Op Note XX
The abdomen was opened and the target organs identified. The residents seemed competent, briskly moving hands, confident stances. I felt the urge to take a leak so I scrubbed out for a while. When I returned the nurses asked my glove size. Someone hissed, you’re supposed to get your own gloves. I was positioned in a tiny nook under the patient’s arm pit and told to lift up. The retractor kept slipping. Like this, someone barked. I leaned back and toed the hoe-like tool into the split flesh. We all heard the cracking noises. The ribs! Someone exclaimed. I was quickly shimmied out of the way. When I turned I was a busboy in a greasy spoon diner in Massillon, Ohio. I must have been 16 that summer. There were 6 or 7 tables cluttered with syruped plates and sticky knives, glasses half full of milk or orange juice. Get busy someone seemed to say. It was me inside my head. I had this down to a science. Half eaten pancakes and waffles scraped onto placemats with knives. Plates and bowls all stacked. Silverware in glasses. All paper and food in the trash. Then a quick wipe down of the linoleum table with a wet rag. Place settings slapped down on paper mats. One after the other. People paused to watch. They didn’t realize human excellence happened even in places like this. They didn’t realize this is why they watched. Minutes later I was nearly done. But then a sudden shattering crash, a single white coffee mug fragmenting across the greasy floor like a pat of butter spattering against a hot skillet pan. Tom the perpetually hungover owner called me over. You gotta slow down, he growled. Yes sir. But I didn’t mean it. I turned and carried the full bus tub back to the kitchen. But the kitchen became my Grandma Izzy’s home office and there I was sitting in the corner underlining blocks of text in a stack of Redbook and Good Housekeeping magazines. I was wearing her bifocals. I was six. I wrote in long squiggles like I knew cursive. I could read just fine. But I pretended I was studying philosophy and history and economics at college. That I had access to a secret world that would take me away from all this. That the words in front of my face meant something else. That my squiggles were the alphabetic forms of a sacred language I would someday know. Now I'm in the OR again. The residents are all gone. It’s just me and an open chest. I don’t even notice my hands moving. Everything is purposeful. I know exactly where everything goes. A nurse pushes my glasses back up on my nose. Good thing you’re so fast, she says.
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