"Could you fix it please? It’s sort of bugging me." The tape’s too tight, and it feels like a Band-Aid pulling at my skin. She loosens it, and asks, "Is that better?" "Much better, thank you."
Somebody takes me out of the recovery room. We stop in a hall to get on an elevator. If anybody’s looking at me, I must be a pathetic sight.
My parents are in the I.C.U.when I get there. It’s a little after one when Dr.G. walks in "How are you?" he asks softly.
The anesthetic’s starting to wear off, and I’m uncomfortable. But not bad yet. "I’m sore, but I’m okay." I tell him. "How long was I out, anyway?" I ask.
"Five hours" he says. Right now I need to keep track of time.
He gently strokes the soles of my feet, and my toes move. "Can you feel that?" he asks.
"Okay, good"’ Everything’s normal, so he says,’I’ll be back to check on you later."
Mom and Dad stay about an hour. When they leave,I sleep as long as I can. The next several hours aren’t clear in my mind. I hang about half way between asleep and awake.
Between five and six o’clock, Dr. G. comes back one more time. "How are you feeling?" he asks.
"I’d like the number of the truck that hit me." I’ve never actually heard anybody say this. I’m trying as hard as can to be cheerful. I don’t want him to know that I’m seriously hurting, even if he really should know. For now, I change the subject.
"This might sound strange, but already it seems like it’s easier to breathe. It seems less labored." A gentle smile crosses his face, and he softly says, "Well, that’s why we did it." He knows as much as I’m going through, I’m already getting a major benefit.
It seems impossible, but shortly after he leaves, the pain gets even worse. I’m lying here listening to the evening news, about to go unconscious. I’ve never been in so much pain I can’t even scream.
In the morning, I’m really scared. "Well, God," I say out loud, "I made it through the first night. If it is Your will, please help me get through this. If You have to take me, please take me quickly, and if anything bad happens, please help my family to adjust. But if it is Your will, please help me get through this, because I’ve got so many more things I want to do with my life, and I’m much too young to die!" This becomes a morning routine for the next couple of days, until I’m not so frightened.
By the time I finish praying, I ‘ve got tears in my eyes, because I’m so afraid that I might die of shock if the pain becomes too severe. When I’ve been crying for five to ten minutes, I give myself a pep talk, sometimes out loud, and sometimes mentally. That will be just about enough of that! You can’t let yourself think like that. Come on, pull yourself together! It feels like I ‘m hearing Mom’s voice inside my head.
As scared as I am, I make every effort not to let the nurses see me cry. Maybe this is a mistake. If somebody understands just how terrified I am, maybe they can help me feel better. But hiding my feelings is an old habit I can’t break.
One of the worst things I have to tolerate over the next few days is being log rolled periodically. This requires the attention of four nurses at one time. Two nurses stand on either side of the bed, and roll me over by very gently pulling on the draw sheet laying under me for this purpose. Though they do this with the greatest care, it absolutely can’t be done without creating a wave of excruciating pain, which doesn’t let up for twenty minutes.
The first time I’m aware of being log rolled, I learn to dread hearing Debbie say, "It’s time to turn you."
"No, please, leave me alone, don’t touch me!" Normally, I don’t react like this, but until now, I’ve never experienced a pain so severe that I think it could tear my body apart.
Debbie has short blond hair, and blue eyes. She’s so sympathetic that I often see tears in her eyes. "Sweetheart, we have to turn you, we don’t want you getting bed sores." I don’t want that either. But why do I have to be turned every time I get half comfortable?
Just as bad is having to cough or sneeze, which also causes atrocious pain. The idea of being asked to cough voluntarily is unthinkable. But this is necessary to keep my lungs clear.
In a most urgent tone, Debbie says, "Cough! You’re going to lie there and get pneumonia!" This is one of the last things I need. But if I can’t keep it from happening anyway, I’d rather not be forced to cough. When I need to cough, I think my body’s about to split right down the middle. So I don’t cough if I can help it.
When Debbie nags me,I say "You’ve got to be kidding,I can’t cough,it hurts!"
