A Teflon tube -- Return -- First breath
My mother waits and waits. The surgery plan is for four hours but four hours, five, seven, nine pass while the OR nurses go in and out. They’ve already been informed that no one will be allowed to tell them anything until it’s over. My father reads much more of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich than he intended. Probably hanging on the wall is one of those plain white-faced clocks with big black hands and numbers that my parents don’t want to look at. Beyond those wide swinging doors, I am sleeping.
Finally the surgeon emerges, shakes my father’s hand. “Everything is fine,” he says. “A bit more complicated than expected. But Linda is fine.” It’s then he tells them for the first time the story he will have to repeat later so they can take it all in, a story that wasn’t in the diagrams on my mother’s bed: There wasn’t just the hole . . . we found more than expected . . . three veins on the wrong side of the heart . . . brain medically frozen for thirty minutes, blood flow stopped . . . a piece of Teflon tubing through the hole to plug it and drain the veins into the right side . . . there permanently . . . should be no problem, should work . . . the Teflon tube? . . . yes, the same thing they use in astronaut suits . . . no, it’s not usual . . . we improvised.
Hours later, the turtle scatters loose sand into a fine, thick cover for the eggs, and without looking back, makes her way again into the indifferent water.
When I finally wake up in my hospital room, the private duty nurse is sitting in a chair reading. My mother is just sitting. I try to say something but can’t. Is it over, I want to know. Both of them are immediately by my side.
“You won’t be able to talk for a little bit, honey,” my mother explains. “They had to make a hole in your windpipe and put a tube in so you could breathe better.”
“It’s a tracheotomy,” the nurse says coolly as she takes my pulse. “Nothing to worry about.”
You mean I couldn’t breathe, I want to ask. I put my hand to my neck and feel the plastic box inches before I touch where my skin should be, the hoses forcing oxygen into my lungs. After a few days, the box comes off, and I have to learn to breathe on my own through my neck. I write notes voraciously on little pads of paper to be heard. I change my new Barbie doll’s outfits. I watch cartoons from the television hanging from the ceiling. After another ten days, the doctor comes in to take out the tube.
“Now you’re going to have to learn how to breathe through your nose again,” he says as if it were a great joke. An oxygen mask is put over my face while he works. I feel a small tug as the tube comes out and a little gurgle, then the creepy feeling of stitches being sewn even though he’s “numbed it up” first. There will be a scar at the base of my neck as well as the looping one across my chest where they opened it up.
Everyone in the hospital room watches while the mask is removed. If I get this right, I will be able to leave the hospital tomorrow. At first I panic as nothing happens when I automatically work my neck muscles as I have been for the past week. Then my body remembers and takes over. My first inhale is a gasp. I think I cry a little bit.
Copyright 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster