Waking up Is Hard to Do
by Peter Shelton
Aug 19, 2008 | 680 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Coming out of anesthesia was like waking from an unexpected but pleasant nap, on a beach perhaps, or slowly reclaiming the world – sky, branches, breeze; oh, yeah, here I am – on a carpet of warm afternoon pine needles.

The nurse beside me barely interrupted her paperwork, it seemed, to look up and say, “You’re back.” Yes, I’m back. I’m not sure if I said it out loud, or just thought it. But I knew I was back, gazing contentedly at the ceiling tiles, the beige curtains in the recovery room, my toes swaddled in white, clot-preventing, post-surgical socks.

Slowly, the facts came back. I was in Glenwood Springs at Valley View Hospital to have my arthritic right hip replaced with shiny new components made of ceramic, polyethylene and titanium. I guessed that that procedure had happened. I couldn’t feel a thing in the hip or anywhere else beyond a general warmth and well-being. But it must have happened. This must be post-op. There’s a new hip in there. And I’m waking up now.

The time when it would have happened, the time between my memory of rolling into the operating room, with its gleaming stainless-steel precision and Martian-blue helmeted assistants and now, lying here apparently all done, was lost to me, vanished as if stolen by a time machine.

Thank goodness, you say. Who’d want to experience the minute-by-minute trauma of being cut open, manhandled in ways you don’t even want to think about, reamed and sawed and chiseled and stapled back together? No one. Of course. That’s why we have anesthesia. But still, it felt strange to have “lost” those hours. As if I were waking up a step or two slow in a future gone on without me.

Time, past and present, were oddly out of joint. Like the poor guy in the movie trailer Ellen and I watched in our hotel room the night before surgery. Guy gets hit by a car and wakes up, no fault of his own, a couple of decades back in his past.

Up in my room on the second floor, with Ellen by my side again, it was time to turn on the TV. (Instead of knitting to keep busy, she had brought a bag of lavender stems she’d grown at home and sat separating the glorious-smelling flowers.) I clicked the button and there on the screen it was 1968. Whoa! The Prague Spring. Except that instead of Soviet tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia, these were Russian tanks rolling into Georgia.

Had somebody turned the Cold War back on? In my absence? I hadn’t been gone that long. But then eventually I settled back into the Iraq-war present and realized that Vlad “Pooty-Poot” Putin was simply pursuing his own national interest at gunpoint. Wonder where he got that idea?

And then we watched some Olympics. Turned out a handful of Chinese gymnasts went to sleep one night when they were 13 or 14 and woke up, miraculously, as 16-year-olds! Just the age they needed to be to compete at the Games.

I was beginning to like this waking up game. I wondered if voters would wake up to the Republican myth that John McCain is a man of the people while Barack Obama is an elitist. Obama, who was raised by a single mom and earned his way into law school. And McCain, who was, like the man he would replace in the White House, born with a silver foot in his mouth and, thanks to Admiral Daddy, cruised into Annapolis despite poor grades.

That first night, still pretty doped up, I woke several times, or rather was awakened by people from respiratory, people who had to give me pills or draw blood. Benign, competent people who had gathered in this place and time to take care of me. It was wonderful.

Not so wonderful was the next day when the physical therapy ladies arrived to get me up. They wanted to introduce me to the walker, get me moving. But first I had to sit up. Things were going okay. Legs were dangling over the side of the bed. Then I passed out. No warning, just a flash of light-headedness, and gone.

This waking up was very different. Suddenly the view was filled with strange faces, Gorgons maybe, all talking at once as I lay on my back across the bed. They explained – I’d fainted; it happens sometimes; why hadn’t I warned them? – then suggested we try again. But I wasn’t at all sure what had happened, where the time had gone, who these people were, who I was for that matter.

They proceeded to sit me up again, stare into my eyes, ask me questions. Then I was gone again, with even less warning than before. Poor Ellen was horrified. She said later that I’d just flopped over, like a fish in the bilge, with my eyes rolled up in my head.

The PT gang gave up for the day. I’d lost some blood in surgery. Low blood pressure combined with the narcotics, plus lying down for the last 24 hours. It wasn’t unusual to faint getting up the first time.

But I wasn’t particularly receptive to their chipper reasoning. I was not myself. I felt foggy, frightened, the way I had as a kid worrying that a bad acid trip would never end. I felt like the voice in the Marge Piercy poem, “Dislocation.” “. . . Perhaps you will be locked/out here forever peering in/at your body, if that self is really/what you are. If you are at all.”

The dislocation passed. I got stronger and clearer. Soon I got to wake up in my own bed at home. I realized though that I needed to be patient. As Kay Ryan said in her poem, “Turtle.” “. . . patience,/the sport of truly chastised things.”
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