5

Where the author has surgery twice, has a full-time visitor and visits from strangers,
and where she leaves the hospital.

Ed and his brother pay me another surprise visit around 6PM two or three days later. He gives me an envelope full of small bills. He says that he collected the money from all the messen- gers of the agency and I'm moved by their solidarity. There's about four hundred dollars. Then he buys me a telephone and plugs it at my bedside. He asks if I want any newspapers or magazines. Jokingly I ask for Screw because Screw is one of his clients and I've been sent there. Then I ask for Spy magazine. He leaves and returns with it. I'm very moved by these attentions.

The lawyer calls and says that I must not discuss my case with anybody.

I have surgery on the 29th. The night before I'm forbidden to eat and drink. I'm put under epidural anesthesia, that is the anesthetic is injected at the base of my spine and numbs all my lower body and legs. Then my arms are tied in a cross. The surgeon lifts my left leg. Since I'm naked under my hospital gown my genitals are exposed. The surgeon snips a lock of my pubic hair and puts it on a shelf, which makes me wonder if he's in love with me then, contemptuously, he slaps a towel on my geni- tals. After that a sheet is placed between my head and my lower body and I can't see anything.

The anesthesiologist stands at my head. He has bad breath and he whistles the whole time through his teeth, directing the foul cold flow of air at my face. The temperature is so low that I start shivering and I can't even keep myself warm with my arms. When I feel too miserable I ask for a cover. The anesthesiologist brings me some cotton bedspreads that are still warm and damp from the disinfecting oven. Now I feel better. The surgery lasts two and a half hours. The surgeon hammers at my hipbone ("iliac crest") where he lifts a piece to graft onto my knee. He installs a metal plate to hold all the pieces of bone together and screws it in place.

And two days later he tells me that he needs to re-position a screw that he didn't place properly... It means another opera- tion, scheduled for June 6. The prospect of going through the ordeal all over again depresses me.

The Frenchman visits me everyday and stays there all day long and he talks and talks and talks about nothing, nada, zero. Since a water solution is dripping into my veins I have to urinate frequently but it doesn't discourage him. He leaves the room just long enough to let me use the bedpan and then he's back, doing all the talking while I have so much on my mind, and I don't dare to ask him to leave because he's my only contact with the outside world. He's the one who brings me Tampax, the one who has my apartment keys, who feeds my parakeet and brings me my mail. He also brings me thick books from the library (I didn't ask him) and when he isn't at my bedside, instead of rest- ing and thinking I read, although nothing registers.

I also have visits -surprise visits- from young men who say they're from Ed's agency although I never saw them before. And at each of these visits they tell me in all the gory details horri- ble accident stories. One of them was about a bike messenger who grabbed the side of a truck on 8th Avenue and got entangled in the wheels, he and his bike, and was mangled and crushed to death. I'm horrified. This is what almost happened to me.

At the end of May the Frenchman brings me my telephone bill. The amount due is five hundred dollars. Someone called phone sex numbers from my home phone every day during the month before I was almost killed.

With my hospital phone I call several hospitals in E. where my parents live to inquire whether my father is their patient, but I get only negative answers. It strikes me funny to call a hospital from a hospital. But I'm still not sure that what my mother and godfather told me on April 1st was true. So what were they lying about?

I wonder how I'm going to go to France with my broken knee. My mood swings from elation to terror. I'm so relieved not to have to work as a bike messenger anymore! Now I can rest. I don't have to worry about what I can afford to eat, food is brought to me on a tray. And this close escape! I'm really proud of myself, I have a sense of triumph against astronomic odds. But when I think that somebody out there wants me dead... I don't know who, I don't know for what, I never did anything to anybody... who elaborated this diabolical scheme not to be found out... but now I have a lawyer to protect me, I have nothing to worry about... but he doesn't inspire me much confidence... it really seemed that the bus driver tried to kill me but how could he know that I would be at that place on his route at the same time as he? It seems impossible so maybe it was just an accident... and on and on. So I ask for my shot of Demerol every two hours on the clock.

