Friday, November 21, 2014

Saturday Musings, 22 November 2014

Good morning --

For it nears morning, this night does, with its quiet almost soothing traffic noises drifting upward toward my hideaway atop this Brookside bungalow.  My constant friend, the ringing in my ears, fills my head and blocks most other sounds.  Tonight its symphony soothes me though at times the crescendos which crash through the corners of my mind deafen, driving me to pause, to look around, to wonder, Are these noises bothering anyone but me?  I don't think they do but I'm never really sure.

The witching hour approaches.  Darkness presses against the window panes.  Amidst the violins which keen inside this dim brain of mine, I hear another echo:  A muffled voice, garbled, as though struggling to reach me from within a heavy shroud, saying, I cannot bear to cause you any more pain. Losing myself in those words, I fall back into the pages of time and I am twelve again.

I lie on a stiff sheet, atop a thin pad which in turn skims the cold surface of a metal table.  The surrounding air carries no speck of warmth.  The gown into which a nurse has slid my small body pools around me though still, for all its excess fabric, I am barely covered.  My legs tremble.  I have been placed on the table and left, alone.  No mother; no nurse; not even a faceless being to stand over me and hold my hand.  I shiver.  I know why I am there.  I complained about the pain in my legs, and suddenly, I found myself in a bed, in a room, with a curtain around me; and now, this.

From somewhere behind me a door opens, then closes with an ominous crash.  Two white-coated figures swiftly move into my field of vision.  Both men, both wearing name tags which I cannot read because the same person who stripped off my nightgown and pulled the drape around me had taken my glasses.  I strain to focus the blur which I know to be their faces.  I can't tell if they are smiling.

One pulls a stool towards my table and perches on it, shifting back and forth.  The other stands to the right, and they murmur to each other.  I long to know what they are saying but I cannot hear them; they speak in whispers, their faces angled away from my gaze.  Finally they turn to me and I see their mouths curve. I think, They are not smiling, just as the one who has remained standing speaks.

We're going to do the procedure now, he intones.  I wonder, Is he talking to me? and barely finish my thought when the other man suddenly raises his arm in a swift motion that I think will turn into a slap but turns out to be a reach, instead:  for a cloth on which some instruments have been placed.

I stare at what he's holding:  A needle, the biggest I've ever seen.  I'm suddenly frightened.

The man on the stool tells me to turn my back towards him.  Something cold brushes against my skin and I jerk.  The man says, "you have to hold still" and I close my eyes.  "This won't hurt," he tells me and then I feel something plunge into the small of my back and I know, I am sure, that I am going to die because there is fire in my back, shooting down my legs.  I start to cry.

The standing man moves around until he can see my face.  No one speaks for a minute.  The inferno in my back begins to lap upwards, toward my shoulder blades.  I feel tears falling on the sheet.  The man behind me says, "this is the first time I've done this" and I heave; I feel the bile rise and the standing man says, "now honey you can't move" and places  both hands on my shoulder and squeezes me.

I close  my eyes.

I give myself to the pain.

It's over in a little while.  The vise that's held me down relaxes and I sag against the examining table.  The one who jabbed me comes around to the front, snapping off the plastic gloves he has worn, tossing them into a waste basket.  I study him; the smooth forehead, the short hair, the lone curl slipping down over his forehead, almost to his eyebrows.  I see that he carries uncertainty in the red rims which surround his hazel eyes.

"For the record."  I finally speak.  They both turn to me, astonishment on their faces.  I hesitate:  perhaps I have died; why else would they look so puzzled to hear my voice.  "For the record," I continue, "it does hurt."  Neither of them respond.  The one who used me as his experiment, his trial run at doing a pediatric spinal tap, lets the dark rise within him.  We stare at each other until a nurse comes to take me back to my room where I sit up to talk to a candy striper a half an hour later and learn what pain really is:  No one told me about spinal tap headaches, no one warned me to lie perfectly flat.  I wonder, as the night attendant brings me morphine, whose job that was.

Now, nearly fifty years later, I listen to the howl of the night wind and close my eyes. I can no longer recall the face of that doctor.  All I can see are his eyes, murky green pools with pinpoint black irises.  I can't remember his voice.  It has faded, lost among the choruses, the rising swell of all the voices telling me something would not hurt, promising that they would not cause me any more  pain.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

Note:  For some reason, the Neko Case song "Nearly Midnight in Honolulu" triggered the memory which I recount for you today.  The spinal tap, the first of several I have had, took place in 1968 at Children's Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.  I do not know who the doctor was -- perhaps he was only an intern.  I have often wondered what became of him.  I hope he forgave himself for lying to me.  Or, if not actually lying, then reassuring me from ignorance.  I have forgiven him.

Here is a YouTube link to a beautiful live performance of the Neko Case song:

Neko Case singing, "Nearly Midnight In Honolulu"

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.