Today’s Tuesday, I find out the reason for the temporary tube in my nose. It’s to keep me from ingesting anything for about forty eight hours, to try to avoid having me go into shock.
The I.C.U. nurses are terrific. But they usually end up taking my coughing jar to clean it just when I need it. So, I wind up swallowing mucous most of the time, because I can’t wait long enough for somebody to bring it back. This is a nasty little secret maybe not even Mom knows.
They give me a hand held device for doing breathing exercises. The deeper I breathe in, the higher up the tube the marble goes. It stays up until I breathe out again. I don’t ask for the thing by name. It’s got a big long name that’s impossible to say. I just point, and say to Mom, ‘Give me that thing, please.’
This afternoon I start playing a game with some of the nurses. I carefully study their faces, and make an educated guess about how old they might be. Normally, I couldn’t care less about things like this. But I very definitely need to think about something besides what’s happening in I.C.U. Most often I come within a year or two of their actual ages. Some of them react like I’m performing a magic trick. "You’ve got to let her guess your age, she’s amazing!" They say to each other.
Tonight my mouth is so dry, it hurts. A dark haired, blue eyed nurse named Kathy gives me relief. She says, " I really shouldn’t do this, but I’ll give you some ice chips." She also lets me sip a little ginger ale. "It probably won’t hurt anything, because it’ll just come back up the tube anyway.’ she says. Maybe she shouldn’t, but I don’t know when I’ve ever been so glad to have a drink. I’m as comfortable as possible watching Hill Street Blues.
Why do nurses’ sneakers always squeak like like they’ve been walking in the rain? Especially at one in the morning when the pain finally subsides so you could possibly sleep?
Because noises are keeping me awake, I’m lying here watching blood drip from a bag into my arm. Blood doesn’t bother me. Even a blood test isn’t that bad. The only thing is they’ve been checking my blood a lot. It’s eerie though, seeing a bag full of blood, hanging from the I.V. pole, being pumped into me. I’ve never seen so much blood at once before.
Dr. G. decides I can get rid of the tube a few hours ahead of schedule. Having it removed early Wednesday morning is a huge relief. It’s only scary for five seconds. Now I can talk and swallow with no problem. But Mom has to remind me to relax my upper lip a long time after the tube’s gone. I have a habit of pulling it tight against my teeth. I forget the tube isn’t there.
A little while after I get the tube out, a man comes in to take blood. He says it’s part of a blood culture. That’s something I haven’t heard of before. When he says somebody will come take blood again in a half hour, I ask, ‘Wait a minute, is somebody going to take blood every half hour, or do you mean somebody’s coming back one more time in half an hour?’
"Just one more time." he says.
Whew, that’s okay!
About ten o’clock, a nurse named Claudia helps me write a note to my class. I say I’m fine, that I miss everybody, and tell them a little bit about the girls I met upstairs a couple of days ago. I finish by saying I’ll write again soon, and I hope I’ll be back before long.
This is the only time the morphine gives me adequate pain relief without fogging my brain. So I don’t get a chance to write another note. When we’re ready to send it, I move a little, and the monitor beeps.It always beeps when I get rolled, so by now it’s an ongoing joke. "Hey Claud, that stupid thing thinks I’m dead. Thank God it’s wrong!"
Before noon, when the morphine wears off, I’m near shock again. In my head, I’m saying, Help me! But I’m too weak for anybody to hear me. The nurses aren’t sure how much medicine I need. So they call Dr. G. downstairs. He hustles around my bed, as fast as I’ve ever seen anybody move. He gives me hand a quick squeeze, and says, "Stay with us, Sweetheart." It’s a good thing nobody else is having a major emergency, because I can’t hang on five more minutes. When it’s over, I promise myself I won’t let this happen anymore.
Mom’s afraid I won’t want to see her, because she usually has to coax me into taking a morphine shot. She doesn’t want to nag me too much about taking the shots, because she doesn’t want to be the villain. What she doesn’t realize is I almost need her here before I can even stand the thought of a shot. They’re at least ten times worse than Penicillin . She says even though I don’t make a sound,my face turns beet red.
