I am going insane. A UFO is throbbing in my left ear and a crab is scuttling in my right. Waves of lurid aquamarine sewage wash over me, naked in the grime and the chafing squelch of briny sea-sand. Severe nausea is like permanent carsickness or seasickness: the motion is in your blood. From your stomach up into your brain a space has been hollowed out for fluid to slosh sickeningly from side to side. Did they operate on the right knee? Sudden, irrational fear grips me in my grogginess; I reach for my right knee and am reassured. I sink back down into the pillow. Why did I let them do this to me?
I wake up. I am still seasick. I look up toward the surface of my nausea and see a vivid backwash of memory rolling in against the rocks. It hits me like ocean spray on a cool day and I find some relief, a temporary distraction in the split seconds of dream. I am walking up into the mountains on a misty mountain street of Orosi, Costa Rica; I am laughing with my housemates in a warm living room; I am full of regret in two feet of Walla Walla snow as I feel the opportunity to make love slip away. I see a body from the neck down releasing a frisbee with perfect mechanics: step, sweep of the arm, release, step sweep of the arm release, in one smooth motion the disc flies into the dark. I recognize the form; it is the throw of my friend Jon; it bears his body signature, like his stride or his silhouette: the complex brand of movement that defines a life. What does my throw/stride/silhouette look like? I wonder about the movement of life as I drift back into the half-dead dark.
Here's what happened. First I put my nightgown on wrong. Then, after bantering with Nurse-1, a Latino woman whose daughter is a sophomore at my old high school, Nurse-1 inserts an IV into my left forearm. As she draws the tube over to hook me up, it catches the clipboard on my lap. Before the clipboard can fall to floor, my reflexes snap my left hand out to catch it and blood spurts out of the IV onto Nurse-1.
Nurse-2 is flying out tomorrow morning to go to the Outback Orange Bowl in Tampa, Florida with her boyfriend. Tomorrow is New Years Eve, and I reassure Nurse-2 that I will be high as a vicodin-brand kite (please do not fly in conjunction with alcohol, other restrictions may apply) when the multiple clocks swimming in front of my eyes strike twelve. This is a lie. I don't much like the idea of putting powerful drugs in my system; I don't plan on taking any. Which is interesting, since I have already allowed them to pump me full of a powerful drug that will soon turn me into a drooling vegetable at the mercy of the doctor's vegetable peeler. The spinal anesthetic is not as straightforward, Doctor Brooks tells me vaguely; general anesthesia is clearly my best option. This, the majority of patients agree, is the easiest way. "Most people opt for the general," Dr. Brooks said at my pre-op. General what? General whatever, just knock me the fuck out and get it over with.
A frail, white-haired woman rests in the bed opposite mine. What are her options, I wonder. She looks tired, like it would take rocket fuel to lift an eyelid from the high gravity of her sunken sockets. I glance back a moment later and her eyes are still closed-- or maybe just barely open. I smile and wave. The corners of her mouth lift almost imperceptibly, and a small lump that must be her hand beneath the bed sheets moves in greeting. The nurse beside her is bustling about on a mission; it seems the woman is in good hands. She closes her eyes and her head rests back on her pillow, eyelids closed to the industrial ceiling tiles.
I am fine, this won't be so bad, I tell myself. Even if it is bad, there's nothing I can do about it now. My steel gurney rolls me into a room humming and beeping with millions of dollars worth of technology. My god, they've created a new organism, a writhing mass of wires and displays powered by techno-industrial affluence. A nurse to my left asks me a question. "Is this music OK?"
I lift my stylish shower cap and cock an ear to the room. It's hip-hop. "Fine with me," I say, "I'm going to be asleep anyway."
"Dr. Brooks likes it," the nurse says.
"It must make him feel like a badass," I observe.
"Yeah," the nurses laugh, "He kind of is."
"Whatever helps him focus," I reply.
Nurse-3 is reassuring Nurse-4 that she likes her new shoes. No, agrees Nurse-5, they're not too white in the least.
My mind switches off.
I can sit up for the first time without wanting to puke. Swept away by this spectacular achievement, I get up too fast to go to the bathroom. After I pee I begin to leave, but then nausea hooks me by the nostril and drags me staggering to the toilet bowl. My dry heaves brew a storm in that bowl; I imagine that the clear water swirls like the surface of a crystal fountain that would tell me the future. Toilet, toilet, on the floor, you keep asking when I have no more. Chuckling irrationally at my own wretched madness, I step back from my hallucinated self and narrow my eyes as beads of cold sweat form on my forehead and cheeks. This operation is about more than just a knee. It's about my mind, they took a piece of my mind, drowned it in chemicals like a fucking pickled pig. I still have the ID bracelets on both wrists: I am M-0214BROOKS, I belong to a surgeon who gets aural injections of hip-hop steroids to pump him up to cut people open. Anesthesia makes us all cowards, patients, nurses, and doctors. We excised a chunk of my memory. I feel like table meat, like that octopus I dissected in high school science. I am both the cephalopod and the surgeon. I gaze up at myself through one black, bleary alien eye and try to fit the pieces of my mind back together.
I am permanently carsick and I am going insane. There is a nuclear reactor powering up in my left ear and a vortex flushing in my right. Which knee did they operate on again? It doesn't matter because I don't remember. I don't remember going to sleep or waking up or being cut open like a steak. It doesn't matter. I'll eat dry toast and I won't take hydrocodone and later this will all seem worth it and I'll do it again in fifteen years.