by Tracy Rothschild Lynch
The no-nonsense, middle-aged Filipino nurse tells me, pushing up her smudged glasses, that I need to clean up a bit down there. She waves her tiny hands dramatically around her own groin area and then shuffles over to me, all action. Am I embarrassed? Maybe. For some reason I feel like I’ve let her down. On day three in the hospital, day three with no breasts, day three of forcing a smile each time a visitor says knock knock out loud like it is funny, I guess it is time to get back to life.
I simultaneously hate her and feel bad for hating her because she is only doing her job. Vera, her name is. I see the pleasant serif font on the RN badge dangling around her neck. As instructed, I stay as still as possible while she hustles. Does she know how hard it is to do anything other than stay as still as possible? I am staring at the cheap tiled ceiling, and she is moving around me, adjusting IV lines hither and yon, preparing for the big adventure of cleaning my crotch. Now she has pulled the remote off of the bed, oh great—and now she has turned off the House Hunters International that I’d been enjoying very much, thank you. I’ll never know whether Ken and Elaine in London will settle with the cozy, updated mews in Kensington or the expansive, sunlit flat in St. John’s Wood. She closes the door. Knock knock, I think to myself. She yanks the privacy curtain closed, and the metal hooks pull along the top with a long, mechanical scratch.
I have to sit up; I have to remove my gown; I have to stretch both shoulders in a way that hurts too much. Are you serious? I want to shout, but Vera is only doing her job. And I’m not a big yeller, especially at strangers. Vera doesn’t uncloak me all at once, which is kind. Right arm first. Then left, the painful one. I stare at the ceiling as the warm soapy water slides all over me and becomes icy in a second flat because it’s June and the air conditioning is cranking. I stare at the ceiling and look at all the holes and remember when all the boys in eighth grade would toss their pencils up there and try to get them to stick and I wonder if anyone has ever done this in here. I stare at the ceiling and try to remember those boys’ names. I’m sure Jamie and Paul and maybe Doug were involved in the tomfoolery, and I wonder if my daughters have yet seen that trick in elementary school. The holes make deep pockmarks in the foamy tiles. I see the shape of my chest, the concave-looking basin that I guess is me now. My bandages are in full view. I see them and have nowhere else to look because Vera turned off House Hunters.
Tracy Rothschild Lynch has written poetry and creative nonfiction for more than twenty years. She holds an MA from Virginia Commonwealth University and an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. When not writing or reading, she plays mediocre tennis, watches movies, and divides her time exploring the surrounds of her home in Glen Allen, Virginia and in London, where she currently resides. Tracy recently completed a memoir about her mother’s sudden death as well as a collection of flash essays exploring micro-moments of breast cancer treatment.
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