I remember a bit of Lost – people walking through a jungle.
Then I remember the Channel 7 Eyewitness News bumper music and the blues and chromes of their logo animation cutting to and from a commercial.
The Virginia Tech massacre had happened two days before – I knew as Eyewitness News ended that Nightline was going to be about the shootings. And I didn’t want to see that, not now.
I was lying in a bed, I could barely move – something was deep in my throat, I couldn’t close my mouth. When I tried, plastic. I tried not to think about it, tried not to gag.
I raised my arm to get someone’s attention to turn the channel on the TV bolted up in the corner of the ceiling. I could barely see, everything was colored blobs that flowed together, some with shimmering edges.
Eventually I heard and sensed someone saw me, and she waded into my vision. I was awake.
It was like lifting concrete, and my wrist was taped and tubed, but I pushed my arm up toward the television. Twisted my wrist to tell the nurse I wanted the station changed. She figured it out. I put two fingers up, waved them – I guess like a peace sign, but all I wanted was to get the TV changed to Channel 2. I really would have preferred Letterman, but he was on Channel 4, and that would have meant twice the effort. Leno was on Channel 2.
She grabbed a remote, clicked the channels.
There was a plastic tube down my mouth going down, down my throat to where my nerves barely fired. I hated it, tried not to move my mouth, but part of me also wanted to feel it totally, I kept moving my tongue to try to define it. I tried not to gag, tried to relax.
The nurse got me my glasses, rested them on my face and ears with a little help from me – I honestly can’t remember if she let me drink, a little, by letting me lift my head and carefully tipping the rim of a plastic cup at my lip, or if she told me I had to wait for the respiratory specialist to come over and remove the tube before I could.
After the specialist had me try some deep breathing through the tube, he decided my lungs were at the threshold where I could handle it myself. He pulled the tube out, and I spit up. The nurse told me it always happens as she wiped me. I spit up more on her hand. After that, I know she got me some water, tipping the plastic cup to my lips as I turned my head to the side.
She gently cleaned my face and forehead with a damp washcloth. “You’re cute…” I told her. I thought she was. She laughed.
I was in the cardiac ICU. I had to lie there – I had 3 tubes in my belly to drain me if I needed, and a catheter I was surprised I couldn’t feel.
In the morning the three tubes would be pulled out. But the catheter I couldn’t feel would still be tubed up, when three nursed rolled me over to make me sit up on the edge of the bed – moving was the worst pain I have ever felt, even with the drugs flooding my body.
The nurses made me walk a few shuffling steps and turn and sit in a chair. Still hooked up to an IV drip stand and other tubes trailing to whatever at the foot of my bed. It was a nurse’s birthday, and they gave me a little piece of lemon cake.
And that’s how you wake up from heart surgery.