The Worst Dinner Party Ever

My surgeon, a sixty-year-old paunchy white man working at Newington Children's Hospital (motto:children is our middle name), thought he was a rock star. He showed up to surgery two and a half hours late without even a word of explanation. As if we were all smoking up and drinking before he arrived, so we just didn't mind. I expected him to walk in beer bottle in hand and say "Are you ready to rock n' roll?"

I was twelve. I was waiting to go in for five hours of major reconstructive surgery. Since my surgeons mainly conversed with my father, a surgeon himself, I had only the vaguest notion of what exactly was going to happen. I had been taken into a hospital room to be prepped for surgery. Some young smiling imbecile of a resident came into my room to explain the surgery to me. Again. It had been explained many times, just not in a language I could understand. Being a resident, he used medical terms, which essentially meant I understand maybe fifty percent of what he said. His name was Allbright. When he left the room, I told my mother his name was an oxymoron.

I waited in my room in my johnny for at least an hour before I was rolled into OR. With the exception of this surgery, I always have been given sedation before surgery. Even the very minor surgery I had on my toe, which only required local anesthesia, even then the doctor gave me valium before hand. This time I wasn't sedated. I'm not sure if there was a reason for this or if the finely honed precision known as Newington Children's Hospital somehow derailed in my case. Whatever the reason, I was wheeled to OR perfectly conscious.

For some reason, I thought it was important to remember every detail. Maybe it was because I thought I might die. But how remembering the dinginess of the hallway, the cockroach the size of a Buick lingering outside of radiology, and the "children's library" which consisted of two book shelves in the middle of a random hallway would somehow contribute to my last moments of life, I have no idea.

Finally, I was outside the OR doors. There was a yellow line we couldn't cross without the surgeon. You think this is a metaphor. It isn't. There was a bright yellow line on the floor. My gurney was rolled up to the edge, but I couldn't go past. We waited, my mother, the nurse and I. There is very little small talk two feet from OR. Most of the time I concentrated on feeling my heart beat, trying to keep calm, taking deep breaths.

The OR was flooded with bright lights. There was an entire surgical team. Until that moment, it never dawned on me there would be a team. I thought the three people I had met ( the surgeon, the resident, and the anesthesiologist) would be the only three people in the room. But there they were, a whole pack of them. ( Is there a term for a group of medical personnel?-a gander a geese, a murder of crows, a hemorrhage of medical staff?) They were all suited, scrubbed, and masked. They were introducing themselves to me now. NOW. All I could see of them was the rectangular box between their masks and their caps. I couldn't even tell their genders.

After the general introductions, about the time the canapes and hors d'oeuvres would circulate, a nurse rolled a tray of scalpels beside me. A tray. I never knew there were so many different types of scalpel. But there they were, an array, a potpourri, a veritable smorgasborge.

And that's when it hit me, what surgery really is. You're unconscious and naked on a table in front of a bunch of people you don't know. And they have knives.

The nurse commented that my pressure spiked, but she didn't know what could cause it. A platter of knives by my right elbow, and she can't figure out what could possibly upset me. I was given oxygen to calm me. I thought it was the anesthesia. I kept saying "I'm awake. I'm awake. Don't do anything."

They laugh. It's a joke to them. My flailing. My fear. It's funny. How many times do they see it a day? They'll joke about it in the coffee room, maybe. Maybe it will just be a moment of levity, forgotten after the first incision.

Finally, I am put out. I struggle against it, but I sleep. I remember half sitting up and seeing the clock before I falling back into red tinted blackness.

I woke up in recovery retching, in too much pain to be happy to be alive.

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