I’m not here. I am really not here. I am reclining on a deck chair, on an island, in the Caribbean. Soft breezes rustle, ever so gently, through the palm trees. The rhythmic ebb and flow of the ocean whispers to me.“Relax. Relax.”
“Another pina colada Senora?” Roberto, my shirtless cabana boy asks, as he walks toward me from the line of trees, leaving perfect footprints in the sand.
I lift my sunglasses and smile at him. “I don’t think so Roberto, but thank you.”
“You are welcome. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Well, if you don’t mind, I need some sunscreen on my back.”
“But of course. It would be my pleasure.”
I gave him my bottle of sunscreen and sit sideways in the chair, facing away from him. He kneels behind me with his knees in the sand. He pours the sunscreen into his hands, rubs them together, and begins massaging my neck and shoulders. His hands are warm and very strong. They move slowly toward the center of my back and down toward the base of my spine.
“Not quite so hard please, Roberto.”
He doesn’t say anything and he doesn’t ease up either. In fact, he presses even harder and then harder still. His hands move up and down my spine, thumbs pushing against each vertebra, first on the left side and then the right. Push, push, push.
“You’re hurting me. Please stop.” No response.
Like some kind of maniac, he begins pounding on my spine with both fists. I try to rise from my chair, but I can’t move.
My eyes fly open. Damn! I am here. Here is a hospital room. I’m flat on my back, corseted tightly from my neck to my hips by a back brace. I can’t sit up. I can’t turn over. And I hurt like hell. I push the pain pump button. Nothing. I push it again. Nothing. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. Yeah, it’s empty. No kidding. I take a few deep breaths and push the call button for the nurse.
“How can we help you?” says a disembodied voice from somewhere behind my head.
“I’m sorry to bother you but my pain pump needs to be refilled please.”
“I’ll let your nurse know.”
A week ago I spent 11 hours on an operating table having metal rods inserted vertically and horizontally into my spine from top to bottom. My spinal x-ray looks like a railroad track with a head on it. My actual spine feels like a crew of burly men is driving spikes into it with spike hammers.
“Don’t think about it. Try to think about something else,” my friends and family suggest.
Right. Good ole’ Roberto was really helpful.
“Meditation can be very effective,” nurse “Ratchett” told me yesterday. A mountaintop full of Tibetan monks couldn’t meditate this pain away. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
There are 16 ceiling tiles running lengthwise and 12 and a half going the other direction. That equals… a lot of tiles. The tile directly above my head has a water (I hope it’s water) stain in the right hand corner.
In my dentist office there are inspirational posters, on the ceiling, directly above the dental chair. Pithy sayings like “never lose sight of your dreams,” and “we can do anything we want to do if we stick to it long enough” are written over pictures of flowers and butterflies. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. And it smells good too. Like lavender potpourri with a touch of minty freshness.
Not here. Pain makes me sweat. This room smells like Lysol and sweat. My hair is plastered to my head and the sheet below me is damp. The sound of the TV gives me a headache so I listen to the sink’s slow drip. They called the maintenance guy three days ago and he still hasn’t shown up.
I think it’s been about three days since the mystery voice said I’d get some pain medicine. Tiny monsters are chewing on my back muscles, with razor sharp teeth, intent on hitting the mother lode, my rich and tasty bone marrow. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
I’m no novice when it comes to pain. Kidney stones? Bad. C- section? Really bad. Two broken legs? Really, really bad. But this? This is insane. I push the call button again.
“How can we help you?”
“I called a while ago. My pain pump is still empty. I really need some pain medicine.”
“Yes ma’am, we can see your pump on our monitor. I’ll have someone there soon.”
“I would appreciate it.”
I’m a southern girl. We’re raised to be polite and nice. We say “could you please…,” “thank you so much,” and “bless your heart,” but my southern sensibilities are being sorely tested because this bed is a bar- b-que pit and I’m the meat. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
They don’t put clocks in these rooms for a reason. It keeps us off balance. They think we won’t know it will be forever o’clock before anyone bothers to check on us. I bet there’s a clock in the “special” room on the seventh floor. That’s where the celebrity patients stay. I got a look at it one day while visiting a friend. It’s a luxury hotel suite. It’s huge, with fancy wallpaper and soft, upholstered furniture, and an extra bed for a guest. There’s a clock in there because if Troy Aikman or Madonna wants pain medicine, they get it immediately! BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
That sound…. that incessant, monotonous, mocking reminder of what I desperately need and don’t have, is getting louder by the minute. I look to my left and to my right in search of something to throw at the useless pump. I put my hands over my ears but I can still hear it. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. I cover my face with my pillow. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.
The pain and the noise together form an ice pick that burrows slowly and steadily into my brain. I can’t take much more. I can see the headlines now, “Schoolteacher, Mother of Two Strangles Herself with Hospital Call Button Cord.” Who’ll have the last laugh then? I push the button again.
“How can we— “
“Give me the damn morphine!”
“Ma’am, I told you—“
“I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU TOLD ME. BRING IT NOW. NOT ‘IN A MINUTE,’ NOT ‘WHEN YOU GET A CHANCE,’ NOT ‘AFTER SHIFT CHANGE.’ I WANT IT NOW. RIGHT NOW DAMMIT! IS THAT CLEAR?!”
“I’ll send your nurse in immediately ma’am”
“Thank you so much.”
BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.