Sometimes you get so close to something you can feel the heat of it.
Like the aroma of coffee warming your nose before the cup ever touches your lips.
I’ve had this health issue thingy for over a year now. So as not to channel my Mama (who expertly lists each and every crick, ache & ooze of her own & those in our extended family, like she’s a hybrid living phonebook/family tree/Ailment Field Guide), I’ll keep it vague. Perhaps you’ve noticed I’m pretty candid at times. (I get that from Mama, for sure.) But, I also have it in me to engage my hush-hush & discretion genes when needed.
Unnamed health issue. Riding on a wave of not-so-good, then okay again. Doctors, meds, co-pays. A specialist. Surgery.
Thursday at midnight, I enter the land of no-food-or-drink-or-you’ll-turn-into-a-pumpkin. Which is to say: NO COFFEE ON THE EARLIEST MORNING IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD WHEN I NEED IT MOST. Java-less Friday dawns. Dread oozes over me as my chauffeur parks the chariot outside the Surgery Center.
Check-in. Consent form signage. Butt naked, then re-styled in surgical couture: graphic muu-muu with this season’s signature slit up the back, a powder-blue cap obviously offering a nod to little Toadstool from Super Mario Brothers, and a pair of grippy-bottom booties—the medical world’s Louboutin.
The second hand of the institutional clock circles like a slow, methodical vulture. The surgeon’s running a half hour late to the fashion show. (And you know what it’s like when you have to wait for things as important as Friday quitting time, to hear back on a full request, to go under the scalpel—agony.) So, decked in my trendy garb, I do what I always do when nervous, happy, pissed, scared, or basically anything other than sad; I joke. My chauffeur plays editorial photographer with his iPhone as I smize & nail risqué poses in my designer clothes. I cause the nurse to chuckle as she enters top-secret jargon into her sci-fi computerator. Nurse #2 (who resembles a young Roseanne Barr) giggles as she inserts the ouchy IV. Anesthesiologist is already jovial (probably hitting a mild sedative), so I surreptitiously prestidigitate, casting a spell to further augment his sunny disposition.
Dr. Sleptthefuckin finally darkens the doorway. Funny bone: amputated.
Questions. Expectations. With nurse #1 carrying my IV bag, my entourage and I own the red carpet (i.e. white linoleum) and sashay to the operating room. Sharp things glisten under the harsh light of the paparazzi flashes. Or maybe that’s just the weapons-grade surgical lighting bouncing off the stark white walls and stainless steel.
I’m horizontal. Action. White-coated bumblebees buzz all around me. I want to close my eyes. So bad. I want to just block it all out. This isn’t fun any more. In that moment, I think, No. Keep your eyes open. Suck it all in, read the visuals like tea leaves, focus on description. Scribble notes in your head so you can fictionalize this experience in a novel someday.
Electric sensors latch on to my back and chest, cuffs squeeze both legs and one arm, a crab claw clamps down on my finger, sunny-anesthesia-man twists a little plastic knob, my arms get strapped to wings jutting from each side of the table. Dr. Kevorkian palpates the soft skin he’s about to slice wide open. His hands are neither cold nor hot, but they’re definitely not just right. I can barely even feel them.
He grimaces. His unibrow furrows. He pushes with so much force it hurts. He looks at me, mumbles some words that may or may not be proper English.
For reasons: the surgery can’t proceed. Not today.
In the recovery room, I cry.
Not because I wanted the surgery, but because I wanted the unknown over and done with. So much build up, months of worrying & wondering, crackling nerves, a coffee-less morning, pokes & pricks, a resolute part of me whispering It will be over soon. Rest well, Lucas. Rest well.
Sometimes you get so close to something you can feel the heat of it. An orchiectomy. A request from a writing contest. A blessed email asking for the full. A surprise phone call and an agent offering your book—you—representation. An editor at a major house whispering yes, blowing the steam over her coffee cup. Just a few more sales to shimmy on to the bestseller list.
Like the way things oh-too-often happen in the writerly world, my health issue and I are back to waiting, to see what comes. It’s a limbo-esque place to exist—fret with hand-wringing, impatience, and the nervous shits. But also: hope. That things are okay for now, and there’s a chance a miracle has happened. That one stage of the waiting may be over. That chauffeurs who take provocative pictures, and nurses who look like Roseanne, will be there supporting you no matter what comes.
And, perhaps most importantly of all, coffee is always there. Even on those most dreaded of java-free mornings, it smiles—warm and comforting—just on the other side of the wait. I’m savoring the heat of it right now. But, Patron Saint of Comedic Coping help me, I’m ready to take a sip.