I pull on the shapeless blue gown. High fashion, I tell the outpatient receptionist at the hospital, haute couture. She smiles.
I sit on a gurney and wait for the doctor with my father, who is sitting in a nearby chair. I don’t like this thing in my hand, I say to him, gesturing to the IV. I try to rest it on my lap in a way that it won’t hurt, but any way I position it, it aches.
Don’t worry about it, says my father.
It hurts. How do they know they’ve even put it in a vein, and not somewhere else?
The nurse made you hold your hand in a fist and hit your hand until the vein showed up, remember? That’s how she knows.
Yes, I say, but how would she know she had gone in the vein and not under? It’s hard to see. I gesture around my hand, bewildered.
My father shrugs. I guess that’s why it takes training.
My father returns to the book he was reading, “Becoming,” by Michelle Obama. I liked the biography so much that I had bought it for my family, signing it, To everyone, from Marisa. Feb 2019.
I say: My roommates were trying to convince me to go to class even with the bandages on, after this is all over.
My father lowers the book a bit reluctantly, but listens.
They argued with me for like, an hour on it. They said ‘Marisa your education is more important than how you look’ and I refused, I said, ‘I know people on campus, and I’m too vain to go on campus with a bandage on my face. Besides, everyone is going to ask me questions.’ And they said ‘so what,’ and I said ‘what if they think I got a nose job?’ And they said, ‘Then you tell them no, I had sinus surgery, and now I can breathe clearly.’ And I scrunched up my face because it’s so unsavoury, isn’t it? Sinus surgery. Not exactly a glamorous topic. But they fought me.
My father nods, lifts his book.
That’s how you know they’re good people, I say. My father lowers the book, closes it. Sets it on the side table near the gurney.
And you know they’re right, I continue, You know they care. They’re so smart. I can talk to them about literally anything and I can trust what they say. Maggie has mastered two languages—French and Spanish. She’s wants to teach abroad next year. Cassandra impressed this one Genetics prof so much that the prof gave her a work placement and scholarship, then invited her to a conference, then got her a job for the summer. She’s going to do a half-law-half-bioethics degree at McGill to work on gene patent law, can you believe that? And Jasia is planning on going to teacher’s college. I read her application and it’s incredible. They can’t not let her in.
Talking about my roommates has made me a little less tense. My thoughts turn to my younger sister, Katya.
I guess Katya had a lot of these, huh? I ask.
What? My father stares longingly at the book.
Of course, he says.
Where was I, in all of that?
We left you at home, he says.
You were young, he says. Katya was young. I remember, once, they gave her an IV, just like the one you have there, but because she was a child they had to wrap her entire wrist with tape. Her hand had started to change colour, it was so tight. I had to ask them to loosen it.
She probably had an itty-bitty hand, too, I say.
It was an itty-bitty hand, he affirms.
Sitting in the gown, I have a new appreciation for all that. Throughout her childhood, my younger sister Katya had multiple surgeries and had many IVs put in—not just one. And here I was, at 21, agonizing about a single surgery when she had had at least three before the age of five. Growing up, I was fiercely protective of my sister and quick to pounce on anyone who stared a beat too long at her scars. But there was no need. I had wrongfully assumed she was vulnerable and in need of my protection.
When she frequented SickKids, the Hospital for Sick Children, hospital staff awarded her a “Bravery Bead” for every blood withdrawal, surgery, etc. Each of the beads corresponded with a different treatment. By the time it was over, Katya had upgraded from a bracelet to necklace, which jangled with multicoloured beads that I would stare at, uncomprehending.
John Steinbeck once said, “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.” My sister has probably stockpiled bravery from her childhood, like a pile of matches you can set fire to when you need warmth or light.
For the surgery today, I would receive no beads. I was too old for that and not nearly brave enough. In place of beads I had inspirational young women. My roommates. My sister.
My father retrieves the book and opens it.
What part are you at? I ask.
He sighs. Chapter 1, page 1.
I’m sorry, I say, laughing. I’ll let you read.
My face changes when I remember why I am at the hospital, and what I am about to undergo.
He looks at the book, then looks back up. Sets it down. You’ll be fine, you know?
I know, I say.
You’ll be fine.
Image credit: Woman in the Hospital by Gyula Szabó.