SO IT GOES
Six. Kinds. Of Glue. Wont hold you.
It seems like forever till they transfer me from recovery to the short stay ward. I keep asking what is taking so long and why am I still here. The answers are vague and non- committal. I am still in utter ignorance. I still think I will be out of here by lunchtime and wandering around a bookstore with a hefty gift voucher. They ask me about pain and I say that I have none. I just feel a bit sick and untoward. ‘’Do you think you will vomit?’’ A concerned face asks me. Everyone looks so odd from this perspective. The perspective of lying down and looking up at faces looming over me like fleshy moons. I am told that Leong will be waiting for me in the short stay ward. ‘’And then we can go, right?’’ I say.
‘’We just need to make sure everything is fine with you first.’’ A nurse tells me.
A new bed comes for me and I am helped into it as I get incredibley dizzy when sitting up. The permacath tubes rest over and below my collar bone. It does not hurt but it feels heavy. I wonder if I will ever be able to lift my right arm while this contraption lives with me. ]
I am still in a hospital gown and am wearing my underwear. That underwear is an anchor to the world outside. The bed with me in it gets rolled out of recovery by oderlies. They both chat amicably amongst themselves as we roll along. As soon as they get me into a bed bay at the short stay ward, a curtain is pulled around me and a large and sort of old looking machine is wheeled in by a nurse.
‘’Can you sit up?’’ She asks me as she starts to untangle the long cords that are connected to the machine at one end and connected to nothing at the other.
‘’I think so?’’ I say.
She helps by making the bed head go up slowly. I am sitting up and I did nothing. Amazing. ‘’We are going to keep an eye on your heart rate for a bit.’’ The nurse tells me. ‘’ During your procedure your heart rate spiked and it freaked the surgeon and the aneathatist. Have you experienced this stuff before?’’
‘’Yes. Since I was a teenager.’’ I answer. ‘’I just did not know what it was and it always went away.’’
‘’How long did it last?’’
I think back to last time it happened. In the windowless room with the nurse and Leong. Just before I went in to surgery.
‘’A minute or a bit less.’’ I say. ‘How can my heart rate have gone mental while I am asleep? Its when you are most relaxed, isn’t it?’’
This is why they are watching me now. I am told that as I am pre transplant they have to watch me closely and make sure there is nothing wrong with me heart that would make a transplant more risky than it already is for me.
Another nurse comes to my bedside and she helps the other nurse with the ECG machine. For the first of many many times, stickers get placed over my ribs and shoulders and stomach. The cords get connected to these stickers.
It is Project catch Jessica’s heart spikes. The complication is that the short stay ward does not have an up to date ECG machine. That is, a modern ECG that can catch high heart readings and print them out automatically. Instead we have an old ECG that only prints out readings of my heart rate, if you see the high heart rate and press a button really quickly.
I am sitting in this bed with my hospital gown pulled down around my waist. My breasts are revealed beneath a tangle of cords. This is the vision of perfection that greets Leong when he finally emerges from behind the blue curtain. I feel my face break into a wide smile at him. He has my tote bag, the one I got from the David Shrigley exhibition. It says; DON’T TOUCH MY STUFF. In smaller letters underneath it says; OR MY HAIR OR MY FACE. He places my bag down on the floor beside the chair that he pulls closer to my bed, and he sits down.
‘’You’re here.’’ I say to him. He takes my hands and squeezes them. He gets up and goes away again for a second. When he returns he has some cotton balls that are damp. He takes these and uses them to gently wipe around my mouth. ‘’They did not clean you up very well.’’ He says as he dabs at my chin. He does not say I look like shit. A nurse comes in and explains all to Leong. I do not ask him what he did while I was under the knife. When the nurse goes I look at him and ask. ‘’What did you do for the 45 minutes I was in surgery?’’
‘’You were in surgery longer than that.’’ He tells me. ‘’I kept coming up to the ward they said you would be taken to and it was empty. Completely of beds.’’ I let him look closely at my surgery scars all fresh. ‘’There are two cuts.’’ He tells me. ‘’One is up the neck and the other is lower and where they must have decided to have the permacath come out. ‘’
‘So, how long was I actually in surgery?’’
The answer is about 3 hours.
The photographer’s eye in Leong gets the better of him and he stands up to look at me as I sit up against the bedrest and pillows with my breasts displayed. It is not sexy, I must make this clear. Perhaps it could be made sexual in a recreation with a more conventionally good-looking woman like, Emma Stone. Emma Stone would look amazing sitting topless in a hospital bed; with the cords all connected to stickers stuck to various places across her chest. The chord all shiny and different colours. It could be recreated for a short and tasteful erotic medical themed film-noir.
Instead it is very real and so am I. The chords are faded blue and red. The machine is beige and very bulky. My nurse keeps coming in through the blue curtain, so she can attempt to catch my heart rate spiking, press the button on the antiquated machine and get a print out proving my heart is being mental.
As if he has read my thoughts, and wishes to prove my thinking wrong. Leong says. ‘’You would not want me too. ‘’But you would make an amazing photograph right now.’’
‘’Because I have my tits out.’’ I say with a smile.
‘’Not only that, But all the chords and the sticker things and the betadine stain all up your arm.’’
