Waking in the recovery room, I blink. Blinded by the fluorescent lights, jarred by the noise, I look around. I am in a hospital bed, in a row of many other patients in curtained cubicles. I hear a raging voice from the cubicle next to me.
Through a slit in the curtain, I see the profile of a man lying in his bed. He is oddly elfin, with a grey beard and matted hair with straggly tufts hanging over his ears. He could be a gnome from a fairy tale, a pagan from the margins of the known world, a remnant of a disinherited race. He’s delivering a laundry list of insults and reprimands to his large, fleshy wife. His dark rasping voice is breathy, then restricted and contemptuous, as he hones his insults to a venomous pitch. "You are useless to me and only cause me problems. You live off of me and give me nothing back. Stop looking at me, you fat cow. I can't stand the sight of you."
And on and on.
I want to rise out of bed, seize a frying pan and smash him in the head, but have no choice but to lie and listen. His wife (or “the wife," as he probably thinks of her) barely mutters a syllable, stands at attention throughout the tirade. She starts to speak, then stops, unable to draw a breath. Even in this cold room, she is sweating and mops her forehead. Her eyes are expressionless and focused on some faraway place. She is used to this.
Then, he stops.
There is nothing now but the glaring light and endless ambient noise. How nice it would be to be in a private room.
Suddenly, the man speaks, high-pitched, whining like a small child, “Mommy, I can't make.”
Wow! I don’t want to know this, see this, hear this, or think about this. Just as I begin to doubt I heard it, he repeats, “Mommy, I can't make.”
I sigh with relief when my neighbour dozes off.
Still, I am not so lucky, and am wide-awake, expecting at any moment that the nursing staff will take me to my room.
Ten hours later: I am still in the recovery room. They must have a shortage of rooms. But the man and his wife are gone--a good sign. This means I am next in line!
Finally, I am taken on a gurney down the long corridors, gently pushed by a large soft-spoken black man. “Your problem is that the anaesthesia has completely worn off,” he says, “and you are alert to everything that is going on. That is bad!”
Just as I glimpse the promised land of crisp sheets on a silent, private bed, the door next to my assigned room opens. It is my next-door neighbour, naked, hopping mad, dwarf
-like body shaking, genitals bobbing. He says loudly in a voice familiar to me, “I want to make now.”
My gurney-pusher friend says, “Oh, honey, I don’t want you to see this!” His hand tries to cover my eyes. “It’s too late” I say. “I have seen.” Our duet of crazed laughter echoes down the long institutional hallways as we ricochet around the naked man toward the open door of my sanctuary.
A large Jamaican nurse’s aide appears and says to the naked man, “We are not having this. You put your robe on! You get in your room! And she don’t need to hear your make talk. Nobody need hear this talk!"
Finally, I am alone again, staring at the ceiling. I switch off the bedside light and am surprised that the room does not get dark. It is broad daylight but having had no sleep, I would have never known. A nurse comes in, her uniform white as the florescence, removes the IV in my wrist, and says, “I am sorry to wake you, but it is time for you to get dressed. Your friend is here to take you home.”
published 3 December 2011