This much Thailand I have never.
//edited for J. :D//
If you only do what you always do, you will only have what you’ve always had.
-A bit of Thai t-shirt wisdom that I think about probably more than I should.
The gauntlet of nurses all seem to know only the vocabulary for whatever specific task they must perform on me and any attempts at further questions or conversation garners a broad smile, tightlips, head-shaking. Better not have any questions and simply submit to the process.
Please a-step a-heah. We take ah your temperature.
Please take off a-shoe. We take-ah your…. WEIGHT.
When is-ah lassa time you eat something?
When is-ah lassa time you drinking WATER?
My operation will be at ten: I was asked to show up at six in the morning. How will I kill the time between six and ten, I had wondered the night before. It’s easy: I spend it alone in my private room hooked up to an IV, staring at the obsidian colored flat-screen TV. Except for a nurse who comes in every hour or so to measure my blood pressure and take my temperature, I don’t see anyone. Just enough time to rethink everything once more, from every angle.
Some of my friends back home had questioned my sanity regards this issue. ‘How can you be sure?’ They had asked. I guess I figured… I can’t be? Nothing is sure but death and taxes? It’s funny, I think even if I had done the obligatory two years of therapy, it wouldn’t have become real until that hour when I lay hooked up to the IV; the hour the doctor is drawing figures on the chest, we will-ah make the incision here and a-hear. Until I heard the silver ping ping of the IV water drip into me; heard the doctor describe all manner of possible infection and scarring, it always seemed completely right. Now I waver.
Will it finally help?
I don’t know anymore. Is it too late?
Seven in the morning, eight, nine, ten, ten thirty; they finally come to take me to the operating room; it looks like the movies do get it right. Lights flashing over my head, rushed urgency, even though the orderly is not pushing the gurney with particular hurry. The operating room’s double doors are thrown open; in enormous all caps it’s blared above them OPERATING ROOM. I can’t imagine what purpose this theatrical label serves. Does the staff tend to forget what this room is used for? Or is it more to drive home completely to the patient their situation? To increase the drama?
J cried a tiny bit the night before. I was very touched–he said, I know its a standard procedure, but they will put you to sleep… you have to… be strong. You have to be strong and remember us and not stay asleep if it comes to that. I’m thinking about my boys now while the nurses take off my hospital gown, my boys, my friends back home, my family; an older nurse tucks my hair under a showercap. ‘So beautiful,’ she whispers while she’s shoving platinum sucked tinges under the cap. I think, hey, that color’s fake. But thanks!
If I do die, at least the last thing I heard was a compliment.
A doctor who is probably Thai but whose features and rhythms of speech recall to me a Japanese person steps behind me. He looks down at a clipboard, booms:
“Okay, a-Mister Merey, I am here today to put-ah you to sleep and you are here today to get operation for….” He stares down at his clipboard, squints.
“_____________? Yes? That is correct?”
A brief moment of panic. The needle of the IV feels overly thick in my left arm. Everything bends irrational and dreamlike, I want to yell, no, this is a mistake, I need to go home, I’m healthy, I don’t need to get cut open, I don’t need to get put to sleep, I don’t need this, I want to go back to my boys, that is not correct.
- “I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
Where the fear has gone there shall be nothing……
Only I will remain.”
“Yes, it’s correct.”
I nod, swallow. He tells me he will be my anesthesiologist, that when I wake up, I will remember nothing and the operation will be done. That the pain will be mild at first but it will intensify during the first night. Do I have any questions?
Yes, my voice is about 1 cm tall. Did the other doctor tell him to make sure to give me an anti-emetic after the operation? Cut me up, infections, scaring–just don’t make me throw up.
His brows furrow.
“Anti-emetic? No vomit medicine you mean? Oh yes, I give. Everything give before you ah-waking up, no worries. But no guarantees, ne? Even you take anti-emetic, sometimes vomiting, ne? I cannot give 100%. Now tell me, Mister a-Merey, where you a-coming from?”
