Publish the Word
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Angelus -- Chapter 2

 

 The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. Psalms 68:11

Chapter  2

 

She drifted.

In and out.  Disconnected.

Her mind felt free of the cold body.  She was traveling a long distance, going away.  I am, she thought, a probe in deep space, silver, cylindrical, spinning detached, adrift. The sounds were in her head, not in the blue-black, infinitely silent and numbing void that carried her.

She couldn't seem to focus.  Deep, shivering cold swept through her.

Post-op.  The doctor had told her she would feel some discomfort -- but not this.  The thought came and went, like a star fragment spinning past.

I hurt.  A millisecond of self-awareness, the first in a long time, but it quickly vanished behind her.  She was still tumbling forward, her thoughts in freefall, her thoughts outside her as well, like flickers of light past her small cockpit window.  She had never felt so alone, so achingly alone, so cold.  With immense effort, she tried to twist sideways, as if to relieve the pressure on her chest.

Just lie still, the voice echoed inside her head, a new voice, soft, womanly.

She strained again, harder this time. 

Relax, Mrs. Hall.  You're in recovery now.  We'll take you back to your room in a few minutes ----
            A few minutes.  What did that mean?  She struggled to understand.  Time, where she was, made no sense.  How long had she been gone?  She couldn't piece together her consciousness.  It, too, was scattered.


Mrs. Hall.  More self-awareness.  The words hung, suspended, like a constellation before her, pinpoints of light, a pattern with texture and dimension, sounds, she thought, come visible in the glacial cold.  Miss-uss.

It was too painful to concentrate her thoughts.  The whole top-half of her head felt lifted off when she did.  Let it go.

She tried to talk to herself, inside her head, but that too required more effort, and the weight on her chest was crushing her down.  This body, she realized, this body, this body, this body.  Knife pricks of icy pain, someone sawing her in half.  The sensations began to flare upwards, like searing

blades, from somewhere underneath her.  Pain, a steady, throbbing, gravitational pain, drew her back toward her shivering body.

She was shivering.  The table underneath her was unbearable, the cold so penetrating.  Why, she wondered, didn't they warm her?  A blanket.  Warm, soft sheets.  Why were they so insensitive to her?

And then she felt the air rushing past which puzzled her because she knew as a little schoolgirl there was no air in space.

Re-entry, she thought, feeling now dizzy and nauseous as the gurney wheels clicked rhythmically under her, the tunnel of brilliant light opening through the darkness, faster, warp-speed velocity, she thought, like some science fiction movie she was falling out of, tumbling down again,  downward into the etherized sleep beyond cold and pain.

This is so strange, she thought as she fell.

Twelve hours, her husband's voice was saying above other voices.

That's not uncommon, someone else said, a male.  It went on, but the sounds would not coalesce into words that made sense to her.  It was resonant, a sonorous voice, and when it paused, David's familiar voice said something, so slow and purposeful, but she was still floating just below the surface, the air so thick about her the words only buzzed at her ears.  Her eyes were stuck shut.

She was warmer, but the fire roared inside her abdomen.  And as much as she wanted to swim upward and break through into the clear, bright light, she couldn't.  I am neither alive, nor dead, she told herself.  I am nowhere.

Later -- it was seven the next morning -- a nurse would tell her, who had come to check her vital signs, she would recall snatches of what the surgeon had told her husband, but the haze inside her mind was just beginning to lift.  She watched with dull, wooden eyes as the nurse gently took her forearm and pressed her pulse.

The nurse was young, her face full and surrounded by brown Boticelli ringlets, her hand warm and firm against Mrs. Hall's translucent skin.

Will I live?    The voice was hoarse, her mouth cottony, not the words she had expected to say.

The nurse smiled, radiant.  Yes, you will definitely live, she said.  Your pulse is strong, your blood pressure back to normal.

Mrs. Hall rolled her head to the right to observe the clear plastic tubing of the I.V. which was taped to her arm. She shifted her eyes downward, toward her stomach where the cold which had enveloped her was now concentrated.  A small mound rose under the thin cotton blanket.

Let me check your ice pack, the nurse said.  Mrs. Hall became aware of another tube that snaked under her covers.  The nurse seemed to sense her puzzlement.

