Thursday, December 31, 2015

Part Three

     The days before the operation blurred into one solid, multicolored mass with one notable exception and we’ll get to that very soon, I promise. The angiogram sticks out during that first week following the heart attacks, mostly because I’d been bracing myself for some serious discomfort and it was rather anticlimactic.
     It wasn’t uncomfortable at all. I could barely feel it because they had me loaded to the eyeballs on something very mellow indeed. With all the drugs I’ve been taking lately, it’s still problematic as to whether I’ll end as a junkie like Rush Limbaugh. But I can see how that fat bastard turned into one. I could easily go that direction. Vicodin is a truly mellow high. Four will toast you nicely; about equivalent to four stiff drinks. Oxycodone is pretty sweet too and takes even less to get the same effect: two at a time did it for me. I suspect I could have calmly attended my own hanging with enough Oxycodone coursing through my bloodstream.
     But, Dilaudid! Ah, that wonderful synthetic heroin analog, so richly praised by William Burroughs as Father Ted in Drugstore Cowboy! So beautifully smooth and easily accepted by the body as not so much a necessity as a part of life, like drinking water or breathing air. One milligram intravenously is what they gave me and that one milligram was like a blessing from above; a warm and fuzzy benediction that reassured me that all was well with the world inside my skin.
     It also gave me some of the worst and most vivid nightmares I’ve ever had. I still have about twenty of the tiny pills. I’m thinking about flushing them down the toilet, but I’m afraid of what it might do to the water table.
     The angiogram: a fat yellow tab of Valium put me in a nice, relaxed mood—but I was still hungry—and they wheeled me into a big room filled with folks in scrubs and masks. They all had cheerfully efficient demeanors. I was left with the impression that, not only were they very good at their jobs, they really enjoyed them, too. They certainly enjoyed me.
     “How we doin’ today, Michelle?” He learned over me: ruddy complexion, blue eyes and the faint impression of a beard behind his blue mask. He wore glasses. I think his first name was Peter. I dunno. By that point, I was pretty stoned.
     “Okay,” I mumbled. “Kinda cold.”
     “You want a warmed blanket?” One of the best ideas ever devised is the warmed thermal blanket hospital aides give you if you’re cold. I nodded and they tucked one around me. I was comfortable in a detached way, as if what was about to happen to me was actually supposed to happen to someone else, but I could watch closely if I wanted.
     I didn’t especially, but it was the only show on at the time, so I played along.
     “Thanks,” I murmured. “Hungry, too.”
     I think he was smiling. Who can say? “You can eat later. This shouldn’t take long.”
      “’Kay,” I murmured again and rolled my head to look at the clock. The last time I’d been this loaded on pharmaceuticals was when I’d had a ganglion cyst removed from my left wrist. (I was a pro musician then and it played hell with my performing and rehearsal schedule) Watching the clock, I’d noticed that I could see, with a little concentration, the actual movement of the minute hand. It was an interesting indication of how slowed and distorted my time tense had become under the influence of legal, mind-altering substances.
     It was kind of cool, back then. Not so much now.
     It was cool in the cath lab too, but I didn’t feel it much, even though my legs were spread wide and the knees elevated a trifle. One of the female nurses bustled up.
     “We have to shave your groin for this, dear. I hope you don’t mind, but we have to do it.” Her hands were motionless on the sheet, about four inches from my crotch. I gave her a sleepy grin.
     “I don’t think you’ll find much, ma’am.” My voice was ever so slightly slurred, as if I’d had a few too many at the tavern. “I kinda like it neat and clean down there.”
     She nodded and again I had the impression she was smiling. “Most people think so,” she declared, “But we usually find that they need a trim. Let me just take a look . . .” With that, she flipped the blanket aside. Her eyes widened and her left eyebrow shot straight up into her hair-cap. “Oh, my,” she muttered. Louder: “Nope, doesn’t need a shave!”
     If I hadn’t been so blitzed, I might have taken offense. Or maybe not, as it was one of those unique situations: I wanted go along with it just because it was an amusing little scenario and I was curious to see how it played out. I didn’t even mind that she’d had a good look at my inconsequential three-piece set. Nobody gets to see that, not even my beloved.
     Why? It’s not me, that’s why.
