I woke at dawn. The silence of the slate coloured stillness broken by the slow gurgle of kookaburras. As soon as it starts, the sound builds….louder….louder….until the air is filled with hysterical laughter. The kookaburras perch on branches silhouetted against the ever lightening sky. They space themselves out like a choir, raise their fluffy heads and long beaks to the sky and laugh. It is a happy sound of the bush waking up. White cockatoos soar across the green valley squawking loudly and colourful rainbow lorikeets garble excitedly, sight unseen, in nearby trees. Magpies dressed immaculately in black and white….as if just home from an elegant night out at the Opera….warble their pretty calls to each other. Our pink and grey galah stretches his wings and screeches urgently at some unknown thing. He uses his beak and scaly grey claws to climb down the side of his cage to the middle perch. He sees me stirring in bed.
This time of the morning is beautiful. Outside the bush is alive with birdlife. Inside, the house is silent as my children and father continue to sleep through the bush’s awakening. I’m awake because I have to eat breakfast before seven thirty. Today is the day I have to go to hospital for that damned procedure. The peace I felt on opening my eyes has been replaced by a knot in my stomach. A friend told me not to worry….”You’ll be in safe hands.”
I look over to my daughter, asleep on the white leather chaise lounge. The pink patchwork blanket Mum gave her pulled up to her chin. She is sleeping on her back and her head is turned to the side. Her long blonde hair is pulled up in a rough bun on top of her sleepy head and one elegant hand is lying palm up beside her face. I think about my daughters long fingers as a newborn baby and how she slept with both hands peacefully draped over the sides of the stroller…ballerina like. And my two year old son’s chunky little square nails and the fist he formed at the end of his outstretched arm as we forged our way through supermarket queues. My little conqueror. And my Mums hands, sweeping gently across my forehead as I lay with my head on her lap as a child. Holding her hand in the car on the way back to the nursing home…never wanting to let her go….and never forgetting her long elegant hands, life drained from pale fingers….gently crossed over each other in eternal peace.
Over the years I’ve taken many photographs of hands. Actual photographs to file into albums one day and mental snapshots…filed away in my sentimental brain. Images of Mums protective hands, children’s needy hands….lovers with their erotic, moody hands…suggestive and hungry… followed by gentle fingers tracing patterns on salty skin. And doctors with their healing hands. I remember a scene in the movie Beaches. Barbara Hershey, playing the terminally ill Hillary, searches frantically through old photos trying to find a photo of her Mothers hands. She can’t remember what they looked like. Something about that scene disturbed me. It made me conscious of always remembering Mums hands. When I see my daughter’s hands I see Mums hands. Funny how she is so similar to Mum. She is only twelve but already she has long tapered fingernails she lovingly files and attends to with care. Quite unlike my small hands with nails that never grow. Mum used to always say…“Gee, you’ve got small hands.”
I eat my breakfast alone in the soft light. I find peace in the view from the dining table. Despite the overgrown grass, there is beauty in seeing Mums pale pink Camelia bushes rising above the disorder. The pink flowers peep through the dappled flesh coloured branches of the Crepe Myrtle tree. All seems well with the world at this quiet hour. Soon everyone is awake and jostling about in the kitchen. I remember I have to leave my rings behind. It’s the first time I have taken Mum’s rings off since I began looking after them for her. Being a fatalist, I let my daughter know where I will be hiding the rings. I also remind her where I have hidden other jewellery….just in case.
I scrawl a note to my family. I don’t want them to know I’ve written it. I don’t want them to think I’m going to die. I just want to say some small thing to them…just in case. I tell them I love them…I fill most of the page with the words Love….Love…Love. It’s the best I can do at the last minute. Hell, I never even got around to writing out my will. I tell myself to stop thinking like that. I leave the note casually off to the side of some magazines….somewhere they will find it….one day….if I don’t get rid of it before they see it. Because I will be home again…stop thinking so negatively.
We hold hands as we approach the designated ward at the hospital. I slow down a little and try to keep control of myself. My son looks behind and asks what’s wrong. I tell him I’m a bit frightened and burst into tears. My Dad and daughter turn around and my little family embrace me…..hands linked around each other. ‘Family hug’ we call it. I see our reflection in the glass windows as I snuffle and laugh and take in the comfort of their love.
