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The Surgical Pause

Dinah Susan Alobeid

Anisa planted one foot gingerly on the industrial step stool. Squinting in the bright antiseptic light, she hoisted her body onto the slim crucifix. Metal gleamed beneath the crisp white bedding. They would begin in minutes.

In the sterilized room, the nurses and residents looked at Anisa as if she were a child, struggling to scramble onto a jungle gym in the blinding sun.

Slowly, she slipped into an outstretched position, body succumbing completely. For the second time in her life, she would give up control and let another do with her what they wished. Only this time, she’d willingly asked for it. Begged and scheduled and rescheduled appointments and pored over the intricate and purposefully confusing insurance explanation of benefits. There seemed to be no benefit at all to the labyrinthine journey to get to the operating room. How many times could she tell the faceless insurance claims agent, life or death?

At ten years old, Anisa had grown four inches in one year. Always skeptical, it had been an ominous foretelling of stunted potential. Only four inches. Just. Simply. Not enough. By thirteen, her prediction, at once childish and wistful, came true. The journey of skin and bones and musculature halted to completion at five feet and not an inch more. Her body stitched whole, until it wasn’t. But that wouldn’t come for another ten years. A sea of time to pluck and prod, explore and build the disappointment that was ingrained in her. This body, this thing, so undutiful. A failure at protecting, too short, too round, too clumsy. Too defenseless.

Lying still on the table, anxiety pulsed hotly as her eyes darted. “Please take care of me,” she choked out to the blurring faces in the room. The sob eked out of her in a strained sputter.

Hands came from every direction.

Greg, the operating room nurse, gently stroked her forearm. The upbeat gynecology resident Clarissa squeezed her hand. Delivering more than sedation, the anesthesiology resident Marco patted her forehead, his eyes bright above his mask. Human touch flooded her body with warm love. Love of healing, if not for her. Surrounded by strangers, she lay nearly naked. Exposed in every way imaginable. Enveloped in an air of something big and electrical and good.

Then the plastic mask came toward her mouth. A light switched off as Anisa saw her reality go dark.

She floated into the corner of the room. The air thick, and difficult to navigate. Anisa couldn’t find a decent angle to see down, into herself. The surgical team huddled over her body. All she could see were the clear lines of her own unreality. And the dreamlike state of existence she ventured into – a narcotic-fueled visit spliced with memory-mimicking fragments.

He had sprawled on top of her, pushing his full weight onto her abdomen. Although she struggled, there was a hand at her throat, and the walls fell away. When she came around, she wished she’d still been unconscious. Or better yet, dead.

This is the worst second date of all time. She tried and failed in her attempts to dissociate from the unwelcome ravaging. No matter what spin she threaded, such a memory felt like punishment for being vulnerable. Whatever reasoning the tall one possibly possessed, had pulsed away from his brain on a river of bourbon. If I survive, I will never date someone this tall. I’ll never date at all.

And she hadn’t.

Dr. Knight pulled the heart-shaped mass out with little effort. The tumor had worked hard for two years, siphoning her most tender emotions for its own selfish hunger. Potential love links moved from her real heart, due south. Traveling down until they grew wedged into the smooth surface of the hard clot. It had grown silently, resiliently. And her doctor had delivered the decree days prior; to survive they would have to remove it.

“It’s over. You did wonderfully,” the diminutive scrub nurse said. Corridors whooshed. Her legs sighed. Soreness swamped her and she stopped struggling to understand. Closing her eyes, Anisa sank back into the quiet.

Her blood rushed to the gash below her navel. The process inside of her began, wrenching and pulsing, transmitting the right-colored cells and painkillers in the form of medically prescribed, intravenous opioids. It eased the throbbing and numbed the raw aching along her thighs, her back, her waist. Her very lifeblood ignited in a dull flame of known, happy loss. It’s out.

She craved rest on a cellular level, both conscious and unconscious, spiritual, and physical. The thought of dancing nurses in a choreographed show of survival played behind her eyelids. Time expanded. Pulsating veins carried medicine and the building blocks of new cells that could – ultimately would – one day erase the horizon-scar across her external muscles. A body torn apart knows only one path to take, the path of deep resistance and hard-fought growth measured in atoms and microns.

Tissue rebuilds and scars fade. Time repairs, but never forgets.

Now that the heart-like thing in me is gone, maybe I am healed.

Dinah Susan Alobeid is a writer, dancer, and marketing professional (not always in that order). Her fiction has appeared in Five on the Fifth, DarkWinter Literary Magazine and is forthcoming in Porter House Review. Her essays and poetry can be found in Motherly, Spectrum Magazine, MediaPost, Luna Luna, and more. She lives in New Jersey with her partner and son.

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