“Ah yes, Germany. Good beer, ne? So tell-ah me, how you a-say in Germany…. good morning?”
“Guten Morgen! Excellent. Okay, and how you a-saying good night?”
“And good afternoon?”
“I don’t think anyone says that.”
“Not saying good afternoon? Okay. But saying good night, Gute Nacht. Yes, yes? Gute nacht, that is the time right now, time for you to go to sleep, Mister Merey. Time for a-night.”
My kid, who is half Asian, also can’t ever seem to say plain ‘night’ or ‘good night.’ He says ‘a-night.’
My eyes well up.
Will they put me to sleep with a mask or a needle? I don’t have too much time to think about it. Three seconds later a cold the color of deep space spreads at the base of my skull and goes all the way down my spine. The consciousness rushes up through the spine, out the top of the head. My brain stem freezes; I hear the Nazgul’s thin little baby voice:
A-night, Mister Merey.
I wake up with my throat sore and my mouth pasted shut from the inside. Not feeling so fucking nice, but if I think about it, I’ve had tens of hangovers worse than this. Dried out, but no poison sloshing in my veins and guts; the nausea is abstract. I know it won’t materialize into actual vomiting. The pain in my chest is also abstract–it will get much stronger over the night.
“Water,” I croak. The nurse rushes over, I sip, close my eyes. Into sleep and out of sleep and into sleep… At some point, I’m wheeled back to my room, hours pass, I wake up concretely. Late Thai sun filters through the window. I have an urge to jump to my feet, look down when upward movement causes resistance–the ends of two tubes run under the extremely tight bandage on my chest. The other ends of the tubes end in a transparent plastic ball one quarter filled with disgustingly lukewarm liquid the color of diluted ketchup. I don’t want to touch the ball, but I have to take it with me if I want to get up. I hold it like a dead mouse, away from my body and wobble over to the window.
From the tenth floor, I see the hospital’s building roots down into a swamp. The black water glints with poisonous rainbows. It rushes out; floods shanty towns, little islands, finally crashing into a concrete mess of overpasses and eight lane highways. Far away, neon signs, not yet lit, glimmer. A late winter sun hangs over the smoggy horizon–a low radioactive egg yolk.
Every hour or so the nurse comes in again to take my temperature or bring me food, not that I could handle any food now. I determine the Thai people seem fond of crinkle-cutting all fruits and vegetables–the uneaten plates of crinkle cut apples, papayas, squash and carrots start piling up on my bedside table, like strange sets of organic, edible toys.
Around evening, I’m sober enough that when the nurse comes again, I ask her if it would be possible to make a call to my family. Her head cocks.
“A phone call, yes.”
I make a phone with my right hand, put it to my mouth and ear. She reaches down now with concern, moves the hair away from my ear where my pretend-phone touches.
“You have-a pain in the head?” She checks behind my ear for the source of my pain.
Despair x impatience.
“A call, a PHONE call. I’d like to call my family! They need to know that I’m okay!”
Her well-groomed eyebrows run together.
“Oh no, oh no a-calling family, very expensive. I think, very expensive.”
“It’s a local call,” I plead. “Thai number. I shove the paper feebly in her face. “Look, Thai number. Local.”
Was “local” the magic work? She nods, “haa...” Takes the paper from my hands. “I try to make a-local call for you, come back soon,” she says.
I don’t see her again.
I sleep, get up, walk to the window. Stare down into the iridescent swamp water. The private room is quieter than midnight. I wish it was midnight, then I’d be closer to morning, but it’s late afternoon at best. Finally, I take my plastic ball, filled (to my relief) with still the same amount of murky almost-warm blood and walk into the bathroom.
I look into the mirror for the first time. There’s some blood still on my neck, an extremely tight bandage around the middle of my chest. The IV end still in my arm. Dark circles under my eyes.
If you only do what you always do, you will only have what you’ve always had.
I go back to bed and sleep.