The other reason I hate the shots is because I’m not aware of what’s happening once the pain. It’s like I’m under anesthesia. But all Mom has to say is "Come on Sweetheart, why don’t you take a shot? You know you’ll be more comfortable." Without it, I know I’ll die. So I take it.
At three o’clock, several of the nurses gather around my bed for a short visit. Debbie starts feeding me ice cream and Jell-O. "We hope you don’t mind watching General Hospital." she says.
Normally, I ‘d object, because I’m not a big fan of soap operas. But I’m paying no attention to the television.
"You just keep this ice cream and Jell-O coming, and you can watch whatever you want!"I tell her. After about forty eight hours with nothing in my stomach, I’m attacking it like I won’t ever to be allowed to eat again. When I get queasy,they persuade me to slow down.
When Dr. G. comes in to see me in the evening, I ask, "So, how long do you think it might be before I can get out of here?"
He doesn’t show it, but I think my question surprises him. "Between two and three weeks. Three weeks at the outside." This sure sounds better than a month to six weeks. That’s what he predicted before surgery.
Later, during visiting hours I hear bits and pieces of a conversation between my parents and Kathy. She says, "She almost passed out a couple of times... "
"We’re giving her something to coat her stomach, because she has a little irritation... Finally,"We started giving her the pain medication by I.V. She’ll have a break from shots until she goes upstairs." After talking to her, they settle down to visit with me.
Tonight, I ask Mom, "So, how is everybody?"
"Jeanne sits under your desk and cries because she thinks you’re never coming home."
I don’t need to hear this now.
It makes me feel guilty. The last thing I’d want to do is frighten my sweet little sister to death. But poor Jeanne absorbed all my fears.
I don’t tell Mom she shouldn’t tell me this. I ask, "Aw, really?" Then, I say in the strongest possible voice, "You tell her I said stop it! They’re taking good care of me here, and I should be home in two or three weeks."
Mom asks, "Is that what you’re thinking, or is that what the doctor said?"
‘That’s what the doctor said, I asked him this evening. Daddy, I’m so glad to be done with the irritating tube. They put your zipper in the front and I’ve got mine in the back." Daddy’s been a patient here for a long time too, since he had heart surgery a few years ago. Somehow, this whole experience is a little easier because he understands.
Thursday morning, I’m feeling sorry for myself. But I switch quickly into pep talk mode. You’re through the worst of it. I tell myself. Certainly whatever you’ve got to go through yet, it can’t be half as bad as what you’ve already been through. And whatever happens from here, you’re not going to die.
This afternoon, Fannie, a very nice black nurse who’s older than the others, decides to participate in my guessing game. After we’ve been engaged in casual conversation for a few minutes, she asks, "How old do you think I am?"
Because she’s not a white lady, it takes a few minutes before I even start to think about it. It’s harder to see the things that would give me a clue with most white people. Several minutes pass, and I can’t make even an educated guess. She’s been sharing personal details, like how old she was been when her adult son was born. I’m not thinking she’ll realize what I ‘m up to, I casually ask, "How old is your son?" She gives me a look that says, ‘You’re a rascal’, and says to me, "That’d be telling!"
Since I can’t cheat, I finally decide to make my best guess. Some women are sensitive about this, espcially when they get older. So I ask, "You don’t mind if I guess? You won’t be offended?"
"No. Go ahead, take a guess."
"Forty nine. Maybe fifty." I say finally. There’s something in her expression that tells me I’m very close.
"I’m fifty five," she says quietly. It surprises me to come even that close. But I don’t need this game anymore, so I stop it.
About four o’clock this afternoon, somebody brings in an overhead x-ray machine, and I have a couple of chest x-rays taken. The doctor must be concerned about making sure my lungs are clear, because it looks like I haven’t coughed much. Of course, nobody knows how much phlegm I’ve been swallowing, or they might have concerns about my digestion.
By Friday morning, I’m not thinking anymore about dying. But I’m depressed. Before now, I ‘ve had no reason to ask,Why me? This morning, I find myself saying out loud, "God, why did You let me be born into a situation where I had to go through this?"
