By G.D. Maxwell
"Are you comfortable?"
Comfortable? You mean comfortable like lying under a perfect tropical sun, sipping frozen daiquiris, having waves lap my sandy toes and pondering nothing more weighty than whether to slap on another layer of SPF 30 or what I might order for dinner that will be tasty, safe and more environmentally friendly than Chilean sea bass, Amazonian rainforest beef loin or roasted Costa Rican parrot?
Comfortable? Like when the maniacal executioner straps a condemned man into the electric chair at Huntsville, cinches the thick leather belts securing his legs and arms and chest, places the polished brass skullcap electrode onto his shaved head, buckles the chin strap and asks, "Comfy?"
Comfortable like holding a warm, new, smoky-breath puppy, all ears, lapping tongue and oversized paws in your lap until you and it fall asleep for an afternoon nap?
Comfortable like second helpings of Momlove at Thanksgiving after a dinner of turkey, taters, yams, green beans, punkin pie and enough leftovers to feed an Ethiopian village for a week?
The question was absurd. There I was, half naked, surrounded by strangers, bound to a table. Two women I didnt know were buckling my left arm securely to a board Id last seen imprisoning Timothy McVeigh shortly before he slept the big sleep. One muttered inanities while the other searched inside the back of my hand with a needle that looked more at home on the working end of a basketball pump than an operating room, searching for a vein into which she could drip a brew of saline and sleepytime chemicals.
On my other side, someone claiming to be an anesthesiologist poked into the back of my right hand with what might have been a wolverines incisor. At least the leftside women had been kind enough to shoot me up first with either novocain or Mr. Clean to deaden the pain of their scavenger hunt. Dr. Right Hand knew no such niceties; besides he was aiming for the nerve that made my ringfinger a finger as opposed to a limp, penile flap of skin. I knew hed found it when pain stiffened my paranoid body and the White Light appeared before me with Uncle Charlies dulcet voice beckoning me to walk toward him, through the light... through the light... through....
Someone I hadnt even seen was following instructions from the vein-huntin sadist and wrapping a junkies rubber tourniquet around my right arm, high under the armpit, twisting the tubing back on itself, bikini waxing the tender armpit hairs from their warm, moist homes, follicles and all, evidence for later DNA matching when the hospitals pet rats had gnawed off my ID bracelet which, come to think of it, the leftside girls had already cut off while they drilled for blood.
"Who was he?"
"Maybe wed better check the armpit hairs for DN...."
"Are you comfortable?"
Comfortable? I hadnt been comfortable since last night when I ate my last meal: red seedless grapes and Roquefort cheese. The sugar from the genetically modified grapes, picked some weeks ago in Israel, made the pungent mould of the French cheese all the more puckering. In retaliation, the cheese tried its hardest to turn the grapes electrolytes into battery acid, the overall effect being something like chewing a stick of Juicy Fruit youd left on the cars dashboard until the sun had fused gum and foil wrapper into one mass so that sparks the size of lightning bolts shot out your mouth when you chomped the whole mess down into a filling the dentist replaced last week.
Comfortable? Id gotten up that morning, driven to the city, bypassed the usual stop for Timbits, hadnt had my usual three cups of strong, black coffee, waited around for two hours wearing paper shoes and surgical peakaboo robes while a firestorm of a caffeine-deprivation headache lifted the top off my skull and tossed in a bucket of tenpenny nails.
Stupid freakin forest fires. Stupid freakin fire pump. Stupid freakin accident prone, unco-ordinated, doofus.
I wondered when the surgeon would get there. I wondered who he was, having never had so much as a conversation with him. I was cursing the best and the worst of modern medicine and the Canadian health care system. Taxpayer funded, universal, anonymous.
Still reeling from getting a surgical date less than a week after finding out my booboo wasnt going to get better by thinking happy thoughts and invoking long-forgotten deities, I was having comical fantasies of MSP calling the hospital and stopping my mechanic half-way through the procedure because I hadnt paid my premium which, true to form, had been sent to the wrong address again this year.
I was wondering where the nurse was with my demerol cocktail, demerol being the only thing Ive ever found that makes letting somebody come after you with a knife worthwhile, even worth looking forward to. Cutbacks I can understand but Ill be damned if theyre going to shine me on without ponying up a butt full of demerol.
"Are you comfortable?"
Comfortable? Im barely conscious. This is supposed to be a local. Im supposed to be conscious. Would a conscious man be dreaming about wrapping his one good hand around an oozing steak sandwich, sipping ice-cold beer through a straw or wrestling a nurse best two-out-of-three in a vat of tepid, artificial strawberry ice cream for another fix of demerol? But if Im not conscious, it must be....
An angel of mercy smacks me awake and brings me a cup of black coffee. Im not aware of the caffeine headache but then, Im not aware of having been gurneyd into recovery, Im not aware of time having passed and Im definitely not aware of anything below my right shoulder except for something bearing a fantastical resemblance to half a front bumper from a 56 Ford truck wired to my arm.
The coffee kickstarts my heart and Im praising the best of the Canadian health care system. When I ask when the surgeon is going to come see me and tell me he successfully reconnected the fingerbone to the handbone and the string to the pulley, Im told hed left for the day, something about meeting his demerol connection. Surgery by proxy. Who was that masked man?
"Well then, when can I get out of here?"
"As soon as you can name the Fathers of Confederation," Im told.
"Im American," I said. "How about if I name the Mothers of Invention?"
"We dont negotiate," she said, eyes narrowing, a tight, mean smile playing across her face.
"Sergeant Preston?" I guessed.
"Thats one," she said.
"Bob and Doug McKenzie King?" I guessed again.
"I think youre guessing but Ill give you half points for confusion."
"I give up," I said. "Guess Ill just have to stick around for supper. Whats on the menu?"
She tossed my clothes on the bed, shot me a condescending look, "tsk, tsked" me and said, "Dream on."
Like I said, the best and the worst of 21 st century health care in Canada.