At my first surgery about 12 years ago, I informed my doctor and then, later, the anesthesiologist that I was afraid of anesthesia awareness. (I had watched an old Oprah episode about this, where one of the guests described feeling the hot blade of a knife cutting into her abdomen during her surgery.) The anesthesiologist knew I was going into my first operation, and in his attempt to comfort me, he said something like, “It will be okay.” I wasn’t satisfied with his fleeting attempt. When the anesthetist visited me next, I confided that I didn’t think her boss had taken my concern seriously. A few minutes later, the anesthesiologist reappeared and reassured me that he would give me an extra dose of anesthesia as a precaution. My fear of possible pain slowly subsided, albeit not completely. True to his word, though, I did not remember (or feel) the operation; the only recollection I have is of me laughing while they wheeled me away through a set of double doors.
Twelve years later, and after many operations later, the nurses are prepping me for another surgery, this one having to do with a dislocated disc at my jawline that prevents me from opening my mouth fully. The last time I was lying on a hospital bed was after I had delivered Kiri prematurely. During the couple of days following the surgery, Danith stayed with me in the hospital room for as long as he could, but on one morning he had to return to campus to teach his class. While alone, I turned on my side and pushed my knees up, and I held our son’s body in the crook of my left arm. I pretended that he was alive, and then I pretended that I had passed with him. No nurse came to check on me while I cried, and I did not blame them. Our assigned nurse was attentive, but I think she knew that there was nothing she could do for me. I continued to cry for our son, wishing that our reality would be different. I wanted so much to know how it would feel to walk away from the hospital with a baby in my arms. I considered the many women down the hall who would soon make their exits from the hospital with their living babies. I smelled Kiri and kissed his head.
Today, after the nurse prepares the port on the back of my right hand for the IV, she tells me that it won’t be much longer. I thank her, and when she walks away I curl up on my left side. I am no longer afraid of anesthesia awareness; additionally, I am not afraid of blood draws or IV ports. But my fear of possible pain persists, and I’ve learned that there is no doctor to mitigate this fear with an extra dose of anesthesia. I wish I were a strong person who mightily declares that a life without pain is a life without happiness; that to know one, she must know the other. So bring it on!
Being a petite woman, there remains a lot of room on my hospital bed. While I lie alone, I let a screen slide across my mind. Sitting in bed with me are our children: Daffy, Kiri, and the baby. Daffy is wearing a simple white dress, her hair brushed down to her chin. Kiri might be wearing blue pants, but I’m not sure because the colors are a bit hazy. He remains a doting little brother. And Baby Girl–she must not be too small since she is able to sit up with her sister and brother. My babies are piled on the bed with me, and they are whispering among themselves, once in a while peering at me with concerned eyes. I tell them that I am okay and for them not to worry about me. Once they are satisfied with my answer, they return to their playing. Even though the colors are subdued, the picture before me is clear, and I could watch it for hours. I think about the words I exchanged with Danith earlier, when I said that I had told the nurse about our baby. His immediate response was, “Which of the babies?”
Quietly, I profess that knowing pain has allowed me to feel the joy that comes from seeing our children play together, albeit the scene is only in my head.