Thursday, November 02, 2006


You eat a light meal the night before a heart cath. In the morning, even less. I always think it's their way of breaking your spirit before you check into the hospital. It reminds me of my childhood, fasting for Jewish holidays. I get the feeling of atoning for my sins, even if I'm not entirely sure what they are (which is also familiar).

When everyone else in the house is eating but you, every individual aroma declares itself in startling bloom. Fragrance very nearly equates flavor. Somewhere someone pours out buttery maple syrup for waffles and upstairs sorting out the children's socks, I'm salivating.

I sprinkle flake food in the aquarium while I'm thinking about food. The goldfish nibble at it, interested. I watch them eat, then go back to work. I make the kids' beds while I'm upstairs. Lay their pajamas out for later.

I open my own closet and pull out a patchwork prairie skirt that I loved when I bought it, but I've worn it to so many hospital procedures that now I sort of hate it and can't wear it for anything else. It swirls around my ankles. It's also easy to change into after taking off a hospital gown, clumsy with anesthesia and various bandages. I already know that in the car, coming home, I'll curl up in its generous folds as if it's a great, swaddling blanket. That's what it's there for. Utility, economy, conveinence.

Last night I shaved my legs carefully, shaved the top of my right thigh with careful attention so the cath nurse won't have to do anything to me this morning. I felt dutiful, responsible: like the way I do when I put all our plates in the center of the table, when we out together, and wipe up the errant crumbs with my napkin and put the napkin on top of the plates so the waitress will have less to clean up when we leave.

I make the children's lunches, wearing the patchwork skirt and a thin, soft tan cardigan I bought at Goodwill two weeks ago for a dollar. I have No Nonsense white footies on my feet (hospitals are cold; operating rooms are even colder). When I zip up my first-grader's coat I remind him that I won't be home tonight when he gets off the bus; he'll be going to his grandparents', instead. He nods, soberly, letting me know he's paid attention. "I already know this," he tells me. "I know you may not be home until tomorrow. It's okay." He kisses my cheek. "I love you."

"I love you too," I say. He goes out the door with a little smile and a wave. He's fine.

My teenager is already gone, having left the house the night before. The youngest is still coloring pictures in a magazine, on his lap, swinging his feet idly as he waits on the couch for me to take him to school, next. After I take him to school I'll come back for the dog and take the dog to the kennel, to be boarded.

Then we'll leave, after checking that the coffeepot is off and the dishwasher's finished running and that everything is locked up and that it's all, really, taken care of.

And I already know that when we get there, I'll have to check in with some elderly volunteer and wait while she finds my name on the list (her hand trembling over each line, peering to see) and they'll give me a beeper to wait while they put me in the queue. I'll pretend to read a magazine while I wait for some harried woman in an overtiny cubicle to call me back and ask me: am I allergic to latex? any religious preference? if someone calls and asks for you while you're here, can we tell them about you?

Go down the hall, take a left, take another left then a right, give your papers to this person, they'll take you from there. Good luck.

And I already know that the cath lab is professional and efficient and friendly. That they'll be cheerful and do their best to make me feel comfortable and at home, even though I'm going to be nearly naked in limp much-washed hospital linen with my hair in a paper scrunchie cap, stripped of my eyeglasses and whatever jewelry I brought with me, and an IV taped into one or the other of my arms with nothing but my No Nonsense footies to remind me of whatever life I had outside of this one.

You go into the hospital for one of these procedures and the more you feel exposed and drawn out the more you sort of go into yourself more. I retreat further into my head and imagine that if tens of thousands get on airplanes every day all day long, traveling from one place to another with seemingly little effort, couldn't it be possible that tens of millions of us travel somewhere else in our minds and meet, talk, exchange ideas, all in the realm of thought and energy? That communication could be entirely abstract, a whole other realm somewhere slightly above us? And if I could go anywhere, right now, wouldn't it be there? Where I know everyone, and everyone knows me, and we just sit and chat for hours on end with no thought to the time or the place?

Not here, on a narrow table with a blue sheet draped over my stomach so I can't see it when they pierce the femoral artery, and a doctor making jokes to keep me relaxed and at ease, and a nurse watching my face the whole time to make sure I'm OK.