I’m embarrassed to have this thought even cross my mind. I feel guilty for even thinking it, let alone saying it.
Not much happens until evening. Some time between six and eight o’clock, several of the nurses accompany me upstairs to radiology to have my back x-rayed. Apparently this can’t be done with the overhead machine.
When we get upstairs, one of the nurses says, "Sweetheart, we have to slide this plate underneath you. We’re going to lift you on three. Ready? One- Two -Three." So I’ll be prepared, I count along with them. When we reach three, and they lift me enough to slide the plate under my back, I want to bawl. It seems almost as bad as being log rolled. "Oh God, that hurts!" I yell.
The nurses might be a little surprised by this, because it’s unusual for me to say anything. Five minutes later, when they’re ready to remove it, I get tense. It feels like I’m about to roll off the bed. A nurse says, "It’s okay, Sweetie, we’ve got you."
They take me back down to the ICU for a few hours, until the doctor has a chance to take a good look at the x-rays.
WhiIe I’m down here, I get the first solid food I’ve had all week. They give me a turkey dinner. It’s not like Mom makes it. But I’m enjoying it so much, it could almost be Thanksgiving or Chrismas, instead of early January.
Around eleven thirty, they move me upstairs to a semi-private room, across the hall from where I first came in.
Half an hour later, I’ve got a big problem. It’s too late for pain medication, but too early to get anything to help me sleep. So I’m in a lot of pain, and there’s no way I can think of to get relief.
Turning to my roommate, Tracy, I say, "I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’m really hurting."
She looks over at me, and says, "I think I can help you. I’m going to show you something called biofeedback." This is the first time I’ve ever heard the word, but I’m desperate.
"Okay, what do I do?"
"Put your arms down at your sides, take some deep breaths, and think good thoughts." When she describes the technique, I’m doubtful. "I don’t know if this is going to work." "Trust me it’ll work. Put your arms down. Okay good, now concentrate on breathing, and think about something good."
"Like what?" I ask.
"Anything you want." When she describes the technique in more detail, I understand that I’m supposed to visualize something. It takes a few minutes to get a picture in my mind, but I imagine myself floating high in the clouds in a hot air balloon. I’m going higher and higher,until I’m not in pain at all, and I fall asleep.
A little before eight o’clock in the morning, Tracy sees that I’m awake. "How are you feeling?"she asks.
"Good." I tell her. "Thanks for showing me the biofeedback. It really worked. That’s the the first decent night’s sleep I’ve had in a week." In fact, it was a more than decent night. From the time I fell asleep around twelve thirty, I didn’t move even once until just now.
Dr. G. comes in about half an hour later. He’s her doctor too. When they’re finished talking, he asks her, "How’s she doing?"
Maybe he thinks I’m either too sleepy,or in too much pain to talk to him. He normally talks to me directly.
"She’s fine. I showed her how to do biofeedback, and she says it’ s the first good night’s sleep she’s had in a week."
"Good." he says quietly, and leaves for a while.
By the time he comes back, around four o’clock, I’ve got the worst headache I’ve ever had in my life. Mom puts a warm wet washcloth on my forehead to soothe it. But it’s no help. My head is exploding. All the pain that was in my back yesterday is up there now.
Dr. G. knows it’s not a good time to talk talk to me. He turns to her and asks, "How’s she doing?"
"She’s been complaining of a splitting headache." Mom answers. She gives him a worried look. "What’s going on? She never gets headaches."
"It’s alright, it’s just from coming off the morphine." he says gently. "It’ll subside in a few days."
This is good news, because I don’t think I could stand it for more than a few days. Every time I see Mom in the next couple of days, I say, "My head hurts!" She must be tired of hearing it.
She always asks, "Is your headache any better?" I wish I could say ‘Yes,’ but I don’t think so.
Besides the killer headaches, I have nausea that doesn’t stop until I throw up. It’s Saturday evening, before I stop to think that it’s been going on since Wednesday.
What’s new since last Wedneday? I’ve been drinking stuff for my stomach. I don’t feel sick before I take it. When I’m done throwing up, I’m okay. Bet that’s it!