The hemovac helps with drainage, she said. 

I need, the words came slowly over her thick tongue, I need to use the bathroom.

I'll need permission to remove the catheter. The nurse turned to leave.

Please -- just help me up.

Not a good idea.  Not until I speak with the doctor.

Mrs. Hall tried to sit up on her own but sank back, woozy. Pain needled at the lower half of her body.  A weird sensation, she thought, like she had eaten glass chips.  The cold pack numbed it, but not entirely.  She clutched the metal rail of the bed to steady herself.

I don't want a catheter.

Want to try a bed pan?  I'll get another nurse.  

The pain was so intense she feared she would tear open the wound, but with the help of both nurses, she struggled to lift her backside high enough for the grey, metal pan.  Her rapid breathing reminded her of when Jeffrey was born, her second child.  It required an immense effort not to ask for the anesthesia, but she survived that agony.  She could endure this as well, she told herself.

As she felt the pressure subside, she began to slump down, into herself.

Hold yourself up a little longer, Mrs. Hall.

But great, oceanic waves were sweeping downwards and over her, washing her back out to a sea of unconsciousness, to cold, damp forgetfulness, miles and miles of emptiness, a lunar landscape.  Nothing.  Nada.

 

It was night when she awoke again.    Her door was ajar.  A fluorescent glow from the corridor spilled onto the brown, padded chair beside her bed. Her first thought was to wonder if her life would ever be the same.  The endless descent from pain to sleep as her body ached, beginning in her lower back and spiraling around her hips and back up into her abdomen, seemed to have gone on for days.  How long?  It was night again.  The second night?


Her thoughts had begun to settle, however, into recognition.  She studied the open doorway.  A slow whisking movement of someone along the corridor, shadow brushing past her doorway, then receding, held her attention.  She hated the drug residue which made her fuzzy and unable to fix on anything except the burning of the chemical ice pack on the incision.  She knew the doctor would gradually reduce the pain medication, but she didn't want it at all if it kept her in such a mental haze.

She watched the serpentine drip of the I.V.  A blue-pinkish bruise radiated out from where it attached to her arm.  She hoped to be disconnected from that soon, also.  And the drainage tube which she could see by tilting her chin downward, even if she was too numb to feel anything but a cold discomfort..

Bilateral oophorectomy.  She rolled the words forward and softly mouthed them into the dark room.  It was over, done, that which she had dreaded for weeks.  Finis.

They had taken her ovaries, but had left her uterus B she hoped -- because it was healthy. 

That much she recalled from the conversation between her husband and the doctor as she had drifted in and out.  A healthy uterus.  Good.  The thought relieved her.  She had fought against a radical hysterectomy.

Removal of her ovaries would cease estrogen production and end any cancer growth.  It was an early diagnosis.  Good for her.  The cancer cells which had just begun to attack her lymph nodes -- the doctors said only three were affected -- were estrogen dependent.  Now they would starve.  With chemo and radiation, she would have her life back.


She tried to shift the weight off her lower back. She was too debilitated to lift herself so she thought to call the nurse and felt for the control panel on the side of the bed.  The nurse would help her get comfortable.  As she fumbled for the red button, she finally squeezed the whole side of the panel.   She listened to her soft exhalations as she waited and waited and waited, but no one was coming.  She again depressed the button.  This time she heard someone=s soft-soled walk and someone beside her in the room.

Mrs. Hall? 

I need to shift my weight -- my back's killing me.

Okay, we can do that.  You feeling better?    The nurse helped her turn onto her right hip.  Pain, as punctual as Old Faithful, shot like a geyser up her side.  The pressure on the incision was unexpectedly more intense than she could bear.  She gasped for breath.

Uhhhh, the pain--- .  She couldn't get the words out.

Just ease back.

She settled gingerly back into the same position.

Is that comfortable?  I can get a heat pack to put underneath your lower back, the nurse said.

Yes. . . please.  

The nurse vanished from the room and Mrs. Hall didn't reopen her eyes until she heard her return.  She tried to relax her jaw, so as to not grind her teeth.  The nurse's hand probed underneath her cotton blanket, wedging the pad against the small arch of her back.  In a few moments she felt heat, blessed, comforting warmth..

