Monday, August 8, 2011

When You Don’t Want to Go Home

I’m living in the world of the super-hero.
Everybody catch the show.
And when the film is done,
The viewer passes on,
And I wonder, yes, I wonder,
Where does the super-hero go?
- Super-hero (from “Keep the Dogs Away”), Thor, 1977

Before my eyes opened in the ICU, my nose was already informing me. Oceans of anti-septic hand gels washing up against vanilla-scented bleaches. The over-laundered smell of hospital linen; fore-cursors of old folks’ hell-homes. The flexible plastic oxygen tubes poking up my nostrils, giving me the perfect ratio of oxygen. But the smell of the plant came from outside the pressurized canisters hidden somewhere in the institutional chartreuse walls.

On the 20 by 20 centimeter table beside my bacteria free bed, was a spurt of green grass, maybe a foot and a half high. Fireworking out of a terra cotta pot. Wincing and drooping, it seemed, as it tried to photosynthesize the photons from the eye-drying fluorescents of the room.

The grass was a green shot with dull grey and an almost yellow stripe up the centre. My crusted-over eyes picked out the tiny serrations along each leaf’s edge. The inside elbow of a mantis; the insect finally stopping its eternal preying and stretching its killer limbs to heaven.

“Hi there,” said a young brown man striding into my previously private room. “You’re awake. Good.” His stethoscope and the slightly darker brown bags under his eyes told me he was the emerg doctor even before he said, “I’m Doctor Parmaj. I closed the hole in your neck.”

I was under sedation. His words and movements seemed like they were skipping every other beat.

“You’re at St. Michael’s hospital, the emergency ward. Can you tell me your name and your age?”

My wallet lay like a leather turd beside the plant’s pot. He knew who I was; he was seeing if I knew. I told him.

“Goooood.” He drolled, clicking a pen the thickness of a robot’s finger and writing in a folder that I didn’t see him open. I sniffed the palette of oxygen being provided to my lungs.

“How are you feeling?”

“Little… slow”. It felt like my saliva had turned to drying sap.

“Yeah, a little morphine there.” His coffee coloured eyes looked into mine. Concern or checking my pupil dilation? Both? “Do you remember what happened? You weren’t saying a lot under the anesthetic.”

The teeth in his smile were so white they were almost blue.
My story was short, but the morphine was giving me the time to find it. I told him that I had been doing some duct work in my house. Cutting sheet metal. That I lost hold of a large piece and it fell on my neck. That with all the blood I didn’t think an ambulance would reach me in time.

He nodded, writing the story into the chart. So now it’s true.

“It sliced you pretty good,” he told me. He drew his finger across his own neck in demonstration. Pepper grain stubble poked out of his leather brown throat. “A four inch slice that almost completely severed your sternocleidomastoid muscle right across. I put that back together, but more frighteningly…” His eyes looked tired not scared. “… the corner of the metal went deeper… into your carotid artery.”

My nodding seemed far away from me. Like her waving from the dock, when I took the girl for rows on the lake.

“You probably noticed the blood pulsing out. Jetting?” More distant nods from the patient. “If it had been your jugular, it wouldn’t have done that. The jugular takes blood back to the heart mostly with gravity’s help.”

He’s trying to impress me. Why? Cuz I showed up with a piece of his kind of hardware, his sole domain, sprouting out of my neck?
“Anyhoo, it nicked you right where the carotid bifurcates…” – his fingers split into a peace symbol on his neck – “… one supplying blood to the face and top of the head, and the other, to the brain.” His smile widened blindingly in a moment of true humour. “We used your clamp in the procedure. Thanks for bringing it along.”

He pulled my forceps out of his lab coat pocket and placed it beside the grass’ pot.

“Three weeks you should be back to your usual capacity. Till then take it easy, wouldn’t want you to have a blow out.”

He rose. “Unfortunately, thanks to the continual shortage of beds we suffer in our supposedly first world medical system, we’re going to send you home tomorrow. I’ll be back just before they set you loose, to remind what watch for… hemorrhages, dizziness, blood spurting three feet out of your neck, that kind of thing. Today make sure you enjoy our wonderful selection of pureed foods.”

Click-click. The cigar sized pen slides into the lab-coat pocket again. Safe and sound. “Any questions?”

My eyes traveled up with what felt like the speed of a caterpillar. And found the grass plant not waving in the wind. “Who…?” I croaked. My voice couldn’t make the climb all the way up and out.

“You’re larynx wasn’t damaged. You just need some water. I’ll have the nurse bring you some.” His eyes swiveled under those huge dark lashes. “As far as the plant goes…” His fingers traveled out to stroke the sagging length of its leaves. “They didn’t leave their nam… Ow!”

Missed him pulling away from the plant. Saw the beetle-backed bead of blood on his finger. He sucked it like any non-doctor would. “Cut me.”

He headed for the door with his finger in his mouth. He was more than ready to go, but then his eyes found mine again. He took his finger out of his mouth, tasting his own fluid.

“My partner died of steroid abuse a few years ago. Couldn’t find a liver donour to replace what he had destroyed. If you’re done with them, good. Even though, I hate to say this, but it was probably the thickness of your neck muscles that prevented your head from being half sawed off.”

“I’m done.”

“Good.” His finger cried another red tear. “Damn.” He put his finger back in his mouth and left me with the grass.

My water came from an aging Jamaican princess who was masquerading as a nurse. She sucked her teeth audibly when she saw my plant-mate. “Now who’d be going and giving you that nasty piece o’ work?” Turns out she grew up with this stuff in the Caribbean.

Razor grass.

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