My eyes opened.
“Hi honey, welcome back,” the anesthetist’s nurse was standing to my left. I looked at the clock; it was 11:45 AM. The last thing I remember was being wheeled towards the surgery suite at 9:35. I recall passing an open autoclave on my right, and a shelf with stacks of surgical packs wrapped in black-striped tape, a sign they had been sterilized, on my left. Then, with an almost audible snap, it was two hours later. “How are you feeling? What’s your pain level?”
“9.” It felt as though my shoulder blade had been sliced apart with a machete, bright red slashes of pain grinding across my upper back, lancing through muscle, ligament, bone.
“OK, pain medication coming in now,” she responded, injecting something into my IV.
My limbs felt like lead. I could barely speak. “Did you get the license plate on that truck?” I mumbled, my sarcasm the first trait to come back online.
“What was that?”
“The truck that just ran me over…did you get the license plate number?”
She smiled indulgently. Undoubtedly I was still incoherent; I felt half-asleep. Which was a blessing; if I’d been awake and in that much pain, I would have made quite the scene. “How’s your pain now?”
“9. At least.”
“OK, more pain medication coming in. And here’s your family.” My sister and Momma Ape circled the narrow bed, impeccably dressed and made-up, ready to go to bat at the first sign of poor pain management. They looked jarringly out of place among the scrubbed and bonneted nurses, like exclusive designer furniture accidentally shipped to a dollar store, and at the same time familiar and comforting, strong, beautiful, capable. “How are you feeling?” my sister asked, looking directly in my eyes.
“Bad. Extreme pain.” My sister glanced at the nurse, who hustled over.
“What’s your pain level?”
I don’t remember much from the rest of the day. My family brought me home. I ate a few bites of pasta and drank a cup of coffee. But I could not find a comfortable position; I do remember that. Through my post-anesthesia haze, the pain cut a wide, crystalline path, blindingly bright, with razored edges, breathtaking, cruel. The pain from before whimpered in the presence of this new, white-hot agony that held me in an iron vise whose restraints I dared not test.
In fact, I remember little from the first handful of days after my surgery. That is merciful, no doubt, as between the pain and nausea from the pain medications, I was miserable. Friends called and sent texts, most of which were ignored; my sister had sent a few group messages the day of the surgery, to reassure them of the surgery’s completion and success, but responses to these updates went largely unanswered. Only a few of my closest friends were permitted to enter my pain-soaked cage to talk or visit.
I couldn’t handle much else. In addition to the pain, I was barely able to hold inside the bile that bubbled in response to letting my sister handle the most intimate details of my existence; bathing me, dressing me, providing food, caring for my home, my pets. She and Momma Ape became the unfortunate recipients of this bile when it frothed; I kept a lid on it for my friends, but snapped at my family like a captured animal.
My body has gone from prison to torture chamber; any attempts at movement involving my right shoulder are greeted with a stunning array of nociception: burning, slicing, shooting fireworks through a persistent, throbbing ache that remains my constant companion. Even today, four days later, having sent my sister back to her family yesterday afternoon, I still feel as though I am wandering around only half-conscious.
The stomach upset from the pain medications is now predictable but no more manageable for that. I can barely eat, a dangerous side-effect, as I am already at least ten pounds underweight. I am due a phone call to the doctor’s office, as soon as they open, to see if I can shift to a different medication.
But it’s done. I am now minus a bursitis that had covered the entire anterior face of my scapula and filled the surrounding areas, a webby, fibrous mess of tissue that fully explained my pain, my limited range of motion, and the inability of various treatment modalities to alleviate my symptoms. For good measure, the surgeon resected a four-centimeter triangle from the upper inside portion of my shoulder blade, as promised, to prevent recurrence.
It’s too soon to know what the eventual state of my shoulder will be. But despite the considerable pain that resulted from muscle and skin manhandling, tissues cut and scraped away, bone sawed off in chunks, my shoulder feels very different. The shard of corrugated metal that had been wedged seemingly permanently underneath my shoulder blade is gone.
I had a real injury. They had to cut me open to find it, but it was a visible, tangible thing. And they took it away.
And so begins Aspect III.