Sunday, July 13, 2014

Flash Fiction: Under the Knife

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: We're actually combining two ideas this week. The first is a flash fiction challenge Chuck Wendig issued on his blog a while back, to write 1000 words in the form of ten little chapters. The idea intrigued me, but I didn't get around to it at the time. Every time I've thought about coming back to it, I just haven't had a prompt in front of me that seemed to fit. The second piece of today's story comes from my recent experience with surgery. Whenever I go through something big and strange, I try to write down my impressions of it immediately afterward. That way I can look back on what I went through someday down the road without having the memories colored by time and distance. When I sat down to write about my surgery, it sparked in my head that my experience was jumpy and this might be the right tale to tell over the course of ten little chapters. So it's not really flash fiction; I'm going to try my hand at some memoir writing today. Aren't you all excited!?!
(Source: Chuck Wendig's blog and my very own life)


"Are you sick?"

I could barely see our three-year-old's face in the light sneaking under the bottom of the door. "No, Mama's not sick. Mama just has an ouchie in her tummy and the doctor is going to take it out."

Her voice got very small. Very three. "Are you scared?"

I hadn't been. And then the thought that something could go wrong and this would be the last time I ever told her goodnight stabbed me right in the throat. I swallowed it, knife and all, and whispered a lie across the darkness. "No."


"Mama, you have a gate on your bed!" Our two-year-old stood on tiptoes and grabbed the rail of my hospital bed.

"Do you want to climb up here with me?" They hadn't started my IV yet--might as well let the girls get one last go of climbing all over me. Once I had stitches in my belly, the Mama Jungle Gym would be closed.

"You're wearing a blanket like a dress," the three-year-old observed, crawling over me and tugging at the bow holding together my hospital gown.

"Leave Mama's dress alone, please." My husband caught her little fingers before I had a wardrobe malfunction and flashed the nurse's station.

The pre-op nurse bustled in with a bunch of pills for me to swallow. I gave her my name and date of birth (again) and confirmed (again) what surgery I was having. Ovarian cystectomy, with possible salpingo-oophoorectomy, on the left side.


Sliding from the bed to the operating table was a challenge, particularly since I have all the coordination of a drunken elephant on roller-skates, but I managed it. "And then I rolled right off the table and landed ass-up on the floor!" would have made a great post-op story though.

The anesthesiologist's face hovered over mine. He held up a sheet of greyish-white stickers. "We're going to put these monitors on you, and then I'm going to give you something through your IV to make you sleep. You won't remember a thing."

He must have started the drip before he said that, though, because I don't even remember them putting on the stickers.


I was back in the hospital bed. I got the vague impression of a human-shaped blur in green moving around me.

"Can I get you anything? Some ice chips? Or something to prop up your arm? I know IVs can get uncomfortable. . . "

I nodded, not really sure. My head was a bowl of thick soup. I fell asleep before she got back with the ice chips.


I woke again when she pushed a pillow under my arm. Everything was still muzzy and covered in cotton. The pillow thing was nice though, so I didn't tell her I wasn't even entirely sure I had an arm at that point.


My husband and the girls came back in the afternoon, after some of the fog had cleared out of my head. I was still pretty slushy, but at least I was keeping awake open for more than a few minutes at a time.

My eyes took a fuzzy picture of the girls sitting on the air conditioner by the window, oblivious and giggling as their superfine hair floated above their heads and sunlight glittered around them.

My husband looked stressed and relieved at the same time, like maybe the creases in his forehead had gotten stuck during my longer-than-expected surgery and now his face couldn't relax all the way even though maybe it wanted to.


"You made some extra work for me yesterday." My doctor said after checking my incision.

"Yeah, I heard you had to take the ovary and tube," I said. A couple of the nurses had told me that. In quiet comforting tones, like they thought I would burst in hysterical sobs at the news.

No big deal, I thought. I've got a spare.

Maybe I would have felt differently if I hadn't already had two miracle babies.

"The cyst was bigger than we'd estimated. It was huge. Like a small football." She held up her hands to demonstrate.

Because apparently likening something she'd just removed from my body to sporting equipment wasn't quite enough.


My hospital stay was fine. People always bitch about hospitals, but I guess I'm just lucky. I was there for three days. It probably could have been a week or two before I'd have gotten twitchy.

My nurses were nice. The food was good. The bed was comfortable. I slept really well. (Though I suspect the painkillers would have seen to that no matter what the conditions.)

It was almost relaxing. Aside from the fact that sitting up too fast hurt like hell.


I leaned into the recliner, making myself go slowly even though I wanted to flop like a broken marionette. The doctor told me my recovery would be similar to a c-section, but without the added complications of taking care of a newborn.

Translation: it'll still hurt to do so much as take a deep breath, and you won't even have an adorable baby to distract you.

The three-year-old climbed onto the couch next to me. Apparently my husband had already explained the new no-climbing-on-Mama rule. "I'm going to help Daddy take care of you," she declared.


"Are you still having a lot of pain?" my doctor asked a week later.

I shrugged. "It's a little better every day. As long as I don't push it, it's really only the transitions that hurt. Getting up is tough, but once I'm on my feet, I'm fine."

She patted my arm and nodded. I guess I'd given the right answer. "That's good. And we got the results back on your cyst. It was completely benign. No cancer, as expected."

The paper underneath me crinkled as I relaxed, the last little stab of fear letting me go.

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