If it gets too hot, just call me.  Mrs. Hall nodded.  The doctor will be probably be around soon  to check on you.


Thank you.  Her voice seemed unfamiliar, as if she had been practicing silence for a long time and now was having to learn speech all over again.  Her mouth was numb and suffused with a bitter, chemical taste, like peroxide.  She sighed, then lightly began to massage the sides of her head.  Every operation is serious, the surgeon had told them, but avoiding a full hysterectomy, would mean a faster recovery.  Thank God for small favors, she said to herself at the time.

The doctor had initially wanted to do the more radical surgery -- "just to be safe" -- his rationale.  But after struggling to interpret the most recent medical articles she could find in women=s health magazines, Mrs. Hall mildly protested the doctor's decision.

It's my body, she had told her husband, and if the cancer has not spread throughout the cervix, why should he remove healthy organs?  No, thank you very much.  I'll take my chances.
            She dozed  fitfully for what? minutes? hours?  Time no longer seemed linear.
             It was a thick mohair blanket of darkness with no beginning or end,  she thought, a cold waiting room inhabited by the dying or those struggling to return to the living.  And how she was struggling.  The medicated sleep kept troubling her.  She would mention it to the doctor.

A pleasant, honeyed light began to penetrate her eyelids, a liquid July sun, soft rainwater or sap pouring into her head, warm and soothing, drawing her up from murky sleep. Maybe, she thought, the nembutal was wearing off.

She felt someone's presence before she was actually able to summon her eyes open and gaze upon him.  A slight floral aroma -- it made her think of the wild valley behind her house -- seemed to fill her, erasing the medicinal hospital odors.  She rolled her head sideways, toward a suffused glow to her left.

The pain in her lower back had dissipated.  She struggled to focus her eyes on the rectangular ceiling panels.  In a few moments she was back, inside the lumpy, aching body..

Doctor?

You've slept a long time.  A pleasant voice, but not her doctor's.

She stared at the auerole of gold light until it faded from her eyes.  In the dim glow from the doorway, the doctor, who was sitting half in shadow seemed to have blondish hair, it trickled over his ears, though stylishly, she thought, and large hands, one of which rested against his cheek.  She wondered if he was a young intern.  I've lost track of time, she said apologetically.

He smiled B she saw the hand come down, his head turn in her direction.  You've been in a realm where time has little meaning.

I know.  I don't like these drugs and how they affect me.  I can never seem to clear my mind.

He sat quietly, his arms folded in front of his chest.  He wore a surgical gown, but it appeared to her more of an opalescent white and not the puke-green she was used to seeing.  His eyes, just visible to her wavering focus, appeared to deeply-set above prominent cheekbones, but the entire room still trembled, dreamlike, as if her consciousness were rearranging itself, so she was certain of nothing.

Your body has needed the rest, he said.

She let the words settle about them.  She had become used to shadowy forms bending over her, scribbling with their tiny laser pens, soothing Ava back to sleep like she was a child, or worse, some semi- vegetative, clinical curiosity.  This doctor was actually conversing with her like she was a real person.

You're not like the others, she said.

He didn't respond.  She counted to herself one, two, three prolonged breaths, then an exaggerated  exhalation.  The pain had subsided in her back, and if not for the annoying cold pack on her abdomen, she felt only a slight discomfort.  You doctors usually burst in then rush off.  I'm not surprised your profession has a high mortality rate.

She tried to fix her eyes on him, but her vision kept fluttering.  She fought to retain her thoughts as they began sliding away.  She didn't want to sleep again. She didn=t want more hours of oblivion.  She wanted to talk with this young, solicitous physician.  Her eyes began fading, until he was only a velvety gleam in the darkening room and she released herself again to the soothing flow of Morpheus, his whisper deep inside her.

 

By midday she was finally clear-headed.  She surveyed the room:  two flower arrangements on the table by the window; a television suspended midair from the ceiling at the foot of her bed; the I.V. cart and pronged apparatus disconnected beside her bed; the ceiling-tracked curtain drawn half-way; the empty, vinyl- cushioned chair, the oblong window covered with silvery-mesh and beyond a metallic, overcast sky.