     I’d left most of my social force-fields down for this and not just because I was fried on a lot of narcotics. That morning, many odd things had happened in my room or perhaps merely in my head:
     I’d awakened and there were eight young women in my room: student nurses. I didn’t know what the hell they were at first; it seemed like an invasion of teenaged girls in scrubs. I blinked at two of them: a tall, rather muscular Afro-American apparently partnered with a petite Asian who was the spittin’ image of a beautiful kathoey from Thailand; the recent winner of the Miss Gay World beauty contest. I blinked again.
     The leader of this pack of nubile femininity was saying something to me, but I was at a loss as to what it was. I understood not a word. It seemed as if she was speaking a language I should have known, but was somehow emotionally incapable of understanding. There was something altogether feminine about the content, but I had no way to shape my mind around the thought she was trying to impart to me.
     I felt that, if I were somehow more female, I would know what it was she said to me and what it meant. As it was, I could only stare helplessly at her.
     They soon filed out, the supervisor leading the way. The tall Afro-American and the Asian were the last to leave. They lingered by the end of my bed as the others were leaving. The Afro-American looked down at me. Dismissal was in her eyes; dismissal and more than a little contempt. She grinned at her friend as she was turning to leave.
     “Looks like a hootchie t’me,” she drawled in a perfect ghetto accent. Her friend seemed to smile back uncertainly. I snorted because it was all I could think of at that moment. The black student nurse turned back to me. Her eyes were cold.
     “Whatchoo say t’me?” she said softly. My heart seemed to stop again. It certainly did a quick skip and a hop. I rolled my head on the pillow away from her.
     ‘Nuthin’,” I mumbled.
     “Thas’ good. Y’better not be sayin’ nuthin’ t’me.” She gave my foot a playful squeeze. Then they left. I went back to sleep, I think. The next time I opened my eyes, Tami was looking down at me.
     “How ya feelin’?” she inquired.
     “Okay. Are you really here?”
     Her look was quizzical. “What?”
      “Nothing.” I spread my arms for an embrace and she gave me a long hug. When we pulled apart, I peered past her and saw Jenn Burleton standing in the doorway. Her broad, motherly face was wreathed in a gentle, Buddha-like smile.
     “Hi,” she said tentatively. “I’m Jenn Burleton, from TransAction . . .”
     “We’ve met.” I motioned to her and she gave me a hug, too. “I was at the benefit you guys had at the Q-Center last year, with Mayor Adams.”
     “Oh, that’s right! We have met, haven’t we?” Gracious as always, she looked a trifle embarrassed for not recognizing me. I think she had good reasons. I was sporting two days growth of beard, my hair was limp and in need of shampoo, hair-pick and lots of product. I wore not a scrap of makeup. I must have looked like something the cat dragged in and then promptly abandoned because it smelled bad.
     “I had a talk with the nurses at the desk,” Jenn began. She had a comforting, gentle tone that told me she’d done this many times before. “I gave them a short course in Trans101 and I think they get it.”
     “Me, too,” Tami interjected. She waved a piece of paper. “I dropped this off with them. Wanna read it?”
     I put out my hand, took it, and tried to focus my eyes. It was one of my community’s identity manifestos, stating that gender and identity were separate, equal things and how identity as defined by self-perceived gender was so important and blah-blah, woof-woof. The usual stuff for the muggles; the straight folks who still think this is all about sex and the three P’s: promiscuity, pedophilia and pissing; lurking in bathrooms so we can listen to (real) women urinate.
     It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course, but we like our sound-bites in this wired world, don’t we?
     “Looks good, Tami.” Actually, it looked a little like Sanskrit at that point, but I could pick out a few words, here and there, so I could guess at the rest of the content. I handed it back to her. “Thanks.” I looked at Jenn. “You too, Jenn. I appreciate it. I know how busy your schedule is.”
     She parked herself on the end of the bed and grinned broadly at me. Her eyes twinkled. When she does that, she looks a bit like Mother Hubbard about to deliver the punch-line to an especially naughty joke. “Not at all. I do have to get back to the office, but I wanted to make sure that there will be no further trouble here. We were told that you had a bit of a problem last night. What happened?”
     Fumbling, I tried to recount the events of the previous evening and succeeded only in sounding incoherent. Jenn and Tami exchanged solemn glances.
     “That’s . . . unfortunate, Michelle. The nurse involved is still at home. I understand it was very traumatic for her. She’s never had a patient threaten her before.”
