– Nonfiction by Leanne Schneider –
First Place Winner of the 2020 Dreamers Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Contest.
Count backwards from 100.
I reach 97, then I’m gone. Off to dreamland, where sometimes dreams become nightmares that become reality. Doctors give people special drugs now, that erase the bad memories of traumatic events, such as the butchering of a body. But nothing can truly be erased from the human mind. All those “erased memories” will come back to haunt me in the depths of sleep. So no more sleeping. If I ever wake up from this …
I wake up. I’m in recovery. I look around at blurred faces, blurred walls, bright lights, soft voices asking me questions I don’t remember. I want to ask questions too. How long was I out? Did everything go well? Am I okay? But I can’t speak. I go back to sleep.
I’m being wheeled down a long corridor. Turning corners, this way, that way, fluorescent lighting following me, warm blankets on top of me, thick fog inside my head. Are we there yet? Where are we going? To my room. Yes, to my room. My mom will be there waiting for me. My pregnant daughter, due to give birth to my grandson any minute now, will be there too. I can’t wait to see them. I can’t wait to tell them I’m alive. But of course they already know that. They’ve been here the entire time.
People are moving my sliced and bandaged body from a stretcher to a bed. Deadweight. I feel like deadweight. I can’t move myself. They have to do all the work. I see my mom’s face. Blurred relief upon it. I go back to sleep.
I wake up. The pain, oh sweet Jesus, the pain. I wasn’t prepared for this. My surgeon told me what he was going to do. Like, hey, I’m going to cut off a piece of your body and this is how I’m going to do it and this is what will happen. Ok, well great. So have you had your breast cut off, right down to the bone? Carved out from your clavicle to the bottom of your rib cage, under your armpit and halfway to your back? No. I didn’t think so MISTER surgeon. So you can tell me what you’re going to do, but you can’t tell me what it’s going to feel like. No one can. Especially not the ladies who have had lumps removed or a simple mastectomy. They told me it was an easy surgery, quick recovery, pain controlled with Tylenol. Obviously they didn’t read the message about my particular surgery.
Modified Radical Mastectomy with Axillary Lymph Node Dissection.
People assume everything is cut and dried. I’ve never had a major surgery before. I had no idea what to expect. I assumed it would be cut, cut, dry, dry, two days later I would say bye-bye, and go home. Take some Tylenol and get back to work. What a lie, lie.
The painkillers and anesthesia drugs wear off. I’ve never felt anything like this. It’s excruciating. Not even a childbirth gone wrong compares to this. The nurse comes in. Shoots me full of morphine. Instant relief. I’m flying. I’m in space. I’m laughing. My mom and my daughter are laughing too. Everyone is so happy, happy, happy. The opulent opiate wears off quickly. I crash to earth. I’m going to throw up. The nurse comes back with more needles and pills. This is hell. I’ve died and gone to hell.
Wednesday, a new nurse appears. It’s time to change my bandages. I refuse to look at it. I turn my head away and tears leak out of my eyes. The nurse is kind. She says my incision is clean and healing well. No signs of infection or complications. She says it’s beautiful, like a rose vine. I turn my head to look at her. I see the honesty and truth in her eyes. But I know I will never see roses bloom there.
Thursday, a different day, a different nurse. She changes the bandages and helps me shower. I still refuse to look at it. I rub the soap over it with my eyes closed. I towel off with my eyes closed. I get dressed with my eyes closed.
Friday, my surgeon shows up. He tells me I have to look at it. I say no I don’t. He says yes I do, because when I’m discharged, I will have to take care of it at home. By myself. To prevent infection and make sure I haven’t ripped it open. I think I’m going to pass out.
He tells the nurses that I have to look at it before the end of the day. They relay the message to me. I know if I don’t cooperate, I will only get them in trouble. I don’t want that to happen. They’ve all been so kind.
The nurse is at my bedside. We take off my nightdress. She asks me if I’m ready. I say yes. She hands me a mirror. Her fingers start peeling off the bandages. Thick, wide layers of compression bandages. I’m crying. I cant breathe. On the count of ten. Let’s start.
Count forward from 1.
About the Author – Leanne Schneider
Leanne Pierce Schneider lives in Yarmouth Nova Scotia, on an acreage with her horses. She has a daughter and a 4 year old grandson, who are the light of her life. She worked with children and families for 20 years, before turning her attention to showing horses at the Amateur Level with the American Quarter Horse Association. It was while traveling the horse show circuit in the USA, that she first became symptomatic for breast cancer. She is now living with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer that has spread to her brain, bones and other areas of her body.
She has dreamed of being a writer since she was three years old. The cancer diagnosis has given her more time to devote to that dream.
*This story by Leanne Schneider has won First Place in the Dreamers 2020 Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Contest. See the full results!
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