I woke in a panic, unable to open my eyes, scared of how much it hurt. It was noise in my head, jackhammers and garbage trucks, glass recycling and small angry dogs. I couldn’t even say exactly where or how it hurt—it was everywhere.
“You’re fine,” a businesslike voice answered. “You’ve just had surgery. You’re in recovery.”
I knew exactly where I was. That wasn’t the problem. “Something’s wrong. I shouldn’t be in this much pain,” I whispered. I was frozen. I needed to remain immobile, down to my eyelids. The key was to reduce sensory input, to be a rabbit, terrified and alert but very very still. Even though it didn’t work, I tried harder. My thoughts scattered like panicked swallows, landing without settling and taking off again.
I was in a bed in a large room. Through my eyelids, I could sense light through far off windows but it was dim, too dim for mid-afternoon. It was late, but my surgery had begun at 11 am. There were machines next to me; that’s where the voice had come from. It left and came back with others. I breathed fast and shallow, not processing, just sensing, trying not to sense.
There was talk of an epidural; they rolled me on my side. That was so much worse. I felt my organs shift about uncomfortably. They began to chatter among themselves: “Are we leaving again, already?” The freshly packed suitcase slid into disarray.
“Hurry, please hurry,” I whispered. I wanted the epidural, but I needed something faster, something now, ten minutes ago. A year ago maybe. Anything but this.
“We’re doing the best we can,” a new dispassionate voice said.
There were two of them, a man and a woman.
“No, not like that,” the woman correctly sharply.
This was not the time for trial and error. A teacher myself, I had no patience for teaching and learning at that particular moment. The man needed to practice some other time on some other patient, not me, not now.
“Please,” I begged, sensing I was not helping my case, unable not to try. I just needed to be rolled onto my back and go back to concentrating on stillness, on boulders and fossilized trees. At least the awful pressure on my abdomen would be eased. I just needed to lie very still for a few weeks or a month, maybe.
Finally the teacher at my back took over.
A moment later the man said, “I think I got it now. Can I try again?”
I hated him in my heart. I wanted him to boil in acid. Without an epidural.
“No,” the woman answered tersely. Desperately grateful for that small mercy, I hated them both, but her less.
Finally they rolled me onto my back, but it didn’t help. Every part of my body was tensed against the pain. The tension didn’t help any more than the stillness, but it was necessary.
I went back to concentrating on floating in space as a lifeless planet. I closed my eyes, shutting out the teachers and students and machines and everyone just doing their jobs. I had to wait. That was paramount. Just wait.
Suddenly one leg didn’t hurt so much. I let it relax a little, and it was okay. I felt the sting of desperate hope. I let my other leg relax. Large chunks of my body sluiced off, dropping away into softness. I felt the bed beneath me, almost comfortable now. I opened my eyes. Maybe I could do this. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. I was giddy with relief.
My parents and Jeff, looking tense and scared, were allowed in, and they huddled at the end of the bed and touched my foot through the blanket and asked how I felt. They knew so much more than I did at that time. They had been paged by Dr. Sirk several times throughout the six-hour surgery, while I had lain unconscious in the cold, steel room. For a moment, though, it wasn’t so bad.