After being hit by a car in 1982 and spending a long time in the hospital, then a long time having various surgeries after that, my sister, Lisa, decided she wanted to be a nurse. So she went to nursing school at George Mason University and graduated in…I don’t remember. I was in high school. Lisa was a brilliant nurse, and whenever I was sick she took excellent care of me. Now, when I am sick, there is still some part of me that goes gloomy with the ache for her to come and smooth my hair with her soft hands, for her to be here again.
Lisa worked for a wonderful dermatologist and at Fairfax Hospital a while, but eventually one of her relationships led her to Los Angeles, California, where she got a job at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. She was there a few years, until one of her relationships drove her home, where she decided to go back to school. In the meantime, she started working at a cosmetic surgeon in McLean. After a while, one of her relationships took her back across the country (although she was born here, I think she was a California girl at heart) to San Diego, where she worked for another cosmetic surgeon. Before she left for California that last time, she had developed a seizure disorder, which was giving her quite a bit of trouble and causing a certain amount of depression. It is speculated that the horrific concussion she sustained from the car hitting her in 1982 damaged her brain, years later causing the seizure disorder.
Lisa was in San Diego for several months before she decided to move back to Los Angeles, where she worked for one last cosmetic surgeon.
I remember plainly when we went there, to that last cosmetic surgeon’s office, to clean out Lisa’s locker after she died. In my memory the locker area is bright, white, and sterile, but the feeling is dark and cold. Lisa hadn’t been there long enough for any of the people she worked with to get to know her, and I think much of her sparkle had left her at that point, because she tended to dazzle whoever she met, and there was just somberness surrounding the man who escorted us to the locker area, no comments or stories about Lisa. No residual dazzledness. None that I remember or noticed. I always know when I meet someone who knew my sister. Like I said, she was a dazzler. Some part of them is still dazzled—even if it’s just a memory—and I can tell.
After the LA cosmetic surgeon’s office, we returned to Lisa’s chilly apartment where we (okay, Dad, Mom, and A.L., not so much me) had been packing up Lisa’s stuff. I mostly laid around in her bloody bed where she had cut her arms open with a scalpel and bled to death.
I’m guessing this is why scalpels throw me into a gasping, choking, crying, anxiety-ridden, panicky mess.
And today, I have a date with a scalpel.
I am having a Mohs surgery to have a tiny basal cell carcinoma removed from my face, and the doctor will be wielding a scalpel. I wasn’t nervous about it yesterday, but worry began creeping in at about four this morning and that led me here, to this Word document, trying to sort it out. I know, despite any therapy I may have had to desensitize myself to that sharp little blade, I cannot look at it without squirming. I was surprised by one of those nasty blades in an unexpected place (my kitchen) earlier in the year, and I nearly passed out, gasping and crying, clinging to the counter and refrigerator to keep from collapsing. Isn’t it amazing how an association can fuck with you so? I pawed at my bottle of Xanax, swallowed one, and later felt sheepish at my reaction.
But now, here we are, minor surgery looming and me without my anti-anxiety meds. I’m pregnant, so I have to work through this on my own. No little white pills to sedate me. My therapist gave me some mental tools to work with, and I have a scene or two in my mind to escape to during the surgery. One is the cove on the Potomac River, and the other is at the mountains by the creek. You’ll notice a lot of water. The ocean is next if the others lose effectiveness. I am also guessing I might be too tired to care. We’ll see. I just don’t feel like having to fight so hard against the anxiety that I know will swallow me if I catch a glimpse of that darn scalpel. I’ve warned the doctor that scalpels (even the word is unpleasant) send me into a panic, but I didn’t give details. I plan to keep my eyes closed. I plan to breathe and remain in control of my emotions. I can do this and that nasty little spot will be off my face, replaced with a scar that will (hopefully) mark my triumph over this tussle with the scalpel. And then I can get back to desensitizing myself. But today, I must escape into my head.
***Later****9:55am**** after surgery***
My appointment was at 7:30 am and all went well! I am already home, as they got all the troublesome bit out at once. The very kind doctor stitched me up quickly and I am bandaged and ready to nap. I still have fingernail marks in my palms from fighting the anxiety and panic that wanted to overwhelm (and embarrass) me. I never saw a scalpel but was reminded how gross it feels to have someone pulling on your skin when they are stitching you up. I got through the first part of the surgery by listening to a song that reminds me of hubby (yep, once I was numb, that’s all it took—one song). I made a bracelet in the waiting room while they made sure they got all the bad parts in the first section. Then I listened to a few Peter Gabriel songs very loudly while he stitched up my wound. I will probably have to have this done again on some other part of my body, so in the future, the headphones go in both ears, because a) the doc doesn’t need to talk to me during any part of the procedure, and b) I never want to hear the sound of stitches thread being twanged, cut, or pulled through my skin again. Ick!