Recently I had to take a sobering walk to the vet with Dusty Bones. He'd lost his baby fangs and the time had come to have him fixed for life in a trailer. He weighed in at eight pounds and although hungry, he was in good spirits. The kindly vet agreed to put his mojo in a little jar of alcohol so I could bury it in the garden here at home. I reckoned it's the least I could do. As I heard that last long meeeow before I strode home, it put me in mind of a day many years ago when it had been my turn to face the knife, albeit for a slightly different procedure.
I have two children and they are both boys. They have two different mothers. The first one was overdue and my wife and I eventually found ourselves in a room not unlike a hotel room, with a bed and a shower. That was after going to school to watch videos of childbirth to prepare us both. My wife was having trouble getting ready for the birth so we were told to chill out and try to relax. We followed the instructions and had several long hot showers and argued about names.
After one of the showers, my wife had to recline with lots of sensors and electronics attached to her belly. These fed into a large monitor which chirped, beeped and flashed green strobes and squiggles on a black screen covered with several different metrics. It was anything other than relaxing but the noises coming from the machine were all quite friendly sounding.
Presently, like an unexpected fire-alarm that triggers when you are by the water cooler in your office, the monitor went wild. The benign green graphics turned red and the pitch of the beeps took on a menacing tone. The doors flew open and three people burst into the room. One ran to the monitor and another began pulling wires off of my wife. I lost all track of time.
A lady approached me and in one long sentence told me that our baby was in distress and would have to be removed via c-section immediately. She asked if I was squeamish, told me I had one second to answer and that if I wasn't I could go in and observe the birth if I started to scrub up according to her instructions that very moment.
I answered her and was shown how to clean up and l put on the little paper overshoes and masks and such. Within moments we were joined in an operating room by our family doctor, a young Chinese woman. There was another monitor beeping and all hands who knew how to interpret its language bore very concerned looks on their faces.
My wife was anesthetized and I was told that my wife was fine and healthy but that the labor had gone too long and as a result, the little fellow was deeply in the danger zone. I nodded my understanding and watched as the personnel in attendance kindly adjusted the green cloths in such a way that I could not see their surgical handiwork.
In rather short order, they had extracted, Daniel and I heard him cry as a nurse squirted a load of silver nitrate into his new eyes. After weighing him and administering an Apgar test, she handed the blinded child to his mum and I hoped his sense of smell hadn't been affected so he could properly begin making external bonds since I was convinced he couldn't see with all that goop in his eyes.
My wife was stitched up and the baby was swaddled and soon I got to hold the little thing. Everyone came out OK and before long we were home and living our lives. Things went rough and after a few years we were divorced. Not long after a lengthy legal proceeding, I was remarried and within a year I was awaiting the birth of my second son.
My wife was tested for something called gestational diabetes. The procedure was curious to say the least. She was made to choke down a huge beaker of sugar syrup that would have turned the stomach of a ravenous hummingbird and then had her blood tested for sugar metabolites. Not being a doctor, I figured that if she hadn't had diabetes before the test, she certainly would afterward.
This procedure started everything down the wrong side of the road. My wife was a very healthy, strong woman and the more care she received, the more problems seemed to arise. One day we were at a regular check-up and the doctor phoned a cab and said that my wife would be going straight to the hospital at that moment.
It was alarming and sudden. We rode over and they took her in as if she was in a critical situation, told me not to worry and to just carry on. We were told that she must stay under observation until the birth which was supposed to be six weeks from that time. There was nothing to be done.
Some days later, I was met on my postal route by another mailman, who informed me that the hospital had phoned. My wife was going to be delivered of our baby by emergency c-section later that day. I went to a phone and asked to talk to my wife who was in shock and in tears. I told her to hang on and I'd be there soon.
I literally ran my route, jumping hedges, kicking dogs out of the way and tossing bundles of mail like newspapers. When I finished my work, I bussed over to the hospital in a soaking lather of sweat, still wearing my two satchels. Before long I was reunited with my wife and briefed by the hospital staff.
Now, it was a situation whereupon, my wife was deeply in the danger zone but the premature baby was fine and dandy. There was no time to ponder the irony and after the nurse showed me where to clean up a bit I was given a cot next to my wife. We were told that they intended to attempt inducing the birth via prostaglandin injections but the c-section would proceed if this failed.
I lay on a gurney holding her hand, stinking of anxious sweat and listened to my stomach howl for food. After many hours whereupon I again lost all track of time, I was woken by a nurse. She kindly told me that I smelled awful and ordered me to go home, take a shower, change clothes, eat and return. She promised that she would not let the baby be born before I got back. Then she looked at my wife's chart and suggested I hurry.
Outside on Oak Street it was below zero and I almost tripped over a very large frozen raccoon which lay directly in front of the walkway from the hospital. It had no visible wounds and a beautiful luxurious coat. I wasn't sure how to interpret the omen and rushed across town to my apartment.
On the return trip, I sat with a half dozen Australian guys who were up in Canada for a sports competition. When they heard what was going on, I was clapped on the back, showered with good will, entertained with rugby songs and injected with strength, happiness and congratulations by these perfect strangers. I remembered all the days on the same buses, riding to and fro with my pregnant wife and being amazed that I had to ask people to allow her to sit rather than have this courtesy extended.
