My cousin, his best friend and I were on our way to my apartment from my parent’s house. Driving my light blue VW bug southbound on Studebaker road, I saw the traffic light turn red as I approached Anaheim Street. I put my foot on the brake. It caught, but only for a second, before my foot hit the floorboard. A car, with children in the back seat, was stopped ahead of me. A VW van sat in the left turn lane waiting for the green arrow. Several cars were already lined up in the right hand lane. Several cars were traveling in the northbound lanes. There was no escape. I jammed the gearshift into first and then grabbed the emergency brake. I needed to choose what I was going to hit. Just before I was about to collided with the car in front of me, I jerked the steering wheel and aimed for the back of the VW bus. Crash! I saw stars. My car’s horn blared then stopped.
“Turn of the engine! Turn off the engine!” someone was yelling. “Are you alright?” asked a man in his 20s. “Do you have insurance?”
“Yes, I do,” I managed to say, as blood poured from my nose.
“Well, I don’t and there isn’t much damage to my van. So I’m not going to file a claim. I’m ought of here.” And he was gone. I heard a siren and then another. An ambulance had pulled up next to my car. Wow, I couldn’t believe how quickly it had arrived. I wondered if I had passed out.
A police officer stood next to the driver’s side door. “Can you unbuckle your seatbelt?”
“I think so.” I said, as I reached to my side. I struggled with the latch. My eyes were tearing and I couldn’t see very well.
“Let me help you,” said the officer as he reached over me and undid the latch. “Is this your car? Can I see your license?” was all I heard before I was being helped into the ambulance, along with my cousin and his best friend.
“You broke the steering wheel with your face!” my wide eyed cousin exclaimed as the ambulance left the scene of the accident with the three of us in it. “And you have a huge cut under your bottom lip.” Someone had put a large piece of gauze on my face. The shock was wearing off and being replaced by pain.
As the ambulance drove westward on 7th street, a moment of clarity lurched into my consciousness. I had an ounce of marijuana in my sock. My cousin, his friend, and I had been on our way to my apartment so that we could smoke some. I needed to get rid of it before the cops talked to me at the hospital.
“I need some air,” I muffled through the gauze. I gestured to my cousin to open the window. He gave me a puzzled look. The ambulance attendant was sitting next to my cousin’s friend, whose right arm had a compound fracture with the bones sticking out. I made sure that the attendant was not looking when I pointed to my sock. My cousin got the hint and opened the window. I reached across and tossed out the plastic baggy with marijuana. The attendant turned and asked me why I stood up. I muffled that I needed air. He came over to me and checked my bandages. The look in his eyes let me know he knew what I tossed out. I was hoping he wouldn’t tell the cops when we reached the emergency room.
Ten years lapsed before I sought medical attention for my deviated septum and overly swollen turbinates that resulted from my breaking the steering wheel with my face. The doctor explained that the procedure would require a night’s stay in the hospital. I asked him if I would be unconscious during the procedure. He told me that nearly all facial surgeries were performed under anesthesia. I asked him if I could be awake and have him tell me what he was doing during the surgery. The doctor smiled broadly. No one had ever asked him that before.
The day of the procedure, Denise took me to the hospital where we were ushered into the surgery ward. We were greeted by Nurse Ruby. Her eyes were light brown and intense. She stood a good six inches taller than me. Her bright red lips matched the stripes on her nurse’s cap. Her dishwater blond Texas big hair dwarfed her nurse’s cap. Her pristine, white uniform almost glowed in the sunshine coming in through the window.
She pulled the curtain along the side of the bed and began asking me questions in rapid fire succession. “Did you fast, like you were told to?” “I ate dinner very slowly last night. Does that count?” I asked hoping to put a smile on her face.
“Did you take any medications this morning?” she asked without smiling. “Did someone drive you here today? Is there someone at home to take care of you, if you need help?” She wasn’t waiting for a verbal answer before she went on to the next questions. An indication of a nod is all she needed. When she asked, “Have you voided today?” I didn’t answer and I didn’t nod. I just stared at her.
I was getting annoyed with Nurse Ruby’s attitude. She was acting like a bully. I imagined what she must have been like in junior high school, demanding that the timid girls give her the best part of their lunch. That is how she grew so tall.
“Well? Have you?” she asked, bringing me out of my imaginings.
“Voided what?” I asked. Denise rolled her eyes.
Nurse Ruby put her hands on her hips and said, “You know. Like peepee.”
I smiled. “Oh, you mean did I urinate? Why didn’t you speak English instead of hospitalese in the first place?”
When I looked over at Denise, the look on her face said, “Why do you embarrass me like this?”
“Take off your clothes and put them into this plastic bag,” Nurse Ruby commanded. “Then put this gown on and make sure the opening is in the back.”
