Friday, September 10, 2010

In a Corner Near the Ceiling

It was Christmas Eve, 1975. My mother came home from work and found me in the hallway struggling to breathe. She frantically called the doctor and then carried me to the car and started driving. My gastroenterologists were all Jewish so they were at the office that day. Dr. Leo, the oldest, was like a father to me. He had been treating me for about ten years for the intestinal disease. He came out to the car and carried me inside to a treatment room.

When he saw my swollen abdomen he knew. I looked nine months pregnant when just that morning I had been emaciated. His brother, Dr. Albert, gave me a shot of morphine but the pain didn’t subside. The third doctor was the youngest so he carried me to my mother’s car, a 1969 blue Chevy Nova and drove with his hand on the horn, blaring, running red lights. I was stretched out in the back seat holding on, bracing my body against the agonizing pain. The next thing I remember was being revived in the ER. I heard voices, “DOA.” “BP is dropping.” I saw the blur of bright lights and heard the wheels of the gurney rolling on the hard floors. I closed my eyes and drifted.

I awakened in a little room. There were doctors surrounding my bed. I remember smiling and telling them I wasn’t afraid. They said they were trying to put an IV in my arm but my veins had collapsed. They were going to have to do a cut-down. I didn’t know what that meant, but I told them the pain was gone now so I didn’t care. One doctor told me that I was in shock so they couldn’t sedate me. He apologized for what they were about to do. I watched as they prepared my left arm for surgery. One doctor used a scalpel to make a two inch cut just inside my elbow to reach the vein. He threaded a tube into it and kept threading it until it stopped. I felt a twinge near my shoulder. Then he stitched the incision closed around the tube. I saw the bag of fluid hanging on the IV pole. The fluid was dripping rapidly from the sack down the tube and into my arm.

I slipped away. I wasn’t on the table anymore. I was hovering in a corner near the ceiling of the room looking down at my body and at the backs of the men wearing white jackets. I watched them fussing over my empty shell. I heard no voices. I saw a doctor pound on my chest; then again. And I slipped from the air back into my body and looked up into the doctor’s eyes. I smiled at him. I wanted to tell him how incredible it had been to be watching from above but I was too weak to talk.

The doctors said they didn’t want to operate until I was stable. They waited until 3 o'clock Christmas Day and then moved me into the operating room. The surgeon introduced himself to me. He had an Italian name and I felt bad because he had to work on Christmas. He put a large mask over my face. He said it would give me the maximum amount of oxygen. The mask was so large that I couldn’t turn my head with the straps holding it tightly, covering my nose and mouth. I listened to nurses talking and the sound of the metal instruments being prepared for surgery. It seemed like hours.

Then the surgeon told me there was no more time, he was going to operate to relieve the pressure inside my body. My blood pressure was so low that they were afraid to anesthetize me completely, he said, so they gave me very little anesthesia. I was awake when the surgeon started to make the incision, but compared to the pain I had of my failing organs, the knife was like a fingernail scraping against my skin. I was strapped down to the table and couldn’t move. The anesthesiologist was watching the surgeon so he didn’t see my pleading eyes looking up at him. I couldn't talk. My tongue felt swollen in my mouth because of the oxygen. Finally, I wiggled the big toe on my right foot. Since he was looking in that direction he was startled by the movement. Then he looked at my face, horrified when his eyes looked into mine, and increased the drip. Finally, it was dark and quiet and I felt no pain.

10 comments:

Jai Joshi said...

Oh my god, Susan. You had me squirming in my seat, feeling horrified and scared and appalled for this girl. How vivid and heartbreaking were the thoughts that ran through her head - that the Italian doctor had to work on Christmas, that she saw them working on her body while floating above, that she told them she wasn't afraid. And how she was strapped down to the table and could feel everything as they cut into her.

I felt like I was on that table with her. Great work.

Jai

Eric J. Krause said...

This was such a powerful--and horrifying--story. All of your descriptions certainly bring this one to life. The line about her worried about the doctor who had to work on Christmas Day was a perfect add in the middle of the story. That's the type of thing that would likely run through someone's mind in that situation. Well written!

PJ said...

Susan - this is a harrowing tale - I sure hope that it wasn't based on a true story. How amazing to come back from the brink like that!

Susan Cross said...

@Jai When I read it the next day even I was squirming! I read it several times that day and couldn't believe I had written it. After it was posted I sent it to an editor to see if I had made any changes in tense or POV. She said she didn't see any. I'm pretty satisfied with it. A new genre for me.

@Eric Thanks. I wrote this in the middle of the night. Once I got into it I didn't want to let it go because I knew I would never recapture it. I kept dozing off and pulling myself back to consciousness until it was done and then I posted it and slept. When I woke up I wondered if it would make any sense. Maybe I should 'sleep-write' more often!

@PJ Just the fact that you even considered the possibility of it being based on a true story tells me that I did a good job. This is more intense than most of my work. Must have been the dark, quiet of the night I wrote it.

Thanks for reading and commenting, Jai, Eric and PJ.

Bukowski's Basement said...

Sorry I'm late to this...

Gut-wrenching. Tell me this isn't based on something that happened for real...

Susan Cross said...

Oh, Ant. Calm down. I tried telling the story in 3rd person at first but it didn't have the impact. I seem to like writing in first person. Maybe memoir is what I should be doing. Or even novel in 1st person, written as memoir.

Susan Cross said...

From your comments it sounds like I did a good job. Maybe I'll try to write a sequel one night if I can stay up late enough to get back in that mood.

Harry said...

A horrifying ordeal well captured Susan. The tension extends to the reader, I was right there.

mazzz in Leeds said...

Yowch. This was more terrifying than a lot of horror movies I've seen! Probably because you think it *could* happen to you.

The last paragraph, the scene wit the doctor seeing her pain in her eyes, was excellent

Susan Cross said...

Thanks, Maria. From the comments I would say this was a success. I never thought I'd be able to pull something like this off. I need to step outside of my comfort zone more and experiment.