June 2011

Why I Have Been So Silent: A Letter

Dear Karen,

The reason I have been so silent is that I have taken a fall—yes, a literal one—through a glass coffee table. No, I was not drunk. No, there was no fight. Yes, I sat on it.

Everyone I know sees it happen—I am at work. Crash. I fall backwards. Coffee spills on my lap. Papers spill into the air. People stand up, a circle of concern. Twelve police officers arrive on the scene and are only able to tell me that it “looks bad.” They refer to my arm and the blood running, seeping through paper towels with ease. The ambulance arrives. I am lifted out (forced to lie in the stretcher) in a fashion that under different circumstances would be regal. I am above the heads of my bearers. There are people from the hallway waving at me. I ask when the loopty loops start and no one gets my joke or even laughs out of courtesy. The temperature outside is the typical 105 for August in Alabama and the air-conditioning in the ambulance is broken. My request to stop off for a quick drink along the way (if I am not going to be comfortable, I may as well have a cocktail) is ignored.

ER. X-rays. Blood on my jeans. I give a nod to the man who is next to me. A regular at the bar. Impossible to go anywhere in this town and not see someone you know. Waiting. Saline pumped into my wrist. Waiting. A search for stray glass. Waiting, waiting. Stitches.

Two days later on a follow-up appointment with a plastic surgeon. Verdict? Emergency surgery. Today. Now. Oh by the way, you might never have feeling in your hand again. Please sign this form acknowledging the possibility of your death in the next few hours. You don’t want to do this? Are you crying? You want to talk to your mother? You have no pulse. That’s right, no pulse. If you do not let me cut open your arm so that I can play around, and if you get cut again, you will loose your hand.

IV. Shots. Hospital gown. My clothes in plastic bags. I am already dead. Please nurse, can you write my name on that so someone can come claim the remnants of my life. Nurse, my legs are to long for this bed. My feet do not fit. I cannot straighten my knee.

Don’t worry. It won’t be long. I have to pee. No nurse, I do not want to pee in that.

Hello. I am your anesthesiologist. I am going to collapse your lungs. I am going to stick this down your— I am going to put this— You will not feel this because— Do not worry because I will have complete control over your body. I will have more control over your body than you do when you are awake. Just sign here.

No, we don’t know what is taking the doctor so long. No, we don’t know where he is. Yes, he should have been here by now. I stare. Nothing to read. I am surrounded by a curtain. Honeycomb patters everywhere—the thin white blanket, the walls, the ceiling. I am closing my eyes. I just want to stretch my legs. Have you ever been drunk? That’s what this will feel like…

So. It has been a long month. A month with one arm. I felt like a character in an Andre Dubus story. Only no, I have not been to war. And no, I guess it is not as if I have lost a leg. Yes, it could be worse. Yes, it could have been worse. My neck. But I lost a tendon. At least for the moment. There was a sling, a cast. But I can feel. I am waiting to see what happens with the movement. I may never be able to twirl a baton again, hold a bowl of cereal in my lap. A repair does not inherently mean success. At least I am typing again with ten fingers. My hand can hover and wait for something else to happen. At the very least, Tuscaloosa has now given me a scar. A scar that I was expecting but not one I thought would be quite so literal. It looks dangerous. It looks foolish. Time to see how it heals.

See you.