I still hadn't eaten, so when I got to the hospital, I went walking and entered the first place I passed. It was a Greek joint and only I and the proprietor were present. He was a good man and a father. He fed me well and gave me a shot of ouzo to steady my nerves. I thanked him and with a belly full of avgolemono I strode past the frozen raccoon and on into the hospital.
Soon, we were all in the operating room. I was allowed to come in because of not having fainted during my first occasion. I was asked if I minded having a student do the sewing-up and some of the other surgical work. I said I certainly did mind. An experienced doctor was provided and as I stood there, the man discussed his golf game of the previous day while he casually sutured my wife like a man in a deli trussing up a chuck roast with string.
Our baby was tiny. He appeared to be on par with a stick of butter but in reality was about four pounds. After the usual procedures and some additional things done for premature infants he was swaddled and in our arms. I was given a shopping list of tiny bottles, miniature diapers and such to purchase. The boy was placed in a room with all the other early arrivals.
After only three days, he was released and we were told he was tiny, strong as a bull and guilty of causing a revolution of yowling in the preemie room. We were allowed to take him home and we did so with more joy than trepidation. I was met by our family doctor before leaving the hospital. She stood with another two doctors and in the most serious of tones told me that if I got my wife pregnant again, it could kill her.
This hit me like a two by four and I told her that with the current choices of birth control available that we were willing to employ, that it was impossible to promise this with any degree of certainty. She smiled and told me not to worry, that as soon as my wife's stitches were healed I could bring her back in to the hospital for another surgery to tie her tubes.
There was no way I was going to subject my wife to those additional horrors after what she'd already been through and I said so. A male doctor standing alongside piped in that I could have a vasectomy instead. I asked a few pertinent questions of this man and decided on the spot that I would submit to this procedure. I knew I couldn't afford to raise another child anyway on my salary and I had two offspring safe and sound. It was enough to ask of the universe, I figured.
My own family doctor spoke now in what I thought sounded like a spoiled teenage girl's voice. She said, “I'm not touching that!” Then she walked away. I asked the man how to sign up. He gave me a number to call and we shook on it. The thought of losing my wife was so terrible to contemplate, I was positively on-side to have myself fixed even though if a person would have asked me ten minutes prior what I thought of the subject, I would have quickly and vehemently told them that it was an unnatural abomination.
At home with the new baby we discovered that a mother raccoon and two kits were residing just outside the ground floor window of baby's bedroom. We gave them some Stoned Wheat Thins each night and they used to croot the baby to sleep. We could see the mum breast-feeding her young under some low-hanging cedar boughs while we bottle fed our own kit with a tiny device like the zoos use to feed baby animals.
The boy grew fat and big on his mother's milk and the coons did likewise and toddled off when they were fit to travel. By Spring I had a date marked on the calendar for my appointment with destiny. As things turned out, it was scheduled for April Fools Day. The irony wasn't lost on me and I prepared myself mentally and physically for the ordeal.
It was a windy, rainy, cold day that day and the sky hadn't decided what to do. There was patches of cobalt blue and great swathes of gray. Against this backdrop, puffy white clouds were shredded by the winds aloft and strewn across the troubled ceiling. It fit my mood perfectly. That morning I reviewed the little instruction sheet I had been given.
I was supposed to have removed the hair from the area to be worked on prior to coming in. I am the type of guy who brushes his teeth like a deck-hand chips rust on an old hull. I am little better on my face when shaving and many is the morning at my post office a friend would have to remind me to pull off all the toilet paper bits decorating my visage.
I was planning to do my route and walk over to the day surgery as soon as the last letter had been dropped. I was running late to get my train and bus, so I decided that the medical professionals would easily be able to accomplish the depilatory preparations. After all, I reasoned, they were bound by the Hippocratic oath to do no harm.
I finished up my route and strode over to the hospital grounds. I paused for a thoughtful smoke under some oaks outside and made my way in. I went to the reception and was directed to another location where I was to wait. After some time reading about re-modeling bathrooms and yoga classes for dogs, I was called on a speaker to come to another room.
I went and was told to wait. I sat on the little leather exam table and a man with a powder blue paper hat came in and chatted for a bit. He asked a few questions and seemed to be making sure that I had followed the sheet of instructions I had been given. I assured him I had and that I was ready except for one thing, which the sheet had said was optional.
He asked what that was with some interest in his voice and I told him that I had been running late that morning so I had decided to let the professionals cut the grass. I told him truthfully that I wasn't even sure exactly which spot had to be cleared. His countenance and his tone changed abruptly. “So, you haven't shaved?”
“I see. Michael, I am going to have to ask you to come to another room. This is very unusual.”
I followed the man to another smaller room. It had a chair, a sink and a chart of the male and female reproductive organs as Leonardo da Vinci would have drawn them had he worked in water colors. Presently another person came in. She was a middle-aged woman and she wore a pastel pink paper hat. She asked me a few questions while frowning at a chart in her hands. “I see here that you haven't prepped yourself.”