So I say to a nurse, "You guys have been giving me something to coat my stomach, and I think it’s making me sick. I’m wondering if you could take me off the stuff."
"We can’t do anything until you talk to the doctor." she says.
"Well, could you please let him know that I need to talk to him as soon as possible. I can’t take it anymore."
After being sick for three and a half hours this morning, there’s nothing more important than making it stop.
Sunday morning I’m praying, "God please, if I can’t avoid being sick, just let me be sick and be done with it." A few minutes later, I quit fighting it. The thought of being sick is miserable. But dealing with hours of extreme nausea is even worse.
When he comes to see me, it’s already too late to help me avoid the whole sick scene one more time. I’ve just been through it for about three hours. But I know he’ll do something about it.
"Doc, am I glad to see you! I’m really having a problem. I think you’re probably aware that they’ve been giving me Mylanta or something to coat my stomach. But I suspect it’s making me sick. I can eat normally in the morning, without any discomfort. But then they have me take this stuff right after breakfast, and anywhere from five minutes up to about half an hour after I take it, I start to feel extremely nauseated." I tell him
If I’m lucky, it only lasts half an hour. But the last couple of days, my luck’s been bad.
Dr. G.must agree with me when I’m done telling him everything. He doesn’t tell me,but I know there’s an immediate change in my chart, because they stop giving me the stuff.
He calls to me from the hall in the morning. "How are you this morning?"
"I’m fine!" I say cheerfully. "They didn’t give me anymore stuff, and I’ve had no more problems."
"Good," he says pleasantly, and keeps on marching.
A nurse asks me, "When’s the last time you had a bowel movement?"
"Before I came in here last week." She’s thinking this is a big problem. So she gives me some Milk of Magnesia. If I was eating as much as I normally do, I’d probably need it. But I’m not uncomfortable.
This is one of the nicer nurses on the floor. But she gets frustrated when I have an accident. I just say,"I can’t help it.
Today, I get a lot of notes from school. The best is a note from Mrs. Kennealy, the aide in the classroom next door. She writes, "Tim S. finally says ‘Hi.’’‘
"That’s great,Mom." I say when I read it. "Tim’s a new kid who came to our school from Arizona in October. He has Muscular Dystrophy. He doesn’t talk because his tongue’s swollen. I’ve been as friendly as I can, without making him feel funny. I’ve been hoping I could encourage him to say something. But up till now he didn’t."
I get hand made cards from my sister Mary, and some of the kids in our old neighborhood.
There’s also a note from Glenn, with a humongous checklist which includes every possible item I might need or want to be more comfortable in the hospital. Besides toiletries, he lists every single comic book he owns- both Wonder Woman and Archie Comics (with the catalog number,) Aunt Erma’s Cope Book, and The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.
The list makes me laugh, "Mom, he must not expect me home for six months! Will you please tell him I’m fine. I really don’t need anything. Except please bring some shampoo in here, so somebody can wash my hair ." It’s been more than a week, and I feel dirty.
"-And Mom, please bring George."
George is my stuffed toy dog I’ve had since I was six. I thought I was too old to need him anymore, but I do. He’s a little more than a foot long, and more orange than a Twinkie. The men of Al Sarat’s Grotto gave him to me. They’re a club like the Elks.
"Don’t you want the Snoopy Aunt Nancy gave you?"she asks.
"No. Just please bring George." I can’t trade him for a new toy now.
Tuesday sometime, the nurses persuade Michelle to come across the hall to see me. Luckily, my headache’s gone, or I’d have to ask her to come back some other time.
We don’t say more than "Hi, how are you?" There’s nothing else to say, because we barely know each other. But seeing her cheers me up anyway.
When Mom and Dad come back at night, I start exercising my hand. It’s stiff and sore from the IV needle. But I think maybe it’ll start to feel better if I try to move it.
After a while, I ask Mom to talk to a nurse about something else. The catheter I’ve had inside me since surgery has been in too long. There’s almost no air in the little balloon to hold it in anymore. So it’s just barely hanging there .
