Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Love In The Time of Major Surgery



It is one year to the day that Husb. went to the hospital to have a tumor called an amelblastoma removed from his face, and the diseased jaw bone replaced with bone from his leg, his fibula.

The surgery involved two teams of doctors (Team Face, Team Leg),  a bike-chain-looking graft, and the good-looking tall humorless Canadian Dr. Lubek wearing microscopic glasses to reattach Husb.'s neck arteries with the extreme precision that only tall good-looking humorless people have, while I waited in the University of Maryland Hospital's "Healing Garden."

The "Healing Garden" is the place where the family waits. It looks like an airport, but with more plants. Ficuses in big pots. And banana plants with their enormous enfolding tropical leaves. I was there for ten-plus hours.

Other families got their news and drifted out on little clouds of hope. They carried ubiquitous balloons. Teddy bears, if the patients were kids.

Around 6 pm it was just me left, with my father, and a woman, with her mother, waiting for news of her husband who had stomach cancer.  We talked softly clutching the itchy hospital pillows. We could rest if we wanted. Neither of us wanted to rest from our waiting. I bought her a hospital-basement mocha. She bought me a muffin.

I watched her cry on the shoulder of the hospital priest. There was no privacy.  I leaned into a banana plant to avoid looking. I inhaled, imagined we were exchanging gases and it comforted me, that banana plant. Her husband's situation was not good.  I wonder what happened to him. I suspect he died.

But I was called out before her and never saw her again. My news was, "Power of attorney: Would you sign the paperwork for a tracheotomy?" I said yes. I said yes to a lot of things. Paperwork. Hope. I hung all my hope like a string of pearls around the porcelain statue of Lubek who was so handsome. The lizard part of my brain said, Go for it.  

Say yes! to slitting open your husband's neck and sticking his leg bone in there. No problemo! 
Lubek told me reassuringly, "Surgery is an organized car crash." "No problemo!" I said, dazed. He was just so very tall.

I nodded in agreement, though I had no understanding. Team Face came out to tell me that "first cut" was at 8 am. "Terrific," I said, and took a sip of mocha. "Now we wait." As if all this was normal magical realism. Blood seeping out of my husband in all directions. Later, the ventilator.

Husb. asked me this morning to remember what it was like. He was unconscious.

I remember the smell of banana leaf, I said.  I realized that was lame.  I have a tendency to go straight to seed. "It was inevitable, the scent of bitter almonds..." wrote Gabriel Garcia-Marquez who died two years ago in April, and everybody knows that is the cruelest month.

Love In The Time of Cholera for a time was my favorite book ever.  It was my gateway to knowledge that "sense" was something literature did not have to make, necessarily. Art imitated life in that way. I was freed from Puritan narrative where there is a reason for our suffering: we deserve it because we're clods.

In magical realism there was something that was even older, and mine, and leafy, and untamable. "It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love." Love.

Love In The Time of Major Surgery smells different than Love In The Time of Cholera. It smells not like flowers: like flesh. It's liver-red and pulpy. My cheeks are streaked, and my hair matted; I've been in it up to my elbows in it. I'm glad for it.

I know what we're all made of: wailing and mirth, bones and sinew under skins that look so different (me and oh, for example --  Lubek); if you cut us we bleed. I've always said that the best boyfriend would be the one who, when you had your period, would make hand prints on the bedroom wall.


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