I stood there waiting for her to leave. She didn’t. She glared at me while holding her clipboard of questions with my answers. I figured one good question deserved another.
“Please explain why do I have to wear this silly thing, with my butt exposed, when the surgery is going to be above my neck?”
The veins in her neck bulged out and she clenched her teeth. I would have offered her a cookie out of my lunch box to calm her down, if I had one. She grabbed her pen out of her pocket and wrote something down furiously on her clipboard. She looked up from her writing and down at me.
Through clenched teeth, she said, “I wrote that you are being combative!” She made an about face and walked away.
“You made her mad,” Denise said. “She doesn’t have time to play your silly games.”
I wondered how many people would read that I was a combative patient. And then I grinned. I had never been labeled as combative before. I was always a nice boy.
The hospital scheduler apparently made a mistake. He should have sent Nurse Ruby to ask me her questions after nurse Needle Spiker finished having her way with me. I have always been afraid of getting shots. They are painful and those needles always look like ten penny nails to me.
When I saw the tray with two syringes, I cringed and my breathing accelerated. The hospital gown made my buttocks easily accessible. The nurse gently slapped my left buttock while simultaneously injecting the right buttock. She had obviously done this before. Denise wore a mischievous grin as she enjoyed watching me squirm before the Nurse Needle Spiker drugged me with her needles. The nurse smiled. I grimaced and forced a smile back. The shot stung and burned. When the nurse left the room, I whined to Denise.
“You are such a baby,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt that much.”
I gave her the same smile I gave the nurse. It did hurt that much.
I followed the nurse’s instructions and laid down on the gurney. In a matter of seconds, I was smiling. My smile grew wider when Denise admonished me for embarrassing her in front of Nurse Ruby. An orderly came in and asked me how I felt. I grinned and began to giggle. I couldn’t stop. The orderly had come to take me to the operating room where the doctor would use his scalpel, drill, and other implements of destruction to cut into my nose, whittle away some bone and cartilage and then freeze the very innards of my breathing apparatus. And all I could do was giggle.
The orderly and a nurse somehow lifted me off the gurney and onto the operating table. The doctor put a blue cloth over my face. I complained, saying that I wanted to watch. He told me that he didn’t want things falling into my eyes. I didn’t believe him. I reminded him that he had promised to give me a play by play commentary as he cut away. Even though I could only see his eyes, but I knew he was smiling.
I was wide awake throughout the procedure, if you can call being intoxicated on painkillers, awake. I felt no pain, no needle stings, no drill grindings, and no knife slices. The doctor kept his word and explained each step in the procedure. I knew when he was chopping away some bone. It was reminiscent of the dentist scraping plaque from my molars. The freezing of the turbinates, far inside my nose, was the only hint of pain that I felt.
After recovery, they wheeled me back to my room. A pretty nurse came in and gave me a back rub. Denise walked in just then and said, “Well, they do take good care of you, don’t they?”
The following day, Denise took me home. I could barely keep my eyes open. I sat down in the chair that Denise had prepared for me to sleep in. She knew that I would not be able to sleep lying down. I quickly drifted off to sleep.
Above my head, the azure skies, dappled with cotton candy clouds, created the perfect canopy over the pool. At the instructor’s nod, I danced to the edge, bounced and sprang off the diving board. I soared high into the air, hands straight up. At the apex, I twisted, twirled, and turned my body downward. My eyes aimed for the target below. My toes straight, my body vertical, I put hand hands together and then sploosh!
The water gave me a gentle squeeze, letting me know that the dive was perfectly executed. I felt victorious. I turned as I reached the bottom and pushed off with my feet. The water swirled around my ears, and tiny bubbles sparkled under the water. A smile erupted on my face as I soared toward the surface. Two white stockinged legs hung over the side of the pool. Those feet wore white nurse’s shoes. I swam towards them. Nurse Ruby’s hands stopped me from reaching the surface. My face was only inches under water. Why is she being such a bully? I thought. Although I stretched to reach the coping, my hands couldn’t reach. The smile of victory vanished; chased away by the acceleration of my heart beat. As I tried to scream, I felt Nurse Ruby’s long fingernails scrape my throat. The wiggly bubbles slowed down, dulled, and turned cloudy blue and yellow. I made one last effort, kicking wildly, to free myself from Nurse Ruby’s grip and reach the surface.
Aughh! Bzzt,bzzt, bzzt, bzzt. The alarm clock rescued me. I twisted to my left side and tapped the off button. I twisted to my right side and grabbed a Kleenex. My throat was sore, my tongue swollen and dry. My nose was packed with gauze and it ached. I reached for a glass of water, next to the box of tissues and slowly took a sip from the straw. The pain in my throat gave way to the water’s relief. I took a big breath and opened my eyes wider. A smile came over my face as I remembered my escape from Nurse Ruby and my perfect dive, even if it was only in a dream.