     “I did not . . .!” I swallowed what I was going to say and started over. “Right. You’re right. I need . . . need to apologize to her. In person, if possible.”
     “Well,” Tami commented, “That’s a start, but I doubt if it’s going to happen.”
     I glanced at the door. “Is that rent-a-cop still out there?”
     They both nodded soberly.
      “Damn. Is he going to stay there?”
      Tami shook her head. “I don’t think so. I think we’ve got them convinced that you’re okay now.” She eyed me with concern. “You are, aren’t you? ‘Cause if you act out like that again, they’ll use restraints. It’s the law.”
     I swallowed again: bitterness, suppressed anger, sadness, terrible regret, and that sinking feeling that comes with losing face when everyone expects you to set a great example just because. As nutritional breakfasts go, it was a bit less tasty than pureed Brussels sprouts.
     “I’m okay,” I muttered, my face hot. “I was having a heart attack, f’cryin’ out loud . . .!”
     “They took that into account,” Tami remarked. Her voice was peculiar and flat, as if it was hard for her to say it, too. With another burst of shame, I realized that she was embarrassed for me and our whole community. I’d put my foot in it, big time, and there was nothing to do now but own up to it and make damn sure it never happened again.
     “Okay, then.” I took a deep breath and looked up. “What do they want? Do I have to sign a non-violence contract or something?”
     They both grinned. Jenn stood up. “No, I don’t think that will be necessary,” she said. “Just let me or Tami know if anything like that happens again and we’ll take care of it.” Her look was inquisitive. “Has anything else like that happened?”
      I scowled at the ceiling. “I dunno. There was . . . something, this morning, I think.”
     Tami raised an eyebrow. “Like what?”
     I tried to explain the incident with the student nurses. Again, I sounded like a five year old trying to explain particle physics. By the time I’d fumbled through it, Tami and Jenn were exchanging raised eyebrows and worried looks.
     “Uh, you say this student nurse was black? Afro-American?” Jenn asked. There were two tiny vertical lines between her eyebrows and an ominous glint hovered in the back of her eyes; a storm-warning best heeded tout de suite.
     “Uh, yeah, but Jenn, it doesn’t matter . . .”
     “Yes, it does,” Tami said, a little grimly. She got up. “I think they need to hear from me again.” She left the room, leaving me with nothing more than the desire to go back to sleep and pretend that it was all a particularly unpleasant dream. Jenn gave me a hug and followed her. I rolled over and tried to ignore my grumbling belly, hoping that they would just get on with it.
     They got on with it. First a serious, bee-sting zap of anesthetic in an area best not discussed that left me with a feeling that was no feeling at all. The enormity of what they were about to do was finally penetrating my drug-soaked mind. I was trying really hard not to envision it, but my hyperactive imagination never sleeps and never stops running the projections that flicker behind my eyes like an endless kinescope.
     They were going to make an incision, enlarge it with clamps, find my femoral artery, puncture it, and then insert a metal catheter with a probe at the end about the size of a thin mechanical pencil through the resulting gash into the second largest artery in my body. (More clamps, of course, to keep me from bleeding to death) This snake-like contrivance would be pushed slowly up my femoral artery, into the aorta and then into my heart. The probe would inject an iodine-based dye (Remember what it felt like to smear iodine on a cut finger? Imagine that feeling inside) into my left ventricle and atrium and hopefully outline the functions (or lack thereof) of my mitral valve.
     They made a video of what played on the imaging screen over my head that morning. I still have it. It looked weird, alien. That wasn’t me on that monitor, not really. I am not a bag of skin filled with various pulsing fluids and meaty surfaces slapping against one another. I’m not!
     Am I?
     I don’t know what I am, but I am more than merely meat. I know this much is true.
     Removal of the catheter and probe felt like a release, a relief whose description is almost beyond me. It wasn’t rape, not by a light year at least, but I had no choice but to lay back and try to enjoy it. I didn’t, not at all, and I was light-headed with something suspiciously like joy when it was removed.
     They took me back upstairs. By that time, a lot of the drug effect was ebbing away and I was beginning to hurt. But I gritted my teeth, ordered a hearty lunch (Providence Hospital has a really great menu) and managed to talk them into another shot of morphine. Ah, enfold me, Great Mother M, and carry me off to the sweet lands of dream!
     Or, put simply: lemme get some sleep, willya? I may die in a few days.

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