By Alison Smolinski
My hands grasp the edges of the bed in anticipation as the petite Asian woman in a white coat removes the sticky, bloody, dressing with care, slowly extracting the first of seemingly endless staples from my stomach. Her eyes ask for recognition I’m not in pain. I can’t give it. Mom’s trying to hide her tears, covering her sobbing with muffled sniffles and coughs. Her only child’s swollen, motionless body endlessly prodded, analyzed, and disinfected in a now familiar sequence to which we’ve grown accustom but today we get to, for the first time in weeks, remove something that’s been holding me together.
“It’s the beginning of a long journey, one you can make” the familiar voice in the distance attempts to reaffirm my faith or maybe it’s just the morphine kicking in – the button is so easy to press and I like to watch the medicine swirl down the line into the vein in my left arm.
My feet are next: only 60 days until the temporary metal holding the bones and tendons in place will go. If that goes well, the Godforsaken ileostomy can be reversed. How I long to eat normal food and take a shit. More stitches, drugs, confinement, pain, all leading to the freedom which eludes now. A memory of life before and the desire for more take over, but hitting the button for more meds helps the pity disappear, if only temporarily. That disgusting emotion will certainly return.
Reconstruction of my body is a game of Operation. Instead of removing the bread basket or Charley Horse with a loud buzzing and blinking red-nose with slight hand movements, the cautious medical student gently peels away layers of flesh to reveal my insides, the horrible smell of antiseptics, necessary before fresh dressings, fill the stark room on the fifth floor of Milton S. Hershey Medical Center – located in the Sweetest Place on EarthⓇ.
I’m alive. I’ll get better. The orthopedic surgeon says I’m lucky. In time, I’ll walk again. The colorectal surgeon says I’m lucky. The ileostomy is temporary and can be reversed. In time, I’ll be able to get out of this bed, remove the neck brace, and ditch the ileostomy bag.
Why don’t I feel lucky? I’m a freaking medical experiment. “Here, learn how to remove gigantic staples from the live human being, she’s doped up anyway, she won’t mind.”
Gazing out the window, past Mom as if she’s transparent – the morphine induced voice returns with an encouraging melody sounding oddly like Smoky Robinson, bringing a sly smile to my face. It reminds me of summers on the hammock in granddaddy Smith’s backyard drinking fresh-squeezed lemonade – wow, this stuff is strong.
Why am I stuck in this freaking hospital bed? Did that idiot teenager realize she’d lose her life going into the start of summer? I hope speeding like a moron was worth it. Wherever the hell she was in such a hurry to go, it must have been pretty important to pass a tractor trailer going up a hill and hitting someone head on in their lane. I hate her but I hope I don’t always. No, I’ll hate her always.
We’d just started trying. I guess I was lucky I wasn’t already pregnant. All I want is to start a family. Can I even have kids? I can’t ask anymore, every time I do it’s like Chris is getting the call on his cell phone all over again. I can’t remember, did I ever get an answer to my baby question? I think I asked the orderly last night when he was emptying the pink plastic trashcans.
Can you hurry up and get these damn staples out of me so I can hide my face in my hands and cry already?
I maxed out my drip; it won’t swirl down the line anymore. I have to wait. Time moves slowly in this bleak prison with the hum of machines and the buzz of overworked nurses’ shoes squeaking down the hallway. I want to smoke a joint. Enough of this morphine crap. I want to feel the thick air in my mouth. I want to laugh and watch an episode of Parks and Rec and forget for just a second that I’m imprisoned.
Mom, I’m sorry you have to watch this, look away, go walk the dim hallways, get a bite of crappy cafeteria food – just stop making me feel bad for having you witness this mess. I couldn’t swerve fast enough.
I know in my heart there is a reason for everything. Granted, a pretty ridiculous road to get there but now that I’m holding you in my arms, I’d take that direct hit all over again. Feeling this new life move for the first time is better than my initial shaky steps after being wheel-chair bound for months. It’s better than almond cake on Christmas, a hand-trimmed porterhouse at Ruth’s, Chris, and a dirty vodka martini all rolled into one. A mere eighteen months after the head-on collision I’m back in the hospital, but only for a short visit this time, to welcome the baby of my dreams into this world. I can’t wait to welcome you into this cracked place.
Alison Smolinski is a communications graduate student with research interests related to disability, race and gender studies. She is originally from the Washington, D.C. area but now resides in Lancaster County with her husband and daughter. Her essay “Rebirth” won the Best Feminist Writing prize for the 2014-2015 issue.