4:00 a.m. Cab arrives to pick me up at my house.
It’s Surgery Day. Crack of morn.
Today is the day when I stop walking around with a broken foot … and begin walking around with a recovering foot.
4:30 a.m. I arrive at Albany Medical Center. My surgery is first thing in the morning. I’m nervous and anticipatory. This is going to affect me for who knows how long. My mobility has been severely impaired for the past three months. It’s as if I’ve followed Arne Saknussem to the Center of the Earth, and now I’m waiting for Otto Lidenbrock to rescue me.
I’m in the adult surgery “waiting area” in the basement of the hospital. The television on the wall is tuned to the Cartoon Network. Oh look, there’s an episode of Robot Chicken that I haven’t seen before. Ehh. It’s sorta funny, I guess, but I’d rather watch The Venture Brothers or Aqua Teen Hunger Force instead.
5:30 a.m. It’s time to check in. Everything seems to be on the right path. A security guard takes all my personal possessions – yes, he wonders why I still use a BlackBerry phone – and I change into a hospital gown.
Then comes a conga line of nurses and anesthesiologists and assistants. An intravenous line goes into my right hand, an identity bracelet is wrapped around my left wrist. Every person who sees me asks who I am and what my birthday is. I know it’s for identification purposes. It’s not like I’m expecting any birthday gifts today.
Then, at 7:30 a.m., I’m wheeled into surgery. The anesthesiologist lets me know that I’ll be okay. My left leg has been numbed with anesthetics. I need to stay awake. I want to know what’s going on. And then…
My mind starts to drift. Maybe I’m tired, I did wake up way too early, and I didn’t get to sleep late … still fuming over the football game I saw last night. Ugh. Maybe I’m just too tired. But everything feels normal… if I close one eye, I’ll be okay …
“Go to sleep.”
No, no, I want to know what’s going on … must stay awake … must … I must …
“Go to sleep.”
It was a voice. I could hear it in my mind. Soft and cold. Like a forgotten memory.
“Go to sleep.”
And I couldn’t keep my eyes open… slowly drifting, my mind was thick with thoughts and they were jumbled together …
“Go to sleep.”
I couldn’t move. My body felt like it was made of plaster.
“Go to sleep.”
And in that moment between breaths, I fell out of consciousness.
“You are asleep. Good.”
Good… yes… good sleep…
“I’ve waited five long years for this moment…”
Moment? I don’t understand…
“You don’t remember me, Miller? Not at all?”
No… no I don’t… maybe I don’t … something… about … about a door… and a signature … and a … oh no… no… no…
“Yes, yes. You do remember after all, don’t you?“
I – no – you’re – oh dear God no you’re –
“That’s right, Miller. You remember me. You know me as that part of your mind, your self-doubt, your angst, your fear, your depression, your inner turmoil. The one part of your consciousness that knows all your deepest, darkest, most painful memories and failures.”
No, no please go away. Not now. Not while I’m having surgery … please, let me go. I thought you were out of my life, to never come back ever ever again. I’ve got to wake up. If I wake up, you’ll be gone, it’ll just be a bad dream, just a fickle thought that –
“You’re not waking up, Miller. Not this time. No. Not this time, not now, not ever. No, I finally got you where I want you.”
Please, just go away. I’ve done you no harm, I’ve grown a life of my own, you can’t take me now, not now…
“You think you can tell me what to do? Right now, Miller, I’m in charge. And I’ll tell you something. I almost got you six months ago.”
Six months ago, what do you mean six months ago, I don’t understand –
“I almost got you. Back in North Carolina. Back in that car accident. I almost got you. And I would have gotten you. You should have been killed, and you know it.”
I struggled against the sounds of The Voice. The cool, soft tones were now sizzling and harsh, each word lashing my nerves like whips.
“I am every person who ever beat you up and let you down in school. They were all right and you were wrong, and you know that. I am every parent who abused you and assaulted you, you know it was all your fault and you deserved every punch and kick. Every failed relationship, that’s all your fault. Even your own child moved three thousand miles away to get away from you, and you know that. All of that is me. All of that is me coming at you now. All of that is me taking control of your body and finally, now that I have this moment in time, all of that is me telling you to finally do it. End your life. End your miserable, horrible, worthless, pathetic, useless existence on this earth.”