She catalogued sounds beyond her room: water running, which sounded like wind in the distance, a rubber-wheeled cart clicking past in the tiled corridor, traffic over an industrial hum B the air conditioning, a siren, no a baby wailing, faraway.  Maybe a siren.

The chemical pack had fallen off her stomach.  She raised the gauze covering and carefully touched the incision, counting six metal staples which would be removed in a week. She wasn't up to looking at the ugly wound just yet, but she consoled herself knowing it would eventually fade away to a thin, barely-noticeable bikini scar, her doctor had promised -- not that a fifty-year old as puffy and sedentary as she would be wearing a string-bikini anytime soon.


She felt pressure against her bladder. She had resolved  to avoid the bedpan again B could anything be more humiliating? -- so she elbowed herself to a sitting position.  She swung her feet in slow-mo over the side of the bed and held her stomach with both hands, gasping.  I can do this, she told herself.  I can ignore the razors nicking as I move.  She steadied herself. The bathroom was only steps away -- four or five painful stumbles at most.

She could wobble over there and be done with this bedpan degradation.  I'm not helpless, she told herself.  I can do this.  Give me just a minute.

A young nurse breezed into the room as Mrs. Hall began to lower herself to the floor.

What are you doing?  the nurse said, startled.  She grabbed Mrs. Hall by the elbow.  You'll tear your I.V. loose.

Mrs. Hall glanced down at the plastic tube taped to her arm.  Where was her mind to have forgotten that?  Another foot or two and she would have felt the tether of the I.V. machine, but she had forgotten and that bothered her, but not as much as the insistent pressure..

I have to use the bathroom.  Her voice sounded almost normal again.

The nurse sighed as she shook her head.  You shouldn't be getting out of bed without permission.  She tried to ease Mrs. Hall backwards against the pillows, but Mrs. Hall resisted.

Please don=t make me beg to use the bathroom.  

You need a supervisor=s release to unhook the I.V.

I=m trying to be as polite as I can under the circumstances, young lady, but I'm not a child and I don=t appreciate being treated like one.  She had intended to sound firm, but was afraid she came across as irritated.  She could smell the nurse's perfume, a sickly jasmine.  The young woman relaxed her grip and stepped back.

Don't move a muscle.  I'll go ask if it's all right.  

Thank you.


Mrs. Hall gave herself less than a minute before her bladder exploded and then they would all regret the nurse=s recalcitrance.  How she loathed being fussed over, not at her age, not after this ordeal. She had insisted on a private room, because hospitals were invasive enough.  And she was definitely not going to be told when and how to use the bathroom.

In thirty, merciful seconds the young nurse returned with her supervisor, a gaunt

older woman with a nameplate above her heart which read Dora..  She scooped up Mrs. Hall's wrist and began to take her pulse.  The other nurse began to silently wrap a blood pressure cuff around Mrs. Hall's arm.  Neither said a word.  So much for bedside manner, Mrs. Hall thought.

I was wondering the name of the young doctor who stopped in last night, Mrs. Hall said.

The older nurse turned her head to read the metal clipboard on the hospital bed's swing arm.

Your doctor hasn't been in since yesterday afternoon.

No, he wasn=t my doctor.  I thought he was perhaps the physican on call last night. I'm certain it was last night, probably late, 3 a.m. or so -- it was dark outside.

  The nurse shook her head.  No.  Four yesterday afternoon .

A robust young man, blondish hair?  In a white surgical gown?  I >m positive we sat and talked for several minutes.

As the older nurse removed the I.V.  and unpeeled a bandage for Ava=s arm she said, no one I recognize and I've been here 12 years.

A janitor maybe?

Mr. Jackson is African-American, so I don=t think he fits your description, the nurse said, smirking.. 


When Mrs. Hall was seated (gratefully) in the bathroom, she held her stomach with both hands and tried to avoid straining.  Two and a half days since she had eaten anything, she thought.  She wasn't hungry.  A bit queasy, but not hungry.

If not a doctor, and certainly not the janitor, she surmised he might have been a male nurse.  He seemed to be thirtyish, though she couldn=t really tell in the dark.  She had just assumed--

You okay, Mrs. Hall?  The nurse was rapping gently at the door.

