You begin to regain consciousness in the recovery room; the anesthesia, as it wears off, is making you nauseous. Reflexively, you try to sit up; a small, but mighty arm shoots out, clobbers your chest, shoves you down, turns your head toward the emesis basin and strokes your matted hair. You’re lying in a body cast in Methodist Hospital. You have no sense of having a spine. You open your eyes and the mother who has never liked you is sitting beside you on the bed, waiting for you to awaken enough so that you can leave the recovery room and go to your hospital room. You close your eyes as a wave of nausea engulfs you, wait for it to subside. You feel a cool cloth on your forehead; you keep your eyes closed against the waves.
It’s a crisp, cold, sunny day outside on March 11,1973, and you have the window side of the semi-private room. The woman in the other bed has also had surgery. Her entire family descends upon the room at once. You drift in and out of consciousness, every so often awakening to the cacophony on the other side of the curtain, then withdrawing again into medicated bliss. The drugs have induced magical, nonsensical, surreal dreams and you want to savor each one before it floats away.
You’re dying for a cup of coffee, but you can’t sit up and you can’t drink it lying down flat on your back. The cute orderly on duty comes in to check on you. “Hey, beautiful, how are you feeling? Can I get you anything?” You tell him that you would love a cup of coffee, but you can’t imagine how you’d drink it. He rearranges the blankets, pulls the curtain shut a little further and disappears. So much for coffee. The room is quiet; you drift back into your drugged fog.
Someone is bathing your forehead and neck with a cool, damp washcloth. “Hey, beautiful, I’ve brought you a little present.” He dangles a bent glass glass tube before your eyes. “Behold, a glass straw. Let the coffee cool a bit so you don’t burn your lips. Here, I’ll help you.” He cranks the angle of the bed up ever so slightly, hands you the straw and holds the cup to the side of your face. In the two and a half months in your body cast, you’ll become an expert at this maneuver. At last, your craving satisfied, you ask for something to eat. Before he has a chance to respond, you hear the clack-clack of heels in the hallway and suddenly, your mother who never liked you appears bearing a pint of Baskin-Robbins daiquiri ice, your all-time favorite. Cute orderly disappears with the empty coffee cup and your mother sits down by the bed. “How do you feel? Have you eaten? Have you had a bowel movement, yet? Is the pain medicine working? Did you get some coffee?”
You look up at this woman and wonder why she’s being so nice to you. You remember that she went back to work in a dress boutique after 30 years of staying home with six kids, just so that she could pay for this surgical adventure. And you remember that Dad has myasthenia gravis and can’t work, and that he filed for bankruptcy last year, and you feel guilty for taking all the money, and you wonder again why she’s being so nice to you. She gets your toothbrush and hair brush, helps you brush your teeth, gently pulls your long hair to the side to brush it and braid it to keep it out of the way, since you are on your back in this plaster mold 23 hours of each 24. She wants to know if you’d like her to read to you; she always read to you as a little girl. You manage a slight nod yes and you remember that you always loved her reading voice. She moves through the pages and just as you drift off, you hear the mother who never really loved you say, “Get some sleep. I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow after work. Dad will be up later.”