"Mom, this thing is driving me nuts! Can you please ask somebody if they can get rid of it!"
When she returns from the nurses’ station she says, "They said it’s due to come out tomorrow, but if it came out they wouldn’t put it back." Then she says firmly, "We’re just going to give it a little help!"
"Mom, I don’t know if you ought to do that."
"Relax, Honey, I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to give it a little yank."
She gives it a slight tug and it comes out. It feels much better to have it out. But I wish a nurse got permisson to remove it. I hate being sneaky.
Before they leave, I say to Mom, "I’m dreading tomorrow." Dr. G. decides I’m ready for the the hamstring release, so in the morning I’ll have the second surgery.
" I’m scared." I say.
"There’s nothing to worry about, Honey. It’s not going to be anything like the last time. It won’t be half as bad."she says.
The logical part of my brain knows this. But I’m was having trouble convincing the emotional part of my brain that I can take anymore. The idea of having surgery again so soon is overwhelming.
" I know that, but I’ve been through so much already, that I’m not looking forward to it."
"That’s understandable, but you’ll be alright. Get some sleep, and try not to worry. I love you."Mom says.
It’s quarter after seven in the morning when I decide to call home. I don’t want to have to go to surgery by myself.
I’m little worried, until Glenn says, "It’s not Mom, Julie!" He won’t be twelve until summer. But nobody knows for sure whether it’s Mom or Glenn on the phone until they’re in the middle of a conversation.
"Oh, I’m sorry Honey, I know that’s embarrassing. It’s easy to get a little mixed up over the phone. But I’m glad it’s not Mom. If they hadn’t left yet, I’d be getting worried. I just called to make sure they’re on their way, because last time I had to go to surgery before they got here."
‘They left just a few minutes late but they’re on their way. Don’t worry, they’ll get there."
"Glenn, I know it won’t be so bad this time. But I wish it was over."
His voice isn’t the only thing that sounds like Mom. "You’ll be okay, Honey, don’t worry. I love you."
"I love you too. I miss you. I don’t want to stay on the phone too long, so I’m going to hang up now. Goodbye." I tell him.
When I hang up, I feel down, because I start to think about how much I miss everybody. But this procedure isn’t so severe. There’s no reason to be worried that I might not wake up.
Ten minutes after Glenn and I hang up, Mom and Dad walk in. There are no annoying tests to tolerate this time around. Nothing except
the usual shot in the top of my leg,that feels like a bee sting. A few minutes after I get down to surgery, I’m anesthetized. The only thing I’m aware of is the rubbery smelling mask going over my face, until I wake up in the recovery room, three hours later.
Dr. G. starts this operation by cutting the hamstring tendons part way through. With some kids, this would be enough to let their legs stretch. But my tendons have been pulling so hard for so long, that the bone above my knee is bent. It won’t let my legs stretch out all the way.
So he puts a hairline break in each leg, above the knee, and removes the bent pieces. He puts a metal plate under the skin on the outside of my leg, and screws it into the bone to hold it together.
When I’m awake enough to know what’s going on, I realize that my friend Mrs. Wheck is in the room with me. In nursery school, she was my physical therapist. A couple of years ago, I saw her once in a while, when I was in a drug trial. She must’ve beome a nurse since then.
"Mrs. Wheck? What are you doing here?" If she hears my question, I’m not sure.
She only says, "You can call me by my first name, if you want to Honey." Mom’s friends have said the same thing lots of times. But somehow it seems more okay when she says it. Her name’s Mary, like my nine year old sister.
"Now I know why they don’t want you to have anything in your stomach before surgery. I’m so nauseated, if I had anything in my stomach, I’d probably puke across the room." Besides this, I start hurting a lot.
"Oh Mary, my legs. They’re so sore! I’ve heard that a broken leg feels like a toothache. All I can say is, it would have to be a whale of a toothache!" If Dr. G. didn’t explain things months ago, right now I’d wonder what he did.
"Would you like me to give you something for the pain, Honey?"
"No thanks, I’ll wait a while and see if it subsides."
