Two years ago about now I was getting a bleary-eyed view of the “theater” in which my hip would be replaced. It was amazing. Star Trekky, beautiful. They were putting tubes into me and onto me and chatting. “What do you think? That’s the operating table.”
It wasn’t a table at all. It was more like a comfy-vice that would hold me in the ideal position for Dr. Ed to work his hip-replacement magic while making it easy for the anesthetist to keep me under. I loved my doctor. In another reality, we would have been friends.
When I woke up, I was in a recovery room and Lois, my friend, was there — I think. In some respects this is fuzzier in my mind than is the actual surgery. I can’t explain that, other than to say I think we know what’s going on even when we’re anesthetized. We just don’t feel the pain. I have a distinct memory of it going well, laughter and a faint memory of the sound of a bone saw. But, I could be confusing this with some episode of House.
The whole thing was pretty great, actually. Afterward was challenging for a while, but here I am today. Sure, I walk with a limp and am somewhat lopsided, but it’s not Dr. Ed’s fault.
When I was wheeled into my room I was met by a tiny version of Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog whom I dubbed “Little Bear” and soon Little Bear had a dragon I named Francis (after the hospital) to keep her company. I do not know what it is about these effigies of animals that delights humans, but they made me feel better.
The nurses in the orthopedic wing were amazing. Apparently they liked me because they sent me a card with notes thanking me for being so easy to help and fun to be around. “I wish every patient were like you.” Seriously? NOT hurting any more should put EVERYONE in a good mood. One of the best things about joint replacement surgery is that immediately after your joint doesn’t hurt any more.
For the past two years — since the surgery — I — who usually wakes up between 8 and 8:30 — on May 7 I wake up at 5:30 ready to go. I suppose it’s some kind of physical commemoration of that day.
I promised my Scarlet Emperor Bean, Li Ho, the opportunity to share one of his poems. I think this is a good moment for that. It’s a different kind of poem than that written by his contemporaries, Li Bai and Tu Fu. This poem struck me really hard when I first read it back in my 20s when I knew I was a writer but I didn’t know what I had to say or would have to say. At that time I just wrote. I “raged at the wall” as I “carved my questions to Heaven.” The final image is still, to me, a profound paradox. Without the wall, there would be nothing on which to carve the questions and yet the wall is a barrier.
Don’t Go Out of that Door
Heaven is dark
Earth is secret,
The nine-headed monster eats our souls,
Frosts and snows snap our bones.
Incited dogs snarl, sniff around us,
And lick their paws, partial to the smell of the virtuous,
‘Till the end of all afflictions, when God sends his chariot to fetch us,
And the sword starred with jewels and the yoke of yellow gold.
I straddle my horse, but there is no way back,
On the lake which swamped Li-yang the waves are huge as mountains
Deadly dragons stare at me, jostle the metal wheels,
Lions and chimaeras spit from slavering mouths.
Pao Chiao parted the ferns and forever closed his eyes,
Yen Hui at twenty-nine was white at the temples;
Not that Yen Hui had thinning blood,
Nor that Pao Chiao had offended heaven.
Heaven dreaded the time when teeth would rend and gnaw them,
For this and no other reason made it so.
Plain though it is, I fear that still you doubt me.
Witness the man who raged at the wall as he carved his questions to Heaven!