I couldn’t breathe. My lungs felt like big bags of burlap.
“Ah, it’s just as I suspected. The doctors made a mistake with your anesthesia. Somebody forgot that you were allergic to penicillin, and although I don’t know why they would use it, someone did. Ah, the sweet death of anaphylactic shock. I win, Miller. You lose.”
I could see the shadowy voice in front of me. I saw his outline, a demon dressed in black, an evil smile in rotted teeth, dagger-like eyes.
“You can see me now,” he snarled. “You can see that I am right. And now you’ll do what I ask. Give up your life this night.”
Give up my life this night.
I know that can’t be right.
But I have no strength left to fight.
No matter how I try as I might.
I feel my breath slowly slipping away …
Perhaps this will be my very last day …
And if in that moment, that final dismay…
I hope my life meant something to someone today …
And as I drew in that one last breath of air …
And felt those last pangs of dismay and despair…
I saw what I thought … wait, can that be there …
Standing next to me was a – was a – was a BEAR?!?
“Back off and away, you sad demon of filth!
You’re not taking my friend Chuck off of this earth!
You haven’t the power to minimize his worth
For you haven’t seen all of the things from his birth!”
That cadence … those stanzas … that iambic pentameter…
The poetic doggerel of an ursine contrameter
My eyes started filling with tears as I stammer
“Is that you, the poetry bear known as Tetrameter?”
His razor-sharp talons were as sharp as the noise
He snarled and he growled, “You gave Chuck no choice
He’s better than you, and I say ‘Rejoice!!’”
And he swung his big bear claws at the demonic Voice
“Who are you? What beast dares interrupt my plan
To take this worthless life of this old worthless man
You know I will do it, you know that I can
And nothing you do will ever contramand –
“Roar!!” the big bear shouted, and gave a great scare
“Your taunts and your poisons are nothing to care
For all that I’ve seen of your fear-mongering scare
In the end, you are nothing but a blast of hot air.”
“I’ll kill you too!” the Voice yelled in desperation
“You will not stop me and my recalcitration!”
“Nah, I’ve already stopped you!” was the bear’s exclamation
“For I too am from Chuck Miller’s strong imagination!”
And then I saw something I wouldn’t believe
Tetrameter’s claws ripped through the Voice with great ease
Till his insides looked more like a soup-straining sieve
And the Voice then said, “All right … you win … I’ll leave.”
And with that, my lungs filled with a big blast of life
My strains on my body were cut loose like a knife
And the cause of my pain, the center of my strife
Backed up, as if the Grim Reaper had just dropped his scythe
“Tetrameter,” I cried, “Thank you my friend
I thought at that moment my life was at an end
But how did you get here? How did you send
That message of protection around this surgical bend?”
“Relax,” the bear growled in a more friendly tone
“Certainly at one point you surely have known
That in moments where you’ve felt depressed and alone
I was your spirit animal, from your birth till you’ve grown.”
“So you were with me in trouble and pain?”
“Yes, my friend Chuck, and I’ll be there again
Now just relax, I must go,” the bear explained
“You’re about to wake up… wake up… wake up… was the refrain…
Wake up… Mr. Miller, wake up now…
My eyes opened. I felt movement. My hospital gurney was being wheeled back to a recovery station. I could see the hospital ceiling tiles whizzing past me.
“How do you feel, Mr. Miller?” one of the hospital employees asked.
I struggled to lift my head up from my pillow. My left leg was wrapped in cotton and gauze.
“The surgery … how … ”
“Everything went well. Not a complication at all.”
“But I … ”
“Just relax, Mr. Miller. You’re on your way to recovery now.”
A few hours later, I was home.
I came through the foot surgery, and now it’s time to recover and recuperate. All my efforts to make sure this surgery went well – I was indeed physically healthy enough to undergo the operation.
Then again, I had no idea that I was also mentally healthy enough to handle the operation from the inside, as well.
I guess everybody needs a “spirit animal” in their life.
I just didn’t realize my “spirit animal” was a poetry-spitting bear.
Not that I have a problem with that … 😀