Yes, if you=d please give me another minute or two.  The pressure persisted, even though she had passed a quart of liquid, at least it felt that way.  Thank god my head is clear, she said to herself.  I can think again.  And if the worst is passed, I can endure the rest.

 

Her husband came at dinner time, just after the tray of smashed potatoes, processed beef and cherry Jell-o had been deposited in front of her.  She had taken one bite of potatoes before easing back against the bed.  There was no taste to savor, just a gritty, slightly-potatoey feeling in her mouth.  It was what she had expected.

Now that looks appetizing, David said with sarcasm as he slumped into the chair by the window.

She pushed it away.  I'm not hungry anyway.

You're pale, he said.  And bedraggled.  Now I know what that word means.

She tried to smooth down her stubborn hair.  Maybe someone would come in and offer to shampoo it.  Her husband was unwrapping a piece of hard candy, a peppermint pinwheel. He popped it into his mouth, then interlaced his fingers over his crossed knees.

I feel like such a dirty dishrag, she said.  I hope no one comes to see me.


Her husband rolled the candy over and clicked it against his teeth.  He  watched her with only mild interest, she thought. He hadn't deposited even a perfunctory kiss on her forehead -- not that she had expected him to.  But he might have said something empathetic, asked how she felt.

Brought you some flowers, he said, gesturing to the arrangements beside him.

Two?

Julie sent the other bunch.  Said she would drive up this weekend if she can.

Their twenty-year old daughter lived two hours away in Madison, not a long trip, but Mrs. Hall didn't expect her to come.  She had learned not to expect much of anything.  Ever since Julie had gone away to college, she had become even more self- absorbed, not the thoughtful and devoted daughter she had always envisioned, not that fantasy.  Julie's infrequent calls were punctuated by the Hallmark birthday card, the Hallmark Mother's Day card, the Hallmark telephone call, collect, of course.

And talking to her was like talking to a Stepford child, more stranger than daughter.  The one time Mrs. Hall had called Julie for emotional support, a late night when she was blowsy with depression, a young man had answered her apartment phone and said she wasn't home, which was disconcerting because Julie lived alone.

Oh well, she sighed, trying to shift her weight to a  more comfortable position.  She didn't like the bed being so high off the floor; she was disoriented enough.

You should try to eat anyway, her husband said.

Dutifully, Mrs. Hall took a spoonful of the Jell-o. Little pieces of fruit cocktail hung gelatinized, like pastel fossils.  She slid a spoonful into her mouth and let it dissolve before swallowing.  Slightly cherry.  The fruit fragments had no taste.


Can you imagine how many pounds of Jell-o the average hospital must go through in one year?  He stared at her food tray.  Trays and trays of Jell-o, he went on, mixed daily in huge, industrial-sized vats.  Cherry, raspberry, strawberry, orange,, my personal favorite, lime, Jell-o with carrot shreds under a dollop of some pseudo-non-dairy creamed topping.  She gulped another bite.  He turned away to stare out the window as he continued his monologue.

            She had gotten used to this quirky aspect of her husband.  After twenty-six years of marriage she accepted his conversations with himself as more interesting than talking to anyone else, her especially. He was on a cynical bent this evening.

She listened with patience, though only half-heartedly.

For an institution of healing which employs highly-educated, and I imagine highly-paid dieticians, one would think a non-nutritious, highly-sugared, red-dye enhanced glob of nothing would of course be at the top of a surgical patient's list of recuperative foods.  Do you most people know what Jell-o is made of?

Animal by-products, she said quietly. 

 What's wrong with chicken soup?  Some light pasta marinara?  A vegetable salad?  They give you Jell-o, some noxious mystery-meat and mashed potatoes which were never potatoes in the first place. You want me to order you a pizza?

 I'm really not that hungry.

Have you seen the doctor? he asked, sitting forward.

Not since -- she started to say last night -- yesterday afternoon.  I was too sedated to remember much.  Did you talk to him?

David stroked his cheek as if to measure the stubble.  Said it went fine, your basic by the book surgery -- routine snip, snip, ovaries, tubes, some fibrous tissue here and there.

They caught it early, she said. 

