Monday, October 24, 2005

Vicki's Story, Part Three

Click here to read Part One.
Click here to read Part Two.

Part Three

The date was set. What a way to ruin a summer. My surgery was set for the month of July, right after my 11th birthday. I was scheduled to have a bone graph taken from one of my hips to sculpt bones for the roof of my mouth to correct the partial cleft palate. In addition, the surgeon wanted to work on reconstructing my face. His first project was to work on narrowing the very wide bridge of my nose. In order for the new nose to hold it’s shape, “buttons” would have to be wired through my nose to hold the narrowed bridge tightly in place. This would not only mean a liquid diet for many months, but starting my very first day of junior high school – at a brand new school – with these buttons wired to my nose.

The day arrived and my parents and I drove down to Children’s Hospital at the crack of dawn. I had my dreaded blood test and was then brought to the waiting room. Hospitals did not cater to childhood fears twenty years ago and so when the time came for me to go into the operating room, I had to say good-bye to my parents. I walked, alone, on my own two feet all the way into the operating room. I looked around at all the busy doctors in stiffly starched lab coats – all of their identities hidden behind blue face masks. I saw silver trays full of various knives and scalpels and needles. I wondered for a moment if this is how Stephen the martyr felt standing around with a bunch of men in a field of stones.

“Hop up here, honey!” The anesthesiologist almost sang, as if he were helping me into the seat of an amusement park ride.

I hopped up on the operating table. “I won’t cry…I won’t cry…I won’t cry…” ran like a broken record through my head as I laid down, squinting into the large overhead light to the symphony of clanking instruments.

A thick rubber mask was put over my face and I was told to breathe in the gas. Sometimes, when I walk into a newly painted house or catch a whiff of a glass of wine, I am thrown back to this moment when my nostrils filled with the stench of sleeping gas. My heart did summersaults as the room began to spin and I listened to myself talking to the doctor, wondering how I was able to answer questions that I never even heard him ask – hearing myself from outside of my head – and then waking up hours later, as if nothing had even happened.

I laid in my bed. I couldn’t move. My hip was burning from the graph incision, I couldn’t even roll over. The roof of my mouth was sore and when I tried to talk, uncut sutures hung down and tickled my tongue. I couldn’t open my eyes because they were swollen shut. I could hear my mom’s voice next to me.

I never detected her voice cracking or any emotion. She was always so kind and loving, but it wouldn’t be until I was much older that I would realize this was all very hard and scary for my mom too – not just me.

“What do I look like?” I moaned.

It was always the first thing I asked. What did I expect her to say? You look great?!

My parents and brother stayed for a while but then visiting hours were over. Jeff had been in the corner of the room most of the time listening to his headphones. His walkman was his prized possession. I wasn’t even allowed to touch it. He was 13 and pretty disinterested in me at that time in life. Mom leaned over my bed and kissed me and said she’d be back. Dad kissed me and said he loved me. Jeff called, “Bye, Vic!” from the door and then all was quiet.

A couple seconds later, I heard footsteps and assumed the nurse had come in to ask if I needed anything.

“Hey Vic.”

It was my brother. He had snuck back into the room.

“I love you” he said and put something into my hand. I didn’t know what it was through the I.V.

“I love you too” I stuttered, overwhelmed with emotion – never having heard my brother ever say this to me.

“Well, bye” he said – the moment passed – and he ran out of the room.

I fumbled with my I.V. tube and put the item into my open hand and felt to see what he had left for me. It was his prized walkman. I tried to hold back the tears because with my eyes swollen shut it hurt even to wipe a Kleenex across them.

Feeling that I was now safely alone, I struggled to sit up in my bed. I had to sway back and forth very slowly to move without inciting my hip to burn in pain. After much effort, I was sitting up. I reached my arms out to the side of the bed, fumbling through the air, looking for the bed table on wheels that should be parked next to the bed. My knuckles hit wood and I rolled the table over my lap. I slid the table top away from me revealing the little storage unit under the table. I flipped up the little makeup mirror and leaned as close to it as I could.

I reached my hands up to my eyelids and using all ten fingers, I pried my swollen eyelids open and looked into the mirror…



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