I’m naked under a thermal hospital gown waiting for knee surgery. The gown is called a “bear paw”. The name is not comforting. Bears are scary and their paws and claws are flesh-shredding rasps. Why would they name a hospital gown after a weapon?
Bear paws are a ready made snack, too. A pastry like thing. When the nurse tells me to slip into the bear paw I’m confused because I’m hungry after nine hours of fasting. All I can think about is food.
The gown has an opening just below my hip that looks like the kind of hole you find on a vacuum cleaner bag. A bendy hose nozzle is inserted into it by a nurse who explains a new theory that a warm body heals faster. He flicks the on-button. The gown begins to inflate with warm air.
I watch the space around my abdomen round and spread like rapidly growing fat cells, the kind one grows from eating too much icing shaved from cupcakes and drinking too many bottles of well-chilled Riesling on hot summer nights. He passes me the temperature control knob. Where was this device when I was in the thick of menopause? Could cold air be substituted?
After hours of fasting, I feel hollow and the hot air infusion worries me. What if I float away? I’m attached to a hose, like an astronaut tethered to a space capsule so I wouldn’t get far. Just float up to the ceiling where I could look down on the empty bed and laugh when the nurse comes looking and discovers I’ve ballooned out of reach.
The anesthesiologist visits me, goes over what will happen, how long the procedure will take, what to expect when I wake up, what paperwork will be given to me. He’s efficient and painless. The surgeon comes in, reviews the procedure, double-checks, triple-checks which knee then writes his initials on the incision site. I feel like a graffiti wall. I wonder if he drew a heart around his initials. I like my surgeon. He has that surgeon swagger. Plus he marked my knee. He knows what he’s doing, right?
A nurse puts an oxygen mask over my face and tells me to take lots of deep breaths. I take shallow breaths. The mask scares me. The anesthesiologist starts playing with the I.V. line in my left hand and I know what’s going to happen next.
The clock says 11:05. I’m hungry and thirsty.
At 1:15 I wake up. I’m not hungry anymore. The nurse gives me Dilaudid and Advil. I dress without bending my knee or standing. I plop into a wheelchair. The hot air has left my bear paw suit and I get wheeled out to meet my husband.
The drive home feels like a rocket launcher ride. Cars and trucks blur as we speed down a narrow corn-crop flanked highway, stalks bowing as we whiz by. I can smell the corn niblets growing. I’m hungry again.