“No Ma'am,” I replied.
“Were you given the instruction sheet?”
“Yes, Ma'am, I was. It didn't say it was mandatory, so I figured you guys could do it better than me. Heck, I cut myself shaving my face every morning.”
“It is very unusual. Everyone preps themselves. I've never come across one who didn't. Could you follow me please?”
I was led to an area that resembled a waiter's station in a restaurant. A curtain had been rigged around a counter which had a sink, a coffee pot and cupboards full of things more domestic than medical. A man brought a gurney, I was told to climb aboard and the curtain was drawn around. From my spot, I could hear all the bustle and chatter of the busy floor.
From time to time, people in hospital gowns popped in and out to fill their coffee mugs. Some of them looked at my little chart.
“You didn't prep, eh?” said one young doctor with a grin.
He called a few colleagues over and shared this news with them. Everyone giggled and the first guy told me I had done well and to stick to my guns. I took it as a good sign. I was asked by another passer by just before I drifted off to sleep if I was the guy who hadn't shaved. I assured the man I was. This guy was in his fifties, tired and had the look of a high school janitor a few days away from retirement.
He sported a pale yellow paper hat and with a grunt he undid the brakes on the gurney and pushed me into a very tiny room. He set to work fairly quickly and was as professional in his methods as the last time I had been shaved by a Mexican barber in Monterrey. The difference was that during the entire procedure he bitched, kvetched and complained. He cursed his luck, the hospital and people like me. As he had the blade, I kept my peace.
Soon, he was done, I was prepped and after the reluctant attendant's footfalls disappeared, I was wheeled briskly into a well-lit room. It was a small office and the first thing I noticed was that surrounding the smiling young Chinese doctor were three pretty Chinese nurses. All of them were ten years my junior and the gals wore white hats. The doctor had a light rigged to his head like a mine worker.
I was put in position and given a local anesthetic. I couldn't see what they were up to but by watching the eyebrows of the three girls I could infer how things were going. I relaxed as best as I could and was doing fine until the doctor told one of the girls to stand by with a soldering iron in case he “hit a bleeder.”
I heard the several snicks as he worked and felt the tugs of his sewing. Soon it was over and I was wheeled into a recovery room. I had been under the impression that I would rise and walk out immediately and was somewhat dismayed by this turn of events. The room was large, had windows along the west wall and one could hear the rain beating against the panes.
They wheeled me into a slot marked thirteen. It was then, as the rain turned to hail and wet snow accompanied by thunder and lightening that I realized that I was the only male in the entire room. I was told that I had to remain for an hour or two before being allowed to go home. I felt a very bad energy in the room and it turned out that most of these women had just had abortions, hysterectomies or had had their tubes tied. None were in good spirits and all of them seemed unhappy to see a man.
I had a moment of truly wondering if the Great Spirit was angry at what I'd just done and I told him I did it for the sake of the woman he'd given me as wife. In the middle of these musings, a nurse came and checked my blood pressure and told me I could go home. I rose slowly and walked to collect my things at the desk like John Wayne heading down a dusty street at high noon to face off with a suicidal young gun-slinger. I continued this exaggerated bow-legged gait out toward the bus stop. It was as if any sudden movement would cause my spurs to come unhitched.
Halfway to the bench, I realized that I felt no pain whatsoever and that I needn't walk funny. I tried it out as I waited for the bus and it worked fine. This lightened my mood and I decided to hit the video store on the way home. This I did and armed with a stack of movies I bought a box of Wagon Wheels at a convenience store and then strode over to a gas station and got a big bag of ice.
In no time I was situated on the sofa, watching At Play In The Fields Of The Lord and learning the real meaning of the phrase, “ To chill out.” The pain came with morning as I had been warned. I had decided to go to work after asking the doctors if this was possible. They said that some people swelled up horribly and others did not, thus it was to be my call.
I commuted into Vancouver from New Westminster where I resided at the time. I wanted to tell the Superintendent that I intended to sort and deliver my route but also warn him that if I started to bleed, I would need some back up for the delivery portion for the next few days. I went in his office. I had some trepidation as I had tangled with him previously over some issues that neither of us would back down from. It had led to a truce of sorts whereupon we tried to avoid any future collisions.
He was a young man, not yet forty and I was on the same side of that fence. He was sitting behind his big oak desk and obviously preoccupied and in a strange mood, not to mention that he appeared to be sitting about four inches too high in his chair. I told him about my previous day's procedure and my own plans for recovery.
He unthreaded the clenched long fingers of his two soft hands and placed them on his desk top. He rose from his chair and shook my hand like a man who had just been liberated from a POW camp by an unanticipated allied soldier. Presently he spoke as he drilled me with eyes which were wide as an owl's on a moonless night in a field of tall grass.
“Mike, do whatever you want and take any time off that you want for as long as you want. It's up to you and I'll personally back you up with any paper work necessary. I just had mine done yesterday. My balls are purple, the size of grapefruits and I'm still on an ice bag right now. After my sixth child was born recently, my wife gave me an ultimatum. Son-of-a-bitch! I can't believe you're still walking around.”
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.