The tub-room looks out over the frozen city. Dawn has not yet crept over the January streets of Montreal. I imagine all the workers trudging through the slush on the dark streets down below, as I had done too only days before. The warmth of the water is reassuring, and I would like nothing better than to float awhile longer, but other patients need their bath too. I happen to be first on the hit-list.
Now I have an hour and a half to count down. If I could at least eat something it might help to pass the time, but I must be fasting. So I just stare at a crossword puzzle for most of the wait, pencil poised for action but hand remaining still.
The blue hospital gown they have given me is too small. It must belong to an eight-year-old. Experience has taught me how to tie these ridiculous open-back gowns so that my ass doesn’t show, but there is nothing I can do about the length. Just don’t bend over!
Soon enough the O.R. gurney’s wheels are heading my way. The ward has forgotten to give me the Vallium they keep promising, though they remember to order me to pee, several times. I pretend to on the second and third requests, to please the nurses and for something to do. And away we go!
My stainless-steel chariot is parallel parked outside the operating theaters, along with all the other lucky contestants lined up. A nurse hands me a shower cap that matches her own. I ask her where she was when I really needed the headgear before my flea bath. I count the holes in the white ceiling tiles while eavesdropping on two boring and pretentious surgical residents scrubbing up at the pedal sink.
A nurse with a kind face notices my uncontrollable teeth chattering and gets me a blanket just out of the warmer. Steam is rising,yet I do not find it affords much comfort.
This was to be #6 of 9 surgeries, trying to fix the damage done in the first. This was the biggest, the most painful, most technically difficult with the most risk of complications, and hopefully the most life-transforming.
They would cut off the ends of the bones forming my right knee joint and replace the void with titanium metal and Teflon plastics. The leftovers of my skeleton would be added to those of cadavers to be ground into a cement-paste to patch up the living bones of cancer or accident victims in want of repair. Medicine has a sense of humor unto itself.
What if they cut off too much, the circular saw slips? What if I can feel the pounding of chisel and hammer? What if...?
I realize that both the temperature and anxiety are equally to blame for the teeth chattering.
What’s the hold up? I stretch my head backwards to scan the scene upside-down, like when I was a kid. “A kid is a baby goat”, my grade 2 teacher would say.
Once in the O.R., they transfer me to the operating table and strap me down with a seat belt. I laugh, nervously, and then they do too. Their faces are masked, only the windows to their souls show as they start an intravenous line in my hand. It takes two of them, as they have trouble due to my cold-constricted veins. Electrodes are attached to my chest and a blood-pressure cuff to my other arm.
I visually search the machines around me, praying that they don’t malfunction. I try searching the eyes of the scurrying staff, wondering if they are all competent. Did a romantic spat or a puking kid keep them from a restful sleep last night? Are they working a double shift? Did they graduate last in their class? Do any of them take the drugs they are supposed to inject into patients, ...?
Off to “la-la land” for me, they say. Like a sleep without dreaming; no concept of time, just lost hours, forever.
Like a curare dart, the sweet poison is injected into the i.v.. It travels up the vein towards my heart, where it is pumped to the arteries and the capillaries beyond. I can feel it circulate. As it reaches the cells of my mouth I can taste the now familiar metallic-garlic taste, and it will soon be “lights-out”.
But something is different than the other times. Something is wrong. I think they have given me too much of the sleeping potion, I think they have given me the dosage for the 300-pound-man next in line. I struggle to tell them, but cannot speak for I am already paralyzed, though still conscious. I quickly resolve to die in peace; there is no point in wasting my last moments lamenting over it. What’s done is done. Just release...
I have the sensation that I am a falling tree, roots still gripping the soil, but my trunk is speeding faster and faster backwards towards the damp and dark rain-forest floor. I can hear the horrible crashing and splitting sounds as I shear the limbs off other trees around me on my trajectory to earth. They are screaming.
I am aware of the powerfulness of the destruction, but can feel none of it. My body is already down and frozen stiff, but my soul is suddenly slammed on its back, into unconsciousness. Bitter-sweet anesthesia.