The last thing I said to the surgical nurse was that I would be very unhappy if I awoke missing my left arm and still having a left kidney.
That was said in response to the purple mark on my left arm placed there by the surgeon to ensure the procedure they performed was on my left side.
She’d heard that line before.
I still have my left arm.
And remnants of the purple mark.
I had brought two books with me, Richard Ford’s “The Sportswriter,” and “The Milkman,” by Anna Burns.
But my brain would not accept the elegant phrases and detailed human observations of either author. It was as if it had erected a wall around itself as protection. Instead I watched home improvement shows or conspiracy based investigations on cable whose information acted as a battering ram to crush the wall; I was not ready to absorb great prose, but was able to fend off bullshit.
It’s a process and it moves at its own pace.
Now home after the May 23 surgery to remove a diseased kidney, I learn to sit and stand as ramrod straight as possible because the torque of turning and bending causes pain. Those actions are the essence of the old Henny Youngman joke: Doc, it hurts when I do this. Well, don’t do that.
Or as the surgeon who cleaned out my shoulder last October told me at the last visit: My job now is to not screw it up.
So, here I sit, trying not to screw it up.
Aiding in this recovery in her own special way is Lily the Missile Dog, the 6-months-old, 17-pound terror, whose efforts to deliver dog sympathy come in to play only after a launched airborne attack from 15 feet way with a running start. Sometimes I can get the pillow over my stitches in time.
I spend time thinking about my hospital roomie, Fred. He was in his mid-80s dealing with a couple of ailments, including what I could gather was something serious with his spine that left him bed-ridden and bent at the waist in those times he passed by my bed on his way to physical therapy. There were a lot of questions about whether he was wearing his back brace.
We didn’t get a lot of time to chat in those two days — both of us were in and out of different levels of consciousness. But I did hear him tell the nurses that I had it worse than he did: “Did you see my roomie? They ripped out his kidney.”
I also heard him awaken three times in one night after having an accident. The cry of pain, helplessness and embarrassment was heartbreaking.
But mostly I eavesdropped on Fred and his wife talking with pride to his grandson, who has just got a job at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., horse track with the promise of a full-time post, or the phone chats with a daughter visiting New Orleans for the first time, or tracking his investments.
Life and family pride go on, hospital bed or not.
But mostly I think about Fred because even as he moved slowly with a walker and an attendant nurse, bent 90 degrees at his waist, he carried himself as a man with a future.
He walked, as it were, upright while bent over.