By Michaiah, age 15

I tiptoe across the tile floor. Between praying and panicking, I only managed to snatch three hours of sleep last night, and I’m feeling my exhaustion more acutely this morning. Closing the curtain behind her with a flourish, the lady enters the room and hands me a new outfit. After she exits, the canvas curtain swishes into place behind her retreating form and I’m grateful to change my clothes in privacy. I don each piece of this new outfit and strike a pose. I look unbelievable.

Unbelievably awful. Obviously, the person who decided to make “one-size-fits-all” hospital gowns wasn´t planning for a petite five foot, three inch model. I’m stuck in a hospital room; after years of struggling with recurring dislocation in my ankle tendon, the orthopedist concluded that surgery was the only option. As the coarse fabric swallows my shivering self, it seems to symbolize my insignificance, my unimportance, my helplessness. Although I strain to tie the floppy strings, I am finally forced to ask the nurse for help – further accentuating my helplessness.

After knotting the threads of my gown, the nurse collects my belongings: my favorite pink hoodie, my orange-and-pink plaid purse, my tiny silver iPod, and my cell phone. Knowing that I would be stuck in that room for a few hours before surgery, I begged to keep my iPod, my phone, anything to pass the time. The nurse was unrelenting. Now, there is nothing to occupy my fearfully swirling mind. Worst of all, no colors remain besides white and grey – the old, dingy white walls and the rigidly polished stainless steel equipment. At least my gown is colorful; admittedly, it is a rather sickly combination of mauve and lavender, but it is the only reasonably pleasant color that remains in the room. The other hint of color in the room is much less friendly: the blood-red bag in the corner is marked with “bio-hazard.” The word is written in capital letters, letters the grim color of burnt Colombian coffee.

My bare feet tell me that they are tired of being in contact with the frigid linoleum floor, so I crawl between the sterile sheets. The dingy ivory color testifies of too many bodies in contact with the fabric, paired with too many trips through the washing machine. Accustomed to plush, fuzzy blankets and crisp cotton sheets, my skin protests the coarsely woven, threadbare material that adorns the hospital bed. Before I’m properly prepared, the nurse returns. Oh, no. She is carrying the dreaded IV kit. She stabs the tip of the needle into my vein. Against my will, this woman has inserted a foreign object into my body. That’s my space she just invaded, my privacy she just attacked, my skin she just jabbed with that gleaming needle.

The nurse leaves again, once again forcing me to be alone with my thoughts. Unnerved by the inescapable reality of my situation, I try to think of something interesting. This room is sterile. Austere. Frigid. It seems specially designed to intimidate and depress the unlucky visitor. I’m not sure why the steel guardrails are locked into place, but they have an imprisoning presence that does nothing to ease my nervous state of mind. If the hospital wants the patient to relax, they are failing in their attempts. The room is chilled; even though I´ve gathered the sheets tightly around my neck, I’m still shivering. A sharp, antiseptic scent pervades the room, lingering and tickling my nose. While I wait, my fear is quickly increasing, manifested in my racing heart, sweaty palms, and shaking hands. Phrases flit across my mind: “the pre-surgical nerve block is excruciatingly painful.” “Be sure to take the medicine consistently, or you will be in agony.” “Recovery is long, tedious, and painful.” I now regret all the research I have collected about this surgery.

Slapping some blue surgical tape across the IV tube and pressing the adhesive against my skin, the nurse seems oblivious to my anxiety. She hangs the bag of IV fluid onto the stainless steel IV pole and the fluid trickles through the tube and drips into my wrist. After she leaves again, I’m oddly irritated by the wrinkles I see in the tape, and it takes all my self-restraint as I resist the urge to peel the sticky edges of tape and smooth the wrinkles. My annoyance is abruptly concluded when the anesthesiologist enters the room. The moment I´ve been dreading.

When I’m fantasizing about my future career in the operating room, I´ve always anticipated the day when I hold the scalpel, when I slice into someone’s body, when I travel beneath a patient’s skin to fix whatever problems may lie beneath. But while I was lying between threadbare sheets, I realized that when I am working in the hospital, I need to remember this experience. I was miserable. My future patients will be equally miserable. I was scared. My future patients will experience that same emotion. I was helpless. My future patients will also feel the loss of control. And when I am the surgeon, I need to temper my excitement to operate and take the time to have compassion on the lonely, frightened patient who is trapped in a hospital room.

 


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