A Secular Prayer in Surgical Prep

2 lego doctors. the one on the left has long red hair. the one of the right has short brown hair and glasses.
Image by sergiosantos9 / CC BY

They make it easy for you when you’re a patient. Everything’s broken down into bite-sized pieces.

They tell you what to do. When to do it. And none of it is very hard. Laying a trail of breadcrumbs before you. You only have to follow.

“Take everything off and put on this gown,” the nurse says. “And then open the curtain when you’re done.”

“Everything?” I ask. “Even my socks?”

“Even your socks,” she says. “That’s why you have these.” She points to a pair of fuzzy slipper socks. They’re a striking banana yellow. I don’t know how I didn’t see them there.

“Thank you,” I say.

Once I’ve opened the curtain, it doesn’t take long for her to fuss over me. “Do you need help closing up the back?” she asks.

“Yeah,” I say, sheepish.

“Ugh,” she says. “This gown’s been cut.”

“Cut?” I ask.

“They had to cut someone out of it.”  She waves to another nurse. “Could you get another gown? She got a cut one.”

Cut someone out of it? I think, my pulse quickening. I wonder what happened. Couldn’t have been good. And getting this particular gown feels like a bad omen.

The two nurses come with me behind the curtain and quickly help me swap out the dud for an intact gown. “Get rid of this,” the first nurse says, handing the cut gown to the second. “It shouldn’t be in circulation. We can’t put patients in cut gowns.”

I settle onto my stretcher. A blur of medical professionals visit me. My surgeon. The anesthesiologist. More nurses. Everyone wants to double check that I still want the surgery. And that I don’t have any questions. By the end, I’m saying my name and date of birth like it’s a single word.

“You sure you don’t want to watch TV?” the final nurse asks. “It’s going to be a few minutes before they come get you.”

“I’m fine,” I say to her, smiling as broadly as I can until she leaves.

I stare at the wall. And a huge wave of anxiety soars up through my chest.  Ugh, I think. Stop that. Everything’s going to be fine. 

But what if it isn’t?

I feel like I’m going to cry. And that is the worst thing I can think of. Mortifying. To have the surgical team round the corner and see me in tears.

But the more I fight it, the worse it feels. I feel bad about feeling bad.

And then I remind myself: Mindfulness.

I need to accept how I’m feeling without wishing it were different.

So this is how it is to feel worried, I think. I breathe. Wipe the bit of moisture that’s leaking from my eyes (okay, maybe I am crying a little, no biggie).

And I start to thank my anxiety.

It’s explicit at first: Thank you for reminding me, anxiety. But I got this.

And as the minutes wind on, it becomes more wordless, more implicit. And before I know it, I’m feeling calm. At peace. Ready.

It echoes in my memory. When did I feel like this last? And I realize: It’s when I prayed.

It occurs to me then that thanking anxiety is a kind of secular prayer.

*

When I first wake up in the recovery room, I am emotional. I cry and cry.

I don’t remember this of course. Anesthesia is still in full force.

What I do remember is the charge nurse. I can tell she is annoyed with me about something. Even though I can’t remember ever saying anything to her. I suppose I have probably asked her the same questions over and over. Only this is the first time I actually register the answers. What is her name? Will I see Skyspook soon? How did my surgery go?

She answers me patiently enough, although I hear a weariness in her voice.

But when I call her by her name and ask her if she likes her job, her mood shifts.

And at that moment, I cry again. Because I know I’ve made it. And I’m stable enough to be boring the nurse.

 

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