“Here we go,” says the anesthesiologist. Poking the needle into my arm, he withdraws a tiny bit of blood into the clear drug he’s about to shoot into my vein. Red blood blooms in the benzodiazepine. I squeeze Angeli’s hand, grateful to have an ally in the room. She squeezes back hard, too hard. From the bed where I rest, prone in my unisex surgery gown, I can see that Angeli’s brown eyes are scary huge, like melting chocolates. She stares at the needle, transfixed, her lush coffee-colored skin now ashy pale. She clasps my hand until my fingers tingle. I want to say something about my hand being strangled, but the drug is taking effect. My brain floats three feet above, watching Angeli wobble unsteadily. Her skin fades further to a weird hue, lips purplish white. I haven’t seen her this shade since high school, when we drank all my dad’s Crown Royal and threw up on my mom’s prize Tropicana rosebushes. She’s going to faint.
In the back of my drug-addled brain there is a tug of remembrance, a creeping sense of doom. Why did Angeli quit medical school? Because she was tired of her doctor parents pushing their profession, their immigrant drive, their Indian lives down her thoroughly Americanized throat. That was it, right? Then I remember: she quit because she fainted at the sight of blood.
“You’re squeezing my hand too hard,” I squeal.
This isn’t happening. I’m shot full of drugs, going down faster than the Hindenburg, and my best friend, the person who is supposed to drive me, tend me, and take the helm while I am out of commission, is teetering like a drunk. My lips numb Lovely soft fuzz fills my brain. I remember some comedian’s quip about why so many people become drug addicts: because drugs are fun. I give Angeli a squishy smile, trying to form a sentence in my soggy brain, something about how she’d better not faint because I need her to look after me. Then Angeli disappears from view. One minute she’s there, and the next, nothing but wall space and a dull thud.
I turn woozily to the anesthesiologist. He looks down at the floor, a deep frown creasing his brow.
“Nola, we got a fainter!” he yells.
Panicking, I realize that this surgery, which is supposed to rid me of the scars on my neck and chest, boost my confidence, expand my career, and maybe even jump-start my love life, isn’t going well. And I haven’t even left the pre-op room. The last thing that goes through my head is this: I’ve picked the wrong damn friend.
Medical errors occur in 17 percent of all hospital procedures. Most of them are caused by understaffing, fatigue, lack of communication, and staff error. My best friend caused mine. When it came time to pick my advocate during surgery, it came down to five people: my sisters, Trina and Denise; my best friends, Martin and Angeli; and my dad. Trina was out because I was using her plastic surgeon. She’d spend all her time agonizing over whether or not to get a quick shot of Botox instead of looking out for me. My younger sister Denise is too busy chaining herself to whaling ships and picketing outside the federal building. Besides, she’d view plastic surgery as antifeminist, lecturing me on embracing my scars and wearing them like a badge of courage. My dad, well, surgery would remind him of the worst night of his life, the night I got the scars. Martin was busy covering my job at the newspaper.
Angeli, who never mentioned anything about queasiness at the sight of blood, could easily get someone to cover for her at the Clinique counter at Nordstrom. She seemed the obvious choice.
I subscribe to the domino theory of life. One bad choice or event triggers a chain of events that then lead to an explosion in one’s life. In this case, Angeli was the first tilting tile. Nurse Nola, who rushed to pick Angeli off the floor, was holding someone else’s chart. In her haste, she dropped the chart on my bed. Three minutes later I was wheeled into surgery with another patient’s chart. I wake up in the recovery room three hours later feeling as if I’ve fallen off a cliff. It’s not so bad, though, because I’ve landed in a warm pile of drugs. A wan, tired Angeli is at my side, holding my hand, smiling in her surprisingly empathetic way. In a chemical haze, I tilt my head from side to side. The room swims pleasantly as though I’m underwater. Dimly aware of a faint ache in my chest and neck, I float above the pain, enjoying my little high. This isn’t so bad. My surgeon, Dr. Hupta, told me I’d have lots more pain after the drugs wear off. But then he’ll give me more to take home. Easy peasy.
Across from me is a teenage girl with bandages covering her cheeks and nose, sipping from a green juice box. Her mother, in a pink velour jogging suit, flips through a movie magazine. They watch me as I blink my eyes woozily, struggling to sit up. Angeli jumps from her chair to help me.
“Here, here, I got it.” She presses a button, lifting the bed. As my head becomes level with hers, she whispers in my ear, nodding at the teenager. “One guess what she’s in here for.”
Before I can answer, a nurse bustles in, her neon white smile fixed. “Well, hello there. And how are we feeling after our big day in surgery?”
I try to say, “Fine.” It comes out, “Fiiiiaaaay.”
The nurse takes my pulse, listens to my heart rate, and hands me a juice box. “We need to get your blood sugar up, or you’ll end up on the ground like your friend here when you try to walk.”
Angeli rolls her eyes behind the nurse’s back. As soon as she leaves, Angeli whispers about my roommate. “Nose job. High school graduation present. Can you imagine? Happy graduation; how’d you like a new schnoz?”
Slowly I drink my apple juice, my head clearing slightly. “I doubt it went like that. Nice disappearing act back there.”
She rolls her eyes and shrugs. “Now you know why I flunked premed.”
“You said blood used to make you queasy, not parallel.” I wince as the pain radiates into my neck and shoulders.