What is the best day?

My writing prompt for today asks me about the best day of my life, or several of the best days. I don’t know how to answer that. I’m considering how to rank my past days in retrospect, which is bizarre. I’m trying very hard to remember feeling joy and hope and happiness on a single day, and so far I’m not doing all that well.

This is a really odd piece. But I am thinking, again in retrospect, one of the best days came after my surgery to remove my uterus. That’s so bizarre. For many women who have experienced that particular surgery, it was the worst day of their lives. It signified the end of childbearing years, or the ability to become a mother.

My uterus had been trying to kill me for many years, and I never had a tremendous desire to have children, so I was a matrix of feelings about having the surgery. Primarily, I was afraid. It was the first surgery in my life, and the thought of being out cold while someone took a sharp knife to my belly was not reassuring. I was more or less preoccupied with thoughts of not waking up with mental capacity, and the possibility of being in a vegetative state. Much later, when I told my mother about writing out my wishes on a piece of paper the night before, she laughed hysterically because she had done the same thing preceding one of her surgeries. Hearing that, I laughed as well, being reassured that such zany notions just run in the family.

When I presented myself for the pre-operative consultation, I was close to vibrating out of my skin. I went in to see the doctor, who turned out to be the anesthesiologist. That made no sense to me, but neither did anything else at that point. He was a nice middle-aged white guy, glasses, balding. He had a big smile and a twinkle in his eye that said he enjoyed a good joke.

After I’d answered the obligatory questions on the pre-op form, the ones that proved I was who I was and I was the one having the surgery, and knew what the surgery was about, and so on, he put down his pen and just stared at me. I had been lost in my own thoughts and looking down at the desk, when I realized he was intently focused on me. I looked up, and he was grinning from ear to ear.

I must have looked thoroughly befuddled, and he said, “Don’t you recognize me?” He was nearly gleeful, giddy, almost bouncing in his chair. I shook my head, confusedly, and raised my eyebrows. I took a good look at him, and registered nothing. I did not know this man. He snatched off his glasses, and looked directly at me, and repeated the question. I was still drawing a blank. Finally, he said, “Monday night! The church on Reynolda Road! MONDAY NIGHT!!!”

Then, it dawned on me. The Monday night 12-step meeting at the stately church less than 3 miles from my apartment. I’d been going there for over a year, and it was one of my favorite meetings at that time. I had noticed there seemed to be a healthy percentage of physicians and medical professionals in that meeting, but had not thought much of that. But he was one of that crew, and here he was, doing my pre-op. What are the odds?

When I realized who he was, I did feel a bit more relaxed, and we talked honestly about the surgery. I stammered out a few questions about the anesthesia that would be used, and he answered directly and knowledgeably. I kept coming back to questions about the chances of emerging from surgery with a loss in mental function, or in a persistent vegetative state. He answered all of that, very directly, sparing me the normal disclaimers about how major surgery was always a risk and blah blah blah. I nodded my understanding, but that still didn’t put me at ease.

He saw that I was still a little uneasy, so he leaned forward, elbows on desk, and gently said, “What are you really afraid of?” I wanted to cry, because I knew the most gigantic fear was buried down in me and I had not shared it with anyone. I looked down, gulped, then raised my head to meet his eyes. “I’m petrified that I will have been cut open, but conscious, awake, feeling it all but paralyzed and can’t speak or let anyone know that I’m feeling all of it. That’s what I can’t get out of my head.”

I prepared myself for the laughter, some kind of dismissal of such a ridiculously silly notion. But it was out there, and I couldn’t take it back. There was silence, and when I finally looked up to see if there was a reaction of any kind, I found his eyes were kind. Fatherly. Sympathetic, not derisive. He said, “That’s not an uncommon fear. Listen to me, though. Monitoring your body’s indication of pain or trauma is part of what the anesthesiologist does for you. While you are unconscious, the surgeon is doing their thing, but the anesthesiologist checks for everything else that your body is doing. If you are in pain, whether you can say so or not, your body will respond by raising blood pressure, or respiration rate, or a few other indications we monitor. We’ll know if there’s something your body is responding to. We will speak for you when you can’t. ” He kept his gaze on me, assessing, considering. “What else?”

So then I coughed out the last of it. “Um, well, you know…I have a high tolerance for drugs and alcohol and stuff, and, they might not give me the right amount? When I’ve had oral surgery and even the D&C I had before they scheduled this surgery, I felt things. They said they had given me all they were allowed to give me, but I felt what they were doing, and it was not pleasant.”

I felt the kind gaze returned, and he tapped on the desk because I was back to staring at my fingertips. I lifted my head, and met his eyes again. He said, “I will make you a promise. I am not the one who will be in the operating room with you for the surgery, but I know the anesthesiologist who will be there, and I will speak to them about your substance abuse, and about your other fears. Trust me – I will tell them, and they will look for some of the signs that you are in pain and need more pain relief. This is what we do. We are there to make sure none of your fears come true.”

Then. Then I felt ready to go into the surgery, feeling as though I had a fighting chance. Despite my mother stressing out before the date, I was more or less calm. When I reported for check-in that morning, at the ungodly hour of 5:45 am, I was present and accounted for. I almost got no sleep at all, though, because my mother and I were staying in the hotel across the street from the hospital.

