In The House of God by Miriam Sagan (#4)

Eventually, I was transferred up to the post-operative ward, a world of its own. In contrast to the I.C.U. it was dynamic and dramatic, full of people and action. At this Jewish hospital, visiting hours were not enforced. A gypsy patriarch was next door, attend by about forty people who slept in the room and corridor. The women had voluminous petticoats and scarves. A small boy, the only English speaker, translated for the doctors.
The gypsies ate delicious smelling sandwiches. An army of old geezers, some missing limbs, patrolled the corridors on mandatory walks. People screamed in pain, laughed, made loud phone calls. Children ran up and down. Only late at night did things quiet down. A kindly Jamaican aid would come in to mop and would help me turn over in bed, an agonizing procedure.
Soon, I could walk the ward and beyond, pushing my I.V. My mother asked if I had a robe. I said I had a blue and white striped one, hospital issue. When she visited, she was appalled by the thing. It was ratty and washed out. “You made it sound nice,” she said accusingly. She bought me two caftans that swam on my starved body. I had lost my entire adult weight and stopped menstruating. My hair was braided. When my roommate visited she burst into tears. I looked just as I had when we were in the sixth grade. Every morning a cheery slightly plump nurse would weigh me. Often, I’d have lost another half pound. I’d weep, to her jealous consternation. I was still on a liquid diet.
Then one lunch, my tray appeared with a serving of Swedish meatballs. I wolfed them down, my first solid food in months. Then, overcome by a worried intuition, I checked the order slip. It was for a Mrs. Finklestein. I’d eaten her meatballs. But as there was no ill effect, I was then allowed solid food.
My chest was in agony. I had a railroad track scar over twenty-five percent of my body. A half of my right lung was destroyed. I would be in chronic pain for the rest of my life. No one discussed any of this with me.
I was also abruptly detoxed from weeks on morphine. “Now that you are going to live,” yet another intern told me, “I don’t want to send you out in the street addicted to something you know the name of.” He put me on extra strength Bufferin, which surprisingly worked quite well. However, he was right. I have always promised myself that I’d experience morphine again before I die. It made an impression.
After that, things progressed quickly. Visitors no longer had to suit up in masks and discardable paper outfits. I came off the heavy I.V., my arm battered and bruised but set free. The hospital asked me to meet with another young woman who had also had her lungs collapse with the flu. They asked us to track our whereabouts before we got sick—bars, parties, friends. She’d gone to Boson College. We had been nowhere in common. This was before the widespread use of computers, but we had tripped some epidemiological line.
What had happened to me? Forty years later, when swine flu was in the news, I had two medical professionals tell me that it looked like I’d had swine flu.
Well, I told myself towards the end of my hospital stay, I don’t want to do THAT again. Die, that is. Well, I amended it, I don’t ever want to do that again as an AMATEUR.
I meant, as an innocent, an idiot, a person who did not know life. I wasn’t even twenty-two years old, and my old life was over. Indeed, the former me had died. I was, mostly unwittingly, in the first moments of becoming someone else.
The last night in the B.I. I attempted to pour myself a glass of water and dropped the pitcher with my weakened and crippled right arm. I soaked the hospital bed. No one answered the call button. I stripped off the sheets and slept under my winter coat on a bare mattress in one of the greatest hospitals in the world.

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