I’m in my blue hospital gown and my daughter is buttoning me up from behind….she feels like Mum. The nurse is taking my blood pressure and pin pricking my finger for a blood sugar reading. A clip has been placed over my index finger to monitor my oxygen saturation. The wards man has arrived to wheel me up to theatre. We cuddle and kiss goodbye and I wave smiling happily for the sake of them. I watch them as I disappear further up the corridor and into the stainless steel lift. I wonder if it would be possible for me to slide off the bed and slip quietly down the corridor in my navy blue hospital gown. Would they treat me like a mad escapee from a mental ward? Would they force me back to surgery or let me go home? I push those tempting thoughts away. A nurse with a blue cap is asking me my name and date of birth….what am I having done…..is that my signature? I tell her I’m nervous. I’ve never had an anaesthetic. I tell her that if I wake up panicking she should give me some paper and a pen…that would calm me down…..writing calms me. She delivers the paper on a clipboard. I never use it.
The anaesthetist is by my side. I’ve seen his name on my paperwork. I knew he was my allocated anaesthetist but it’s nice to put a human face to a name. I wanted to talk to him anyway…tell him I’m nervous. Tell him I have never been put right out to it. Ask him if the anaesthetic will make me numb. Like the two caesarean’s I’ve had. I hated that numb feeling. No….I wouldn’t have that numb feeling…just sleepy…then I’d wake up. Ok…that seemed manageable I thought. I like his blue eyes. He has a surgical hat on. They hand me one to wear also. I put it on. I can feel my fingers trembling as I tuck loose strands into the elasticised hat. The anaesthetist is explaining something about the fact I’ve jumped the queue and we’d be going through such and such a theatre to get to where we need to be. I tell him I don’t really care. He is holding my hand. Sweet, I think. What a sweet comforting gesture. Maybe he’s actually trying to monitor my pulse…sus out my body temperature. Ok….we’re on the move.
They are fussing around me….propping my arms up on some sort of table extender arm rest thingos. Oh…I know that face….the face behind that blue mask is my gynaecologist. I’ve only met her once but I am trusting I am in capable hands. I still hadn’t sent her office my signed paperwork. I phoned the office this morning to ask if I should give it to the gynaecologist at the hospital.
“No…don’t give it to her…we’ll never see it again! Post it to the office instead.” The receptionist advises.
I’m wondering if my gyno is absent minded….does she know what she’s doing….she is getting on in age….
My blue eyed, hand holding anaesthetist is drawing my attention to what he is about to do. The gyno is trying to keep me talking but I can see her eyes flitting back and forth to the anaesthetist. As if there is some unsaid cue…you distract while I sedate.
“You might feel a little stinging…maybe some pressure….you might get a funny taste in your mouth but then you’ll be off to sleep….”
I feel a funny feeling in my head and then nothing until my eyes slam open and there is a group of nurses standing to my right. They are having an intense conversation about the computer in front of them. I hear a female voice saying…
“This patient has been out since 3.05.”
I look at the clock above the nurses station opposite….it says 3.21.
I’m sleepy but I don’t want to go back to that slumber. I’m awake…I’m alive….I’m not numb…I can wriggle my hands and toes…move my legs…I made it! I’m filled with love for the world. I thank God…I thank all His children who have helped in my surgery…if I had a phone I would call that man I love and tell him so…..have they given me something that makes me love everything? I lie there holding my sleepy eyes open, watching others returning from surgery…having their breathing tubes wrenched from their throats….watching their eyes open and seeing the way they grapple with regaining consciousness. I busy myself asking the nurses about the computer and is it something to do with the big sign over the nurse’s station saying “E-Pathways start today”.
“Yes….says the disgruntled nurse…..its shit. I should be watching patients, not staring at the computer.”
They wheel me back to my room where my daughter is sitting doing knitting….some kind of therapy knitting. They leave baskets of knitting around so nervous people can pick up the needles and wool and contribute to the random rows of community knitting. Tight and loose knitting punctuated with the odd dropped stitch here and there. I watch my daughter’s hands moving the needles back and forth…threading the wool around her long fingers. She’s Mum all over.
I’ve been delivered safely back to the caring hands of my family. I can’t wait to be home….to the bush views and bird calls…and to throw out my stupid ‘goodbye…I love you’ letter.