This is the last time I remember praying to God. I was six years old, lying in bed, so pumped with excitement about the next day’s trip to “Marine World”, that I could not fall asleep. The trip would be canceled in the event rain and I couldn’t let that happen. So I made a bargain with God. Lying in bed , I put my hand to my lips, counting each one, and blew 100 kisses to the ceiling of my bedroom. The next day was beautiful and sunny. My prayers had been answered, my kisses accepted.
Sitting outside the operating room, I was over come with the urge to pray. I longed to put my hands together and beg for my life. Blow kisses to an all-knowing parental figure. Be able to connect with someone, something. I sat alone in my hospital gown, the blue cap encasing my hair and transforming me from an individual to a patient. Hospital workers passed me, outfitted in scrubs, acknowledging me as they went in and out the sliding doors with purpose. “How’re you doing?” Oh, I’ve been better, I chirped, smiling weakly. “Who’s your doctor?” Dr. Shin. “Don’t worry, you’re in good hands.” I know. It doesn’t stop my own hands from sweating. I clasped them tightly. My foot tapped involuntarily, with rigorous speed, up and down. My heart pounded in my chest. My whole body was a bundle of nerves. At least I wasn’t crying. My whole being was focused on “keeping it together” and I succeeded in maintaining a certain semblance of this.
As a 20-something, New York cliché hailing from else-where (that is to say, not Jewish), I am devoutly agnostic. Praying to a god I haven’t exactly believed in for the last decade felt cowardly, cheap. An orderly passed me, “We’re just cleaning up the room, just a few more minutes.” He had a large blue garbage bag in his hands. It was full. Full of what? I thought. What are they cleaning up in there? Are there pieces of the last patient in that bag!? I realized I’d been holding my breath. Stop. Just stop. I closed my eyes, Powers that be, grant me peace. I opened my mouth, took a breath, and did something I wouldn’t physically be able to do for the next two weeks. I sang a song. Dona Nobis Pachem. Grant us peace. I may have also said aloud, to myself, I’m a big girl. I can do this.
Finally I was lead into the operating room. “Are you ok?” asked the nurse. I realized I was holding the bottom of my gown between my clenched hands. I imagine I was approximately the color of the walls of the room: white. I’m ok. Just trying not to freak out. I’ve never had surgery before, never gone under anesthesia. I’m nervous. It’s just fear of the unknown. I’ll be fine. I know. I rambled on, cherishing the sound of my own voice. “You’re in good hands, we won’t do anything here without letting you know.” Well I’m letting you know I have small veins. Don’t do so well with needles, I said as I watched her wheel over the IV. I hate IVs. My surgeon came over, said some reassuring words. Reminded me about the painful tonsillectomy recovery. Told me side effects: possible bleeding and I should expect to lose 5-10 pounds. He chuckled, “But maybe that’s a perk, not a side effect.” I stared at him. I’d left my sense of humor with my clothes and personal belongings. Then it was the anesthesiologist turn. I don’t even remember what he said. He numbed my hand, stuck in the IV, put the mask on my face, and I was out. The fear and anticipation were finally over.
The pain afterwards required multiple doses of codeine but it was nothing compared to the agony I’d been in the night before. I sat alone at a Thai restaurant, trying to distract myself by stuffing my face with a huge plate of noodles (my last meal of solid food for a while). My surgery had been pushed back to late afternoon, making it harder to find someone to pick me up. After numerous phone calls, descending the list from “I’m totally comfortable with you picking me up” to “you’ll do if I’m desperate” my most positive response was “I’m busy, but if you really need me there, I can cancel things.” For the first time in ages, I bemoaned my single status. I just wanted a boyfriend who would drop everything and come and sit by my bedside. Who would kiss it and make it all better. Who would bring me soup and snuggle me to sleep.
Before entering the operating room, I look enviously at the Orthodox family who had joined me in waiting. Whose presence made me stop singing to myself. A young man my age was outfitted in the same attire as I, looking nervous. Four members of his family joined him. They spoke in yiddish, I have no idea what they said. They had each other and they had God, and I was as green as hospital scrubs with envy.
It’s an amazing feeling waking up from anesthesia. It’s all over, you’re alive, and on drugs. I felt surprisingly lucid but immensely groggy and weak. I knew I was okay when the nurse brought me some juice and a blueberry muffin. I took one look at that muffin and smiled at its ridiculousness. I’ve just had a tonsillectomy and you bring me a MUFFIN? I can barely swallow water! I was told no solid food for a week and you bring me a MUFFIN?! Are you out of pudding cups? Jello delivery not come today? What is wrong with this hospital?! Unable to voice my thoughts, I considered throwing the muffin at the nurse to get my point across. I refrained. I forced down some juice and stared out the hospital window. A picture-perfect view of the Empire State Building. As I looked, the clouds actually parted and the sun came out. I knew I was going to be ok.
Ten days later, my recovery isn’t complete. It still hurts when I swallow. But aside from that, it’s been very smooth. No bleeding, no complications. I did it. My tonsils are gone forever. Never again will I have a tonsil catastrophe episode again. I went through surgery all by myself (my dear friend Shayna picked me up from the hospital, she’s the best). I’m a big girl. I don’t need boys. A milestone of independence.