It wouldn’t hurt like the nasty morphine shots anyway. But I think she’d probably have to jab me in the butt. Right now, I can’t take that. I’m so sore, I wish I could say, ‘Yes, please.’ I just can’t make myself say it.
Ten minutes later, she asks again, "Are you sure I can’t give you anything for pain?" "No, I’ll be alright."
She doesn’t push the issue like I’d expect. It would be more like her to do what I need, even if I hate it. Maybe she’s reluctant to be too firm with me because I’m going through so much.
"If you won’t let me give you anything for pain, will you at least let me give you something to control the nausea?"
She must see that I need this more than pain medication. In two minutes, when she says, "Come on, Hon, how about it?" I finally give up.
"Oh alright, where are you going to put it?"
"I’m just going to give you a little shot in the arm, it won’t be that bad."
"That wasn’t so bad, was it?"she asks.
"No, I guess not."In a few minutes, the nausea goes away, and I feel a whole lot better.
More than anything, I want to ask her, ‘Can I have a hug?’ or ‘Will you hold my hand?’ She probably would, if I asked. Somehow, it’s not easy to just ask, because I’m a big girl now. I wish I could ask. But just her being here helps more than she knows.
Before I leave the recovery room, I ask,"Will you sign my cast?"
"As soon as the plaster hardens, Hon."she says. She never gets a chance. I’m getting sleepy again. Still, I’m wondering how she’ll react when somebody rolls me out of here. I’ve never seen her cry, and I wouldn’t want to.
The nurses don’t bother me. Somebody probably medicates me without me even knowing it. It’s at least three o’clock before I wake up completely. Now I have casts from my thighs to my toes. The only thing a nurse does that I know about is draw small circles on the casts. This shows where there is seepage through the casts. Don’t ask me how they can put ice packs on my legs.
On Thursday somebody finally washes my hair. It’s been close to two weeks. Mom washed it the night before I got admitted. There’s been too much going on for anybody to care about my hygiene. Nobody wants to do things that aren’t absolutely necessary. By now this is necessary. I can’t believe an ordinary thing like a shampoo feels so good.
Saturday morning, I’m exercising my arm too hard. The I.V. needle suddenly slips out, and the fluid starts dripping on the bed. I’m too scared to pull my cord, so I scream, "Aah!"
In half an hour, the I.V. nurse comes in. Until now, I ‘ve always been under anesthetic when somebody inserted an I.V. She doesn’t tell me that it’ll make me want to scream bloody murder. Somehow, I clench teeth, and don’t make a sound.
A few days later, I have another I.V. problem. When one of the nurses walks in, I ask innocently,"Can you tell me what’s in the I.V.?"
She says rudely, "It’s Potassium child. Why do you want to know?" Should I wait till my arm falls off before I ask? Her sassy tone makes me feel like I don’t have the right to ask, because I’m just a kid.
I hide my anger, and say, "Well, because I’m getting a stinging sensation going from my wrist to my elbow, and I want to know why my arm is going numb."
In twenty minutes, the nurse with the very wicked needle returns to change the I.V.
When she comes in, I say, "Oh no, not again!" I say it without even thinking. Somehow, I brace myself, and take it one more time.It would be a whole lot easier if ‘ouch!’didn’t feel like a dirty word. This time she puts the needle in my left hand. Thank God, the next time I see the I.V. nurse, she takes it out.
In a little while, Mrs.Mac Arthur, who still lives in our old neighborhood, comes in. Since she’s here doing office work, she comes by to visit, and helps me get some lunch. She’s been coming for about a week, because whoever’s supposed to be helping me isn’t doing it. When I say I don’t feel like eating, somebody just leaves it at the foot of the bed. I couldn’t reach it even if I wanted it. Nobody even asks why I don’t want to eat. Dr G.’s already put it on my chart twice that I need help with eating. He’s only letting the nurses raise the bed gradually. But one ignorant nurse still insists I should feed myself, because that’s what I’d normally do. The thoughtless woman doesn’t care that right now it’s next to impossible.
Mrs. Mac Arthur says, "How are you doing, Sweetheart?"
"I’m fine, but the IV nurse had to come back again a while ago."
