The day after my surgery, the nurses began to make me get up, get moving, use the bathroom. I had a black cloth bag-purse I had been instructed to bring for the purpose of carrying my drainage tubes when I walked around. I had two of these tubes, with different, plastic collection containers on the end that I was told I’d be trained how to measure and change myself. Oh goody, I thought sarcasticly: I was a little scared of messing it up somehow. It seemed that my sorest spot was under my armpit where the tubes began and ran a few inches down my side, just under the skin. (To this day that spot is still sensitive.)
I really didn’t want to do this moving around thing. I had started what would become a recognizable pattern for me: I felt safe there on the bed where I was. As long as I was there, I wasn’t struggling to walk, I wasn’t scared of tripping and pulling out those damn tubes, I wasn’t moving my muscles and discovering new pains, I wasn’t struggling to do everyday things and feeling the damage measured as such. The nurses were unsympathetic. “Up you go,” they said. “You’ll be just fine.” And of course, they were right.
Sometimes during recovery, our regenerative abilities would strike me as a super power. The body truely is amazing. Not only was I walking into the hallway by that evening, but I was plagued with convulsive laughter. Accompanying me on a slow, careful walk to the longe area and back, Jennifer and Del somehow got me in hysterics. I was shuffling along cautiously, aching aching. They started joking around. I begged them not to make me laugh because it hurt – which only made everything more funny. I guess it’s like laughing at a funeral. I was over the top when I tried to tell Jennifer a story about Del from a few days before surgery:
He and I had been walking from our house to get a drink at the usual expat hangout, Place DeLuxe. There was a drunk lady wandering all over the sidewalk. She had grey and white frizzy hair that reached to her shoulders. As Del and I got closer, she came at us yelling in slow, inebriated motion. Because she was French, and drunk, it of course sounded like total nonsense anyway. “Blooaahhh-blee-bleh-blaah-bluuuhh!” she said. You know, the way French people usually sound, but more pronounced.
She said it very heartily, with vodka to louden her voice to something like the decibel level of a regular American conversation (which by European standards, tends to be quite intrusively loud). She neared us, and I felt a simultaneous twang of pity and one of guilt at my automatic reaction to steer us to the other side of the intersection and away from her. Del, conversely, walks straight on into our natural path—which she has made her path. I felt slightly menaced. As we pass right by her, she turns her attentions and voice directly at us. Instead of stepping back, Del raises his arms above his head the way American movies show us that all black southerners in church choirs do – singing “Hallalujah!” and shouting to the heavens. He jiggles his hands and fingers maniacly and in equal force right back at her, he spouts, “Whoo-waahhh! Crazy lady! Yeah! Blee-Bluuuh! Craaaazy!” She is stunned just long enough, puzzling over the exchange, to let us pass without further assualt. Without so much as a blink, Del steers us steadily on our way until she has turned on to someone else.
I relayed how Del had shouted nonsense back at her and this cracked me up. It had been so unexpected. He begins to imitate her again and I am laughing so hard I cannot breathe. Tears are running down my face and I stop to lean against the wall for support. I am hunched over trying to control the jolting motion of my giggles, my right arm and hand wrapped protectively around my chest and left side. I think I’m going to split my stitches and wet my pants. Picturing that made me laugh all the harder.
Just then one of my doctors passes by. She had been on her way to check on me. She passes us very slowly in the hallway. She looks physically stunned. Horrified. She stares with her eyes wide, her mouth hanging slightly agape. I feel I’ve been caught red-handed at something and need to say something to protest my innocence. “Tell…them… to stop making…to stah-stah…stop making me…laugh!” I squeeze out between guffaws. She continues on without a word. I expect her to come back later but she does not.
The next evening she will come around to check my wound. She will take a satisfied look and then put the tight tubetop of a bandage back tightly under my armpits. She will step back and look at me again. “I have to tell you…when I saw you yesterday in the hall,” she shook her head slowly, “I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
Again I didn’t know what was appropriate to say. Was she upset at me, at them? “Well…ahh, they sure had me going.”
She spoke with the same look as she had the night before, eyes wide. “I thought to myself, I’ve never met anybody who could do that.”
There was a pregnant silence. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Physically or emotionally?” She didn’t answer me. She just stood there and looked at me like she was actually lost in her own thoughts. “Yeah, well…it was funny. I’m okay though, really.”
We concluded the meeting without her ever answering my question. Either way, I took it as a compliment. I was still scared of laughing, but it kept on coming. I was constantly admonishing my visitors to stop being funny. But I had shocked my doctor, and I felt like the rebellious kid in school. In a good way. Not bad for a day in the hospital.