Yes, they caught it early, he repeated.  A couple more days and you'll be back home watching tv game shows.

It wasn't that minor.

No, I was joking.  He paused and she could tell he was scripting his next speech by the way his eyes defocused and the way he raked his fingers through his hair.   When he spoke, it was to the ceiling.

I realize how... how, what?  B traumatizing this is for a woman, to remove the female hormonal pump to your body.  I know it goes to the core of who you are as a woman.  I know this.  Not all men are sexist swine.  I never implied it was minor surgery, not like extracting a tooth is minor surgery.  I understand these things.  Were I a woman, I could understand it better, but I'm not, so forgive me.  Females are infinitely more complex -- I accept this biological fact of nature.

You're being sarcastic.

I am not.    He got up, smoothed his pants, and turned to stare out the window again.  Sometimes, she thought, he almost believed the words which came out of his mouth.  He seemed sincere to most people.  His real-estate clients loved him -- old, honest David Hall,  gift of gab, blah, blah, blah.  You can trust your life to this man.  If they only knew.

She longed to remember how he was as a 24-year-old MBA student, just free of the military.  He was witty and thoughtful B he brought her a heart-shaped box of Swiss chocolates on their first date.  He had all that unruly auburn hair and eyes as blue as a Caribbean sky.  He was a riot, so entertaining, so kind and sweet.  After three months he proposed.  And then??-- she couldn't think of one, single moment when he had changed.  But imperceptibly, he had withdrawn all the warmth behind his words until now they were just words, fluttering like moths in the air between them, filling the empty space with his vanity.

 A young doctor sat up with me last night while I dozed.  I wish I knew his name.

  Her husband didn't respond.

A dour, rouged middle-aged nurse came in to take Mrs. Hall's blood pressure.  She watched the woman record the numbers and leave.  David's arms were folded behind him as he watched  the traffic flowing past.

Julie said she might be up this weekend.

So you said.

One of the arrangements is from her.

Mrs. Hall began to massage her forehead.  Her skin felt greasy and bumpy at her hairline.  She longed for a deep, engulfing bubble bath.  You told me that too, she said.

I wasn't sure you heard.  You've been floating in and out the past two days.

It's the pain medication.  I want the doctor to take me off it -- makes me too groggy.

Well, I'm sure he'll be in tonight.

 Her husband, was fidgety and bored, she could tell, and  she could also tell he was about to leave.

Wish I could stay, Ava, but I've got a house to show at eight.  A couple in from California.  He's an engineer, wife's a symphony conductor or something.  Gotta go, but  I'll swing by tomorrow.  He squeezed her foot through the blankets and left.

Fine, she thought.  Good bye.  Good night.  Fine.  I love you, too.  Never mind. 


            At least she wouldn't have to pretend she didn't notice him coming in at three a.m.  Nor would she have to pretend to herself she didn't care.  He and what=s-her-name could have the whole night together and the next day without any charade.  Fine with her.

After years of trying to emotionally detach her life from his, the pain had metamorphosized from anger into cancer, she believed that, her theory, how once internalized, such negative psychic energy became self-destructive.  With time, she would eventually have no feelings.  She would do what she must for self-survival.  Whatever that was.

Jeffrey was gone.  Julie was as good as gone.  And David Hall was just a name and a face on a billboard, a smiling face in a suit and tie, words swirling out of the television.

The young doctor's image rose in her mind.  Why had he made such an impression?  Had he touched her?  Not that she recalled.  But something about him seemed to soothe her as she tried to reassemble his face from the darkness.  What had he said?  She could remember so little of the past few days.

He reminded her of her son, just a little.  She hated to indulge herself, but here she was again, imagining what if?  If he had lived, Jeffrey would be 23, a birthday coming up next month.  A broad  physique like his father, she envisioned her son would have been 6"2, a ruddy complexion, an athlete, strong features, but with compassionate eyes, like hers.

 At first she blamed the cancer on the wound to her soul left by Jeffrey's absence -- how pain had filled the hole, a pain which never left her.  It had drained away, somewhat, as well-intentioned friends said it would.  But a dull ache remained, a hollowness, then an abscess.  From that, she thought, the cancer had sprung.

She could lay blame to that, yes, she could, and more.