She’s quiet for a minute, then looks at me sympathetically and says, "Hurts like H-E- double toothpicks, doesn’t it?"
"You better believe it!" I say.
But why can’t she use the word hell? When I’ve been going through H-E-L-L for the past couple of weeks, I should be old enough to hear it.
She starts to help me with lunch, and I say, "I really don’t feel like eating."
"Come on, Sweetheart, none of that, you have to eat a little something." she says.
Somehow, with Mrs. Mac Arthur here, I can usually manage to eat about half of what’s on my tray. This isn’t exactly easy, because it feels like my stomach shrunk three sizes. Besides the fact I can’t eat much right now,I’m lonely and depressed. And I hurt all over at once.
It feels like nobody on the seventh floor cares except Dr.G. He's the only person I know would ask what's going on that makes me not want to eat. Nobody asked me if I'd be okay before they put me through all this. Nobody tells me that I could have somebody to talk to when I need to. So I feel like just giving up.
On Monday, when my best friend David calls me from school, I’m amazed. I’ve known him since kindergarten. Twice a week for the last four years, I’ve called his house after school. It’s long distance from our new house, so I can’t call too often anymore. Until now, he’s never called me. He might be feeling like he’s not a good friend if he can’t show it when I need him the most.
"David! I don’t believe it! How are you?" We talk for about ten minutes, and I’m just beginning to get caught up on the events of the last two weeks, when an orderly walks in.
Reluctantly I say, "Dave, I have to go, they’re taking me to have my cast put on. I’ll call you at home later if I’m not too tired."
We go down in the elevator to the operating room. In the hall, a nurse changes the dressing which covers my incision. "This is not as bad as I thought it would be." I tell her.
"Good." she says gently.
Even though I hate needles, I’m glad somebody gave me something before they brought me down here. Nothing hurts too much. If I didn’t get medicated, I’d be really sore.
When my bandage is changed, I go into the room where the doctor is waiting. He slips a stretchy sleeve over my head, and starts to soak the plaster.
"I don’t remember having the casts put on my legs." I say to him.
"No, you wouldn’t, you were out." he says softly. When he wraps the plaster around my torso, it’s not long before it’s really tight. "Now I know what a girdle feels like!"I joke. He must find this really funny, because he almost laughs out loud.
When he’s almost finished, he cuts a hole around my bellybutton. This seems strange, so I ask, "What are you doing?"
"I’m just leaving you a small hole for ventilation. I can cover it up if you like."
"No, that’s okay, I just wanted to understand what you were doing."
Shortly after I come back upstairs,our family friends Auntie Mac and Auntie Ann stop in to see me. It’s too noisy for visiting. Whoever invented the cast dryer must’ve crossed a canister vacuum cleaner with a fire breathing dragon, because it’s also broiling hot.
Mom’s friend, Mrs. Samsa comes to see me too. She brings me a cupcake. Her youngest son Jason just celebrated his fourth birthday. Jason’s been my little swimming buddy until now. I could only go to the neighborhood pool during preschool hour.
She barely starts to pull the paper off the cupcake, when the head nurse, who’s a hundred times worse than the Wicked Witch in Oz, comes in yelling about why can’t I do it myself.
I wish I could call David back. He's the only old friend who even knows what's happening to me right now. In some ways he can be the most thoughtful understanding person. But some things he doesn't get. Maybe he's afraid to talk to friends about serious things that matter to them. He's used to friends responding to his needs. He's not used to having a friend need him. If he he was, he'd realize how I feel. This time he'll have to understand. I just can't call him back. It's been an exhausting day.
The best visit all day is in the evening, when Mom and Dad bring the whole family to see me. Because Glenn
’s older, they’ve brought him at least once before, but I haven’t seen Mary or Jeanne in the past two weeks. Mary helps me with a milk carton. If Witch Nurse stormed in yelling at my nine year old sister, I’d have to get out of bed and hurt her. For once I don’t care that they had to bend the rules.
When everybody leaves, I'm still so happy, I start singing. "When you have visitors, you
’re happy as a clam."