop for you, since what you were going through was so life-changing and scary?