I ran back to my apartment the night before to get a few things and to write out my last will and testament on that raggedy piece of paper, and when I got back to the hotel she had locked the door. With the privacy lock, that cannot be defeated by a key from the outside. So I banged on the door. No response. I banged and banged. After 15 minutes, I went to the office, looking for all the world like an angry tasmanian devil from the cartoons, hair standing on end, a single eyebrow, eyes flaming red. I told the desk clerk what was going on, and he said the only thing he could do was call the room, so he did. I heard my mother’s voice answering, and he told her I was coming back around to get in. So,

I loped back to the room, and still had to bang on the bloody door until I heard, “Who is it?” WHO DO YOU THINK IT IS????!!! Finally, I got in and threw all my stuff down, then jumped in the available bed. DAMMIT! She was chastising me about being up so late before having major surgery, but I tuned her out. The only reason it was THIS late was because I COULD NOT GET INTO THE ROOM, YOU MORON!!!

After sleeping the sleep of the dead for about 4 hours, I was up and ready to cross the street to the hospital, before the sun was fully risen. I was actually on time, and they checked me into a room. My mother was still spazzing, and I was a little stressed, fearing that she would pull out a rosary and start praying over me in the middle of the room (she had actually done that when one of my great aunts had surgery).

My friend, who was a nurse and despise my mother, was there, and per usual I was more worried about meeting their needs. But, soon it was show time, and they IV had been started in my arm. The hospital nurse said they were ready. My mother elbowed her out of the way to kiss me on the head one last time (LAST TIME???), but the orderlies started muscling the bed toward the door. I remember someone saying they were starting the anesthesia and I should count backwards from 99. I made it to 98, and then it was lights out.

The next thing I knew, the surgeon was screaming “WAKE UP! WAKE UP! IT’S ALL OVER! WAKE UP!” I was irritated, because damn – those were good drugs, and she was crashing my high. She started clapping her hands in my face, still hollering at me to wake up. I was NOT amused. I must have opened my eyes, because I squinted. It was damned bright in there. The surgeon was persistent, and waved her hands in front of my face, asking how many fingers I saw. Eleven, I replied, and she backed off. They were doing some medical things in my vicinity, but I wasn’t entirely in there. Everything was a blur, but I wasn’t panicked about anything. The surgeon returned, telling me in a slightly calmer voice that everything had gone well, and that my uterus and ovaries were history. I visualized them being in a hefty bag, tied up with a twist tie, and on the top of a heap of garbage in an industrial can.

I muttered some affirmative response, and then asked if they had found anything bad. She said no, everything was as she had expected – fibroid tumors, non-cancerous, all over the place. That accounted for my years of iron deficient anemia, and the passing out that got me to the hospital in the first place. She told me they had taken pictures of what came out, for the insurance company, but did I want to see them. I nearly sat up, but I couldn’t just yet. Yes, I said excitedly. YES! I want to see what has been making my life so miserable since puberty.

She solemnly handed me a couple of polaroids, both showing the same blob of orgaic tissue from different angles, with the ovaries politely laid out just below, like a necklace. I stared at the photos, just stared. The uterus appeared to be as big as my head, irregularly shaped, with bulges in several places. The surgeon saw my astonishment, and said, “Just so you know – a normal uterus is about as big as a fist. With all the fibroid tissue in there, I don’t know how you survived with this one as long as you did.” I handed back the pictures and fell back into a deep sleep.

When I woke, my mother and my friend were there. A nurse was fussing over something in there, and all eyes were on me. I was thirsty, and a cup of water appeared. Trying to talk, but everything seemed like a dream. I was once again impressed with the calibre of the drugs, and did not feel even a hint of pain. I started to fall asleep with the cup of water still in my hand.

People were still talking, another nurse came in to acquaint me with the morphine pump to my right. She told me to push the button as many times as I needed to, for pain. I wanted her, and everyone else to go away. My mother and my friend began to argue about who was going to spend the night in my room. My friend kind of won, even though my mother tried to get me to choose. Not this time, mother dear. Y’all slug that out. My friend stayed. She’s a New Yorker, and a nurse, and just don’t take much shit (unless it’s from a man she wants to date, but that’s another story).

I slept the night, and the next morning my friend got me up and walking. I walked down the hall, farther than was probably wise, because then I had a little discomfort from the surgery. When I got back to the bed, my friend pressed the button on the morphine pump several times. My mother showed up at some point, fussing over me and having her own experience of my surgery. Everybody finally left after lunch, leaving me to my own thoughts and a flurry of nurses coming and going, taking blood, asking me questions, tittering in that officious nurse way.

Everything else was smooth as silk. No big whoop. The only notable incident for the time I remained in the hospital involved the nursing staff. They were all very friendly and everything, but there was one who utterly fascinated me. She had the biggest hair of anyone I had ever seen. Her face was inordinately kind, and serene, and her voice was pleasantly melodic. But that hair. It looked almost like the old-fashioned nun’s habits – sitting kind of high off her forehead, adding more than a couple of inches to her overall height, and not moving an inch. She came to take out the urinary catheter, and her gentleness was overwhelming. I never felt a thing; it was like it had never been there in the first place. But that hair. Just, wow.

Anyhow, all of these words to explain a good day in my life. I suppose it was, eventually, a very good day because after I’d healed from the incision, I felt that I got my life back. No more anemia, no more weakness, no more PMS rage and general dysphoria. No more hating a part of my own body that was simply ill, not working correctly, but not inherently destructive. That’s how I always felt, though, like it was such a burden, literally and figuratively.

Every woman on my mother’s side of the family has suffered through virtually the same experience, so just because I never wanted to have children wasn’t of any consequence to the pattern that had been set many generations ago. In some bizarre way, having taken my place in the long line of women in my genetic pool who have experienced this causes me to feel connected to my lineage. Odd thought, but it causes me to feel slightly less alone in the Universe for some reason, as though I’m tethered to something out there. What a curious notion. Curious indeed, but that’s how I roll.

This was me, all along.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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