I was in junior high. Now they call it “middle school” – same idea: the kids are awkward, covered in acne, sporting braces, wearing stirrup pants, getting periods, all sorts of fun. I even knew a boy who got a perm. Unfortunately, everyone else in the school knew he got a perm, too. It wasn’t just a “body wave” it was a tight perm. He ended up looking like an albino black kid with a nice blonde fro. I was as uncomfortable as the rest of them. I religiously curled and hairsprayed my bangs, put on my light blue mascara, and called my best friend Lillian to make sure that we were going to be wearing almost the exact same outfit as one another. Junior high was not a time to stick out in the crowd. You wanted to blend as much as possible, so maybe no one would even notice you were there. But if they did, they’d be blown away by those electric blue eyelashes and probably fall in love with you in an instant, claiming adoration of your hot pink stirrup pants as they fell to the ground at your feet, and magically Patrick Swayze’s She’s Like The Wind would start playing in the background.
As if I wasn’t feeling self-conscious enough, in April of the ninth grade I was booked to have major jaw surgery. I was living in Saudi Arabia, but my doctors were both Americans. Steffan and Cobetto. They sounded like a Private Investigator Team, and for some reason that made them cooler. I imagined them living like Magnum P.I. – Dobermans at their sides, fixing jaws in their free time. They discussed what they were going to need to do to my poor head, but I tuned them out, hoping that if I didn’t know what they were going to do, it wouldn’t hurt as bad. This was similar to the technique I employed with child-birth. It does not work.
Still completely in the dark, and day dreaming about Corey Haim or Corey Feldman (which was the cute one?) I checked into surgery. My anesthesiologist was an Arab man with a Texas accent. I panicked for a moment because the only other Arab man I knew with such a strong Texas accent was the shrimp man who drove his Toyota pickup door to door through our compound, selling his little edibles. Okay. Not the same man, I finally convinced myself. He said, “Now, we’re going to listen to some music and I’m going to have you count backwards from 100 and you’ll fall asleep before you know it.” He turned on the music. OH GAWD! Willy Nelson? You’ve got to be kidding me. I tried to tell him how much I hated country music, and could he please put on some sort of top 40 Eurotrash, but the gas mask was over my mouth and he just thought I was counting. And then I was asleep.
I woke up some six hours later, in intensive care, with screaming ripping pain – coughing and gagging and the tube that had been in my throat was pulled out.
Then I was asleep again.
I woke an hour or two later to a flash going off. Was I stroking out? Was I supposed to go towards a light? Wow. It was my dad. He was taking pictures. Really? We need to remember this with a Kodak moment?
I willfully returned to my coma.
I next woke up to “Happy birthday to you…” as the doctors and my parents and sister sang happy birthday. It was my fifteenth birthday. Joy of joys. This is just what I always wanted.
I fought back some tears, clutched my childhood cozy blanket, shut my eyes and went back to sleep.
I woke a few hours later and realized that they had not done jaw surgery, they had actually amputated my feet! Oh Lord! How would I ever find a boyfriend if I had to attend the dances with no feet? Oh man. I guess it would be easier to carry all of my books if I was in a wheelchair though.
I started crying again. I tried to talk, but apparently they had done something to my mouth as well. My mom appeared and said, “What honey?’
“mmmfffffft hhhhhhhhhrrrrpppppttttttt…. uuuuuuuugggghhhh…. sniff sniff sniff”
My mom looked at me quizzically. She smiled a little, I think she was trying not to laugh at me. She said, “Oh babe, I just can’t understand a thing you are saying.” The room was dark, so I hadn’t realized my older sister was in there. She unplugged her Walkman briefly and said, “Duh, Mom, she said her feet hurt.”
Wow. My sister was my psychic advocate. I loved her so much at that moment. I almost forgave her for trying to kill me with a butcher knife two years before.
My mom rubbed my feet that had been bound for the last day in the intensive care’s version of a hospital bed. Oh. They just needed blood flow. Heaven. Then back to sleep again.
Next I awoke to some stranger giving me a sponge bath. Oh the horror. I was fifteen. I was naked. Some lady is bathing me. Please oh please oh please don’t let my dad walk in with his camera.
Then back to sleep.
I woke up next in a regular hospital room, with some angry Indian nurses who spoke only bits and pieces of English. Interesting.
And. Where. Is. My. Cozy. Blanket?????????
After panic and a toddler sized meltdown, my cozy was retrieved. I held it tight as the pain started to build. In Saudi Arabia, narcotics are highly illegal. They have had phases of this being included in medical settings. At this time, they were not completely illegal in the hospital, but the choices of drugs was limited. Stadol was all they had. It was an injection that burned like hot gasoline being knifed into your tissue with a salt rub to follow. I hated it more than that bitchy popular girl on my swim team. I waited too long to ask for the next dose. Way too long. My whole head felt like it would explode. I have spared you thus far, but maybe I should explain what happened in the jaw surgery. They actually sawed out my upper jaw (maxilla) and reshaped it with the medical world’s version of a file, and put it back into my head… with a few screws and wires to hold it in place. They put braces on me again, to “wire” my mouth shut with really tight rubber bands. It hurt. Perhaps I should have asked more questions before it all began.
Finally the pain was just too much. My mom and dad had left. My sister/translator had left me her Walkman and a pad of paper to communicate with the staff. I pushed the call button for the nurse. I wrote down on my paper: PAIN KILLERS NEEDED! She glared at me, for some weird reason. As I rocked out to some Duran Duran (the Reflex, flex flex flex flex flex…) and tried to forget the pain, she returned with my pain medication.
In PILL FORM.
What the fuck? My mouth was banded shut. Did she really expect me to swallow a friggin’ pill? Jesus. I lost my fifteen year old mind and started screaming (with my mouth closed… it’s just not as effective) – I threw my snotty kleenex at the nurse, tears flew from my eyes, and I prayed my head would soon burst and cover this stupid woman with my brains and blood and that would SHOW HER!!!! For some reason my mom walked back in at that moment. I was screaming, and probably drooling quite rabidly. She told the nurse that I needed an INJECTION. I was terrified. This woman who I had just thrown something sticky at (granted, it was soft) was going to give me an injection? Oh. And let me tell you, she put some muscle behind it. I was violently stabbed in the ass with a giant needle. Fortunately the pain was soon gone. I forgot how much I wanted to kill that nurse. I forgot how frustrating it was not to be able to yell. I even forgot that I was listening to Duran Duran. I slept.
In the morning I had one more rude awakening. My mom was there with me. I had no feeling in my face, below my eyes. I had a giant, swollen, cotton head. My mom was making me sexy by cleaning up snot that was collecting in my nose with a Q-tip. All I could feel was a slight pressure. As she was pulling a nice long string of snot from my face, like a bungee cord for a lady bug, in walked my swim coach and two of my friends from school. If I could have just stuck one of those pain shots into my brain at that moment, I would have.
I survived my jaw surgery, and in my bubble I am amazed by what they did. I don’t know if I would have done it with the knowledge I now have, or the realization that at age 37 I now have a long screw poking into one of my sinuses. You think I’m letting anyone operate on that part of me again? No thanks. I simply have an excuse for my erratic, goofy behavior.
I have a couple of screws loose.
Yes, for some reason, I also developed a Dad Sense of Humor. I think it may have been a side effect of all those illegal narcotics.