I lean forward so he can see how far the Betadine stain spreads. It is up my back as well. It looks like beetroot juice. I let him take a photo of my naked backand the back of my head. I let him take a quick photo on his phone. A photo he will not share on social media. He lets me look at the photo he has taken.
I love it. In the photo, I do not look like a person but an array of angles. The pale skin of my back and the back of my right arm contrasts beautifully with the beetroot colour of the betadine all up my arm like a bruisy tattoo. You can see the back of my head and the vivid purple of my short shaggy hair looks great against the paleness of my naked back.
‘’I love it.’’ I say.
‘’It’s a shit photo.’’ He says.
I know he means the composition does not measure up as far as he sees it. He does not mean I am shit looking. He wishes he had bought his proper camera.
We play a game to see what subjects make my heart rate spike up. It does not start as a game. It happens by accident. My nurse comes in and we get chatting. She shows me some Parks and Recreation themed memes on her phone. That make me laugh. ‘’Did you see Amy Pohler and Tina Fey host The Grammys?’’ She asks me.
‘’No, but I read about it. It made me so happy. Such a refreshing change to the ingrained sexist bullshit that Hollywood is famous for. Did you know that practically all the films up for academy awards, are made by men and involve male centred storylines?’’
My nurse shook her head and glanced at the screen showing my heart rate. ‘’’Wow that was high.’’ She said. She rushed to press the button and get a printout. But when the print out came out it did not show the spike reading. It happens too quickly.
‘’Discussing patriarchy while connected to an ECG machine. It is no surprise it resulted in that way.’’ I say.
‘’Now get her to talk about her brother.’’ Leong says.
I glare at him and start to laugh.
‘’That’ll do it too.’’ I say.
Leong pulls out the book I shoved in my bag at the start of the day; Margaret Attwood’s latest collection of 9 short stories. ‘’Oh, I don’t think I am up for reading right now. My head is a bit strange.’’
‘’I was going to read out loud.’’ He says.
I smile with gratitude. ‘’I would love that,’’ I say. He pulls the chair closer to the bed and leans the book on the side of my bed. He finds my page that I am up too and begins. He is not perfect at the reading allowed. He stumbles over words. This is not something he does often. We get interrupted constantly by nurses. There is a change over and a new nurse comes in and introduces herself. This means I have been here an incredibly long time. At one point Leong stops reading and places his for head into my open hand that is laying palm up over the bed covers. He rubs his for head left to right and back again across my hand. After he has done this a few times. He lifts his head up and goes back to reading aloud from the book. Other patients have the tvs above their beds on.
It is after 5pm when I am moved to the ward 6 South west. Our quick in and out of hospital plan, seems long ago and washed out by the hours spend being hooked up and unhooked from the ECG machine. Seriously, I have no idea why they kept doing this. But many different doctors got a good view of my breasts. Before they moved me to the ward they allowed me to put the hospital gown on properly. A hospital room that already has an elderly gentlemen named Henry. He is in the bed near the window. I am in the bed nearest the door. There is a blue curtain separating us. I am told they want to keep me overnight to make sure I am all right.
Henry is in hospital this time around because of a toe on his left foot is gang green. This is because of his diabetes. He has already had a toe on the same foot, removed through surgery. A nurse comes in to check on him as Leong is reading aloud to me.
‘’OK, Henry just let me take a look at this toe of yours.’’ I hear her say. ‘’I think I will change the dressing for you.’’ As she does this, I hear Henry say. ‘’If you keep being so nice. I will never want to leave.’’ He has a quiet and thoughtfull sounding voice. When the surgical consult comes in and asks him questions like if he lives alone. There is a pause before Henry says. ‘’Yes.’’ It is this thoughtful pause that seems to be his trademark. It is not until its time for Leong to go home that I realize how long he has been here with me. 14 hours. It is not until he kisses my head and promises to be back tomorrow with clean underwear and clothes and food. Non hospital food, that I am left alone with my thoughts.
I am so tired. I keep getting asked if I want painkillers for the permacath pain. I keep saying no thanks. There is no pain, just discomfort at having a tube in the neck that is connected through a vein that leads straight to my heart. I figure I need to save the strong stuff for when my body is dealing with a man kidney being shoved into my tiny body. The lights of the hospital room are off. I have been given my evening meds. There was a brief panic when I realized I did not have my pre transplant medications on me. I had thought I would be back intime to take them at home. I get up to go to the toilet and glance at my reflection in the mirror above the sink. I look like some sort of bedraggled girl cyborg with the two little tubes coming out of the main thin white tube.
I get back into my hospital bed and lay down. I let my body relax and try to get ready for sleep. I want to reach out to Henry. Nobody has come to visit him and nobody will all the next day. I stare up and try to think of something to say. Finally I decide on something. And try and project my voice for a pair of older ears.
‘’Hello Henry. My name is Jess.’’ I wait.
‘’Hello.’’ Henry says after a pause. ‘’ My name is Henry. What is your name?’’
‘’My name is Jess.’’ I say again.
There is a silence.
‘’I am usually more chatty than this.’’ I say. ‘’I am just so tired.’’
‘’That’s alright.’’ Henry says after a pause.