As we sat on the couch, the talk sparked back to some sort of violence that related enough to him. GS sat next to me and as I looked up toward his profile watching the TV, I poked him and said, “You,” another poke for emphasis, “are not allowed to die.”
He jutted his chin out slightly, kept watching the TV, and calmly said, “I won’t. I have a fate.”
I’ve been thinking of this lately. Of fate and how what we suffer through make us the people that we end up being, for better, for worse, for that little bit of extra dimension in our lives. I’ve always had the thought that there are probably an exponential amount of dimensions of ourselves from the choices we may not have made in this run. Those squealing tires just missing you? There’s one less of you somewhere out there.
Later that night, GS ran his hands across my back and asked if there was a scar. I gave the nutshell version and somehow said something to the effect that there must be a reason I’m here because it was all a little dicey.
I think, at least currently, this dimension is rooting for me. Here is the non-nutty, and long, version. I couldn’t help myself with the title.
I was a bit of a gangly, awkward child. I would slouch and contort myself into fantastic positions as I laid on the floor watching the X-Files. I was tall for my age, but it was expected because my Dad was tall.
I mangle the very early history of this story because, to be honest, the best way of coping with the remembrance of physical pain is letting your brain wipe clean as much as it can on its own. I remember learning to dive. I remember my Mom pointing to my back. I remember going to the doctor, bending over, and very worried talks that lead to tears for adults because of the knowledge and tears for a 10-year-old me because without knowledge fear can be just as palpably contagious.
Scoliosis is a disease a lot like the Kevin Bacon chain. A large number of people will say, yes, they have been told their spine bends a bit to one degree or another [Disease joke!] or that they know of someone who has scoliosis. That it’s just something that happens to you. But mine was a touch more severe. It emulates the serpent on the staff of Asclepius, slowing winding my ribs into organs. If left to my own devices, my body would be my worst enemy. The debate was whether or not to wait for puberty to hit and supplement my life with a back brace, or to try an scoliosis surgery. Like a modern oracle, I placed my hand down to be X-rayed, being told that the measurement of your hands delineates your body’s physical progress, and was given the notice that this might be a good time to attempt surgery.
There was about five weeks of pre-surgery treatment when I lived at the hospital. I gave blood once a week to gather up a store of a blood to give back to me after the surgery. I laid on hot tar and had massages that were meant shape my spine back into place. I had a daily chore of placing my body in something very reminiscent of a medieval rack that was meant to stretch me out. After the surgery I believe I gained about two inches of height, that had I progressed normally without probably would have seen me hit a studly 5’10” or 11”. And being in Germany for this, I was made to have strange postmodern therapy sessions which involved painting with salt, walking around the lake, and learning how to pick up and put on one’s underwear without bending over. (Still a very handy thing to know.) I was told to swim daily for “therapy” but it was more likely to keep a very bored 11-year-old from running too much amok.
I remember where my parents sat as the filled out the forms which listed the plethora of ways I could die. Then move onto the forms of how, if I didn’t die, I would never walk, or breathe on my own, or be anything like what I was sitting in that room that night. I have never known what exactly the risks were.
The hospital had efficient Russian nurses who could give thrombosis shots without you knowing and briskly chiding you under their breathes. It was the first time I realized how American I was; how much I appreciated a night nurse in the ICU speaking English to me against the labored breathing, moans, and beeping machines.
I remember the pink razor with which they shaved any possible hair off my back. I remember the looks of my parents. I remember making sure to pay attention to the lights as they flashed above me as they wheeled me into the operating room, this – this, I had seen in movies. I remember the animalistic fear of being asked to jump onto the operating table on my own accord. I remember it being hard for them to put the line in for the anesthesia because of the shakes and only counting back to 96.
Like I said, pain as a remembrance is a strange thing. I think to it now and only come up with a visceral flash that is akin to an Internet 404. The mind protects itself.
I remember screaming when I stood for the first time and nearly collapsing into the arms of nurses. I remember hating the Asian girl who I shared a room with and who had the same surgery, but who had complications with her breathing, because she stood with a light gasp and calmly walked to the rest room. I remember seeing my grandma cry in a haze. I remember my Dad being the only one who would make me laugh even though I told him it hurt my body to do so.
I stayed at the hospital another couple of weeks, riding home in an ambulance where I rode on a bag of beads that, when they sucked out the air, framed me in a stiff hug. Not being allowed to sit for three months, which is the most damaging thing you can do to your spine it turns out, was insanely annoying. To compensate for artificial bend that the rods gave me, I had to relearn to walk. I also severely wanted to test myself in a metal detector and never got the chance. [Damn.] Puberty crept up and I wondered how exactly would get boys to like me with glasses and a Frankenstein walk. A year passes.
My body ended up rejecting the metal. A routine exploratory surgery turned into another six hour drama to clean out the infection and remove the metal and leaving behind only a fused spine and a painfully ugly reopened scar. A poor pre-med student walked out of my room in tears as she pulled out stitches that had started to mold into my skin and I thrashed like a beast lit on fire.
I remember waking up too early the second time when I still shouldn’t have been breathing on my own. I remember my hands tearing at my throat to try and pry out the tubes as nurses rushed to hold me down and give me a shot to sustain my sleep. I remember waking up to hear probably the most trite comically bad thing you would want to hear from a doctor, “Ich mag nicht wie viel Blut sie verliert” – he didn’t like how much blood I was losing. I remember they had to open blood banks in a few cities in northern Germany to find the best blood type for a leaking American girl.
The next time I didn’t scream when I stood up again.
My aunt didn’t intend it, but she did give me the strangest comment about my back. As I was starting to leave my teens, and I grew in confidence and sexual swagger, I wore tank tops during the long summer months that are part and parcel of the desert. She remarked how brave I was to wear something so revealing, in a way that showed so much of my scarring. This tumbled in my mind and realized that I hadn’t thought of it in that way because…well, I didn’t have to see it. I feel it everyday: I can’t lift heavy things and there is a section of skin on my ribcage that has no feeling to touch, but it’s not something I contend with anymore beyond knowing not to do headstands in yoga.
My body is worn with pride, but also is worn by the tides it has faced. It’s the same way that I’ll enjoy wrinkles as being the memory of laughs I’ve had. And since in this dimension I’ve walked with Death only to leave him and bid him well until the next time, it must be carrying me on toward something pretty spectacular and hopefully filled with a good deal of laughter.
This writing was originally inspired by Deus Ex Malcontent’s brilliant write-up of his go with a brain tumor and my new freshly minted blogging pal, PhDeath, who I still have a man crush on, who had remarked on her scoliosis which made me let out a fangirl squeal of OMG, ME TOO.