I didn’t realize how much space silence takes up until it started to consume me, until it started to taunt me. It was 4:45 AM on that cool January morning. Naty, my sister, was driving, I was riding in the passenger’s seat, and my mama was in the back seat. No one dared to speak. No one knew what to say. Because what do you say on the day of your surgery? You say nothing, because the silence itself says it all. Instead of speaking, I starred aimlessly at the clock and observed how time stood still. It felt as though every silent second that passed filled the air; it filled my thoughts, it consumed my emotions. I knew that if I uttered a word, I would end up in tears, and that was the last thing I wanted. So, instead, I sat there, silently. I wasn’t alone in my silence; we were all doing the same.
When we were almost there, Naty finally broke it. She grabbed a CD, inserted it into the CD player and said, “This one is for you.”
I listened intently to the lyrics.
Everything’s gonna be alright’
Together we can take this one day at a time
Can you take my breath away? (yeah)
’cause everything’s gonna be okay
I’ll be your strength
I’ll be here when you wake up
Take your time
I’ll be here when you wake up (ha ha)
I wanted to break down crying. But I didn’t, I held it in, I always held it in. I should have said thank you. I should have let her know that the song meant the world to me. I should have said I didn’t feel strong enough, brave enough, or even capable at all of going through with this surgery. I should have let her know I was petrified of what was about to happen, and it was so much easier for me because she was there with me. I should have said a thousand things to her that morning, but I didn’t, I kept the silence. Before I knew it, the song was over and we had arrived at the hospital.
When we entered the room, my mama and sister immediately picked a seat near the toilet and I went up and sat next to them. The room was decorated with all the Disney characters, and there were tons of toys and books everywhere. At the time, I felt like I was too old to be playing with toys and too mature to care about all the Disney characters. Looking back though, I’m glad the toys and decorations were there, they made it much easier for me to feel comfortable.
A few minutes after we arrived, a nurse with my paperwork in hand was at the door calling out “Ms. Velez, please follow me. Your family can come too.” All three of us stood up simultaneously following closely behind the nurse. She stepped into the first room on the the right-hand side. It was not really a full room. It was one of those makeshift rooms that you see in hospitals that are only separated by curtains, but privacy is kind of lacking because you can still peek into your neighbor’s room if you want to. My sister, of course, was the first one to check out the neighbor’s room. Luckily, no one was next to me.
“Ok, Ms. Velez, here is your hospital gown. Please make sure you put it on with the straps on the back-hand side. And, here is a bag for the the clothes you have on. I am assuming Mom will hold onto the clothes for you. Also, make sure you use the bathroom before we get started. I will be back in a few minutes to start the process.”
“Thank you,” I said as I grabbed the hospital gown.
I held onto the gown with both hands. I could feel the starchiness of the fabric as I moved my fingers from side to side. It had just been cleaned. It smelled like a strange mix of disinfecting lotion and laundry detergent. I grasped onto it a little harder and held it close to my chest. At that very moment, I said goodbye to the days of hospital gowns. I wanted to believe, I needed to believe, that it would be the last time I would ever wear one. I sighed in relief as I noticed my mama and Naty looking back at me with concerned looks.
Buoyed by the feeling of relief, I completely disregarded their awkward looks. A few minutes later the nurse came back to dress my IV and give me calming medicine. Then, abruptly, she said, “Ok, Miss Velez, time to say goodbye to your family.” She shot me a half-smile as she prepared to move the bed. I looked at my mama and my sister and they both leaned over the hospital bed and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Naty was highly attuned to my unease, so she grabbed my hand to comfort me until it slowly slipped away as the nurse began to move. I know we all felt the foreboding as I was slowly being wheeled farther and farther away.
No one could have prepared me for that moment, because having surgery is a lot like tandem skydiving; your life is in the hands of someone else, and all you have to do is go with it, but I was afraid. I wanted them to come with me. I wanted someone to hold my hand. I didn’t want to go into surgery alone, but I had no choice. I was already there and whether I was prepared or not, this surgery was happening.
The operation room was ready for my procedure. I could see all the medical staff preparing the room and I felt so intimidated by the entire thing. In the corner, I could see my doctor walking towards me. He bent over and said, “Hi.” It was just a quick hello, as if to say, “Don’t worry, I am here and I am ready to do this.” I looked up at him and smiled as I heard someone else in the background say, “Miss Velez, what’s your favorite Disney Character? ” but before I had a chance to respond, I had fallen asleep.
What’s happening? Where am I? I thought to myself as I tried to push up out of bed. Why can’t I move?
“She’s waking up,” I heard someone say in the background, and then suddenly I felt hands immediately push me down, and I was out again.