The smell of antiseptic flooded my nostrils as I checked into the same day surgery suite. I was given a bag of hospital-issued clothes. There was a poster on the wall indicating the steps of how to strip off your outside self and morph into a pale blue and green-pajamaed zombie person. Step 1: Gown with opening in back, Step 2 : Pajama pants with opening in front, Step 3 : Robe opening to front, and so on. I even followed the directions to put on the little rubber-bottomed socks. I usually know how to put on socks without direction, but today the Universe had tilted.
I sat in the waiting room with mom on one side of me and Chris on the other. No makeup. Glasses and no contacts. The pink IV cathedar in my hand was the most Valentines-y part of my day. I answered the nurse's questions with precision and as much charm as I could muster. I guess on some level I felt like if I couldn't carry a pregnancy to term properly the least I could do is be the perfect little patient. My surgery was postponed of course and my stomach started aching from nerves and from having to fast since the night before. An indiscriminate amount of time past under the fluorescent lights of the yellowed waiting room.
Somehow I ended up in front of an elevator where I had to hug mom and Chris goodbye and proceed with nurse. I felt like I was shipping off on some bizarre space mission. I had to surrender my glasses. I asked if I could please wear them into the OR, but was told I couldn’t. My vision is terrible and walking though the hospital hallways toward the operating room without glasses added to the surreal nightmarish quality of the situation. I couldn't tell people’s facial expressions clearly so it gave the eerie sense that I was surround by indifferent specters.
I entered the blurry operating room and was asked to sign a paper that I couldn't fully read. I was assured it was just more of the same. More of the same. Then I was left to stand in the middle of the OR as the four medical staff went about their tasks. The nurse prepped some instruments. The anesthesiologist took some notes and adjusted a vial of some sort. Various other amorphous shadows busied themselves as I stood there melting into invisibility. That was the first moment that I broke down. Big, hot tears streamed down my face as I tried to make sense of how I got here and how unfair it all was. I noticed the stirrups that my legs would soon be in and I was hit by a flash of recognition of how many people would shortly see me in an extremely compromising position. I forcibly pushed that out of my mind. I stood there feeling tiny and alone.
The medical team eventually turned their attention back to me and helped me onto the operating table. I stared up at the suspended spaceship lights. My doctor walked into the room. The single best part of this experience has been this doctor. She is absolutely a treasure and I believe the Universe sent her to me as a much-appreciated break from a pretty rough year. She stood next to me and touched my elbow telling me she would take good care of me. Tears flowed freely into my ears. I have seen a thousand pediatric inductions while working as a Child Life therapist at the hospital, but never saw the surgeon be the one to comfort the patient in quite this way. I remember saying “this is just so sad” and she said she knew it was.
The anesthesiologist was then efficiently sticking leeds on my chest and saying, “I know, I know but you’re young, you have that gift, a lot of people don’t”. I remember thinking “that might not even matter”, but in the moment I was willing to grasp onto any even half-hearted effort to comfort me. Next, and I honestly could not make this stuff up, Magical Mystery Tour started playing on the tinny speaker they had in the corner. “The Magical Mystery Tour is coming to take you away” played as they pushed my meds and take me away it did into an ever-so-welcome narcotic-induced sleep.
I woke from what felt like the most sound, comfortable sleep of my life. My eyes glazed in soft focus in the general direction of my doctor who stood at my side and said a single underwater sentence to me. In hindsight she must have said more, but I don’t remember. Nor do I remember how I got into a wheel chair and wheeled to recovery. Nor do I remember the time that passed while I was hooked up to fluids. In my next moment of awareness Chris and Mom were by my side.
I opened my bleary eyes and felt...empty. Empty in a way I hadn't entirely realized I was full. The connection I had experienced to a deep and miraculous physical understanding of motherhood had been severed. I was alone again in my body. Lonely in my body.
They monitored me for a couple hours and then I was told I could return to my normal activities in a few days. What the heck were my “normal” activities? I couldn't recall.
There was, of course, a certain feeling of relief that it was over. The burden of waiting for something tragic and painful to happen was lifted. There was a sense that all that was left to do was move forward. A sense that something beautiful might be around the corner; something I would cherish all the more because of this experience. But there was also an insidious darkness that began to descend as the effects of the drugs lifted. It filled the spaces that were empty and lured me into a blinding fog of fear when I least expected it. There were no roadmaps out of this murky landscape and no one who could assure me that I was not the only one who had ever been here--a lone explorer in unchartered territory.
I hope if you’re reading this from within the fog (or know someone who is) that this story can serve as a humble sign post. Keep moving forward. The atmosphere shifts.