The hospital staff treats me like they would treat anybody who had an accident. They show no concern for emotional or psychological trauma.

On June 6 I have surgery again. The evening before a guy built like a bouncer under his white coat comes to my room to inform me of my rights. He delivers the speech as if he had just learnt it by heart, with hardly a pause between sentences. Somehow I understand that I have the right to refuse the surgery but his gaze, his body language and stature tell me that I better not. So I sign the authorization.

This time I know what to expect, that's why I dreaded a replay: no food, no drink the night before. They're really afraid that I might pee or poop on the operating table. The "relaxing" shot one hour before surgery that makes my mouth so dry I think I'll die of thirst but that makes me indifferent to everything; the anesthesiologist sticking a catheter at the base of my spine; the crucifixion, the cold, the recovery room where I cannot be one hundred percent sure that my legs will come to life again, and the thirst, the thirst!

After I'm lifted on the operating table the anesthesiologist asks me to present him my back in a foetal position but I don't want to because then my buttocks and genitals will be exposed from the rear -o infamy- so I refuse and I'm angry that he shows no respect for my modesty. I ask him why he doesn't want to do it like the last time. Finally I prevail but it takes him so long to insert the catheter that I grow impatient and ask him if he's done yet.

This time the surgery doesn't take very long. In the recov- ery room I beg the nurse for water. She is desiccated and mean- looking, not a good sign for a parched throat. She says it's forbidden to drink until the anesthesia has worn off. But I implore her and finally she brings me ...a half glass... of tepid water.

Since my first day at the hospital there's been a female patient who spends all day walking in the hallway just outside my door, dragging her slippers and talking loud, unchecked, and she disrupts my rest and annoys me profoundly.

One evening around 10PM I buzz for someone to empty my bedpan but nobody shows up. When I can't wait any longer I empty it into the metal wastebasket by my bed because I have to use the bedpan. The next morning the slipper-dragging woman comes to the door and mocks me, saying that I have peed in the wastebasket. "She peed in the wastebasket!" she keeps shouting and laughing. "She peed in the wastebasket! Ha ha ha ha!" Who told her?

Every day I go to physical therapy on the top floor, where I learn to walk and climb stairs on crutches. The first day I'm really able to walk with those things, during the third week of my stay, I go to the balcony. I haven't been outside for so long! At last, I get some fresh air. The day is sunny and warm and it's the first time that I see the city since May 25th. I feel an excitement in the air. It is Spring, people are happy to shed their dark coats. I look for a landmark to take my bearings and recognize not too far away the distinctive roofs of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I turn to the physical therapist all excited and tell him, pointing in the direction "Look, the college of Criminal Justice over there!" but he doesn't come. He gives me a long look and keeps his mouth shut.

I'm discharged on June 14th. I have told the Frenchman in advance, asked him to make my room ready at home so I can just plop into bed and he agreed. He comes to help me get out of the hospital and while he wheels me along the corridors he speaks French loudly, which embarrasses me but of course I say nothing.

He calls a cab, we ride uptown, he accompanies me to my room-cum-kitchen on the first floor. But when I open the door I see that he hasn't done anything to ready my room. Parakeet feathers and droppings are all over the place, on the floor, the desk, the bed. The cage is filthy, the water murky. I don't say anything. My bird is happy to see me and I'm happy to see my bird. He perches on my head, emits excited sounds, flies around the room in a welcome-home demonstration. I hop to the kitchen to grab a broom and I sit holding it while the Frenchman stands near the door. Now he doesn't speak too much. He asks what I'm going to do with the broom, as if it isn't obvious. Maybe he thinks I'm going to hit him with it. I say that I'm going to sweep as soon as he leaves. He doesn't offer to do it for me. He leaves.


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