Beauty Prep

It was six thirty AM, time for Sharon to start getting ready. She liked to look good for her surgical oncologist’s morning visits. She asked her nurse for a bowl of water and washcloth. Later in the day she would get a proper bath, well, as proper as you could get while lying in bed. But for now she just wanted to wash away last night’s grime. She washed her face, neck and armpits. She followed up with a moisturizing wipe, the kind used to take makeup off, it left her face with an attractive glow she thought. Then she brushed her teeth, using a styrofoam cup as her sink. As soon as she finished, a strong wave of nausea overcame her. Fuckety fuck fuck she muttered. She rode the wave for a few minutes – “nausea surfing” she called it – then thankfully it passed.

She propped up her travel mirror on the table next to her hospital bed. Looking in the mirror her first instinct was always to burst into tears. Her face was pale and scarily thin, she looked like a refugee from some godforsaken country. She had lost twenty-five pounds and her hair was falling out, shedding like a dog all over her pillow. But her daily beauty ritual of “putting on her face” as her grandmother used to say, (may she rest in peace), was essential to Sharon’s emotional survival. It gave her a sense of normalcy and the tiniest feeling of still having some control over her life and body. She applied blush to the deflated apples of her cheeks, plucked a few stray hairs, then added a tinted lip balm. Obviously she didn’t do a full red carpet look, if for no other reason than she didn’t have the energy. She finished primping by putting on scentless hand lotion and wrapping her bright pink Pashmina over her bony chest.

Feeling completely exhausted from the effort she lay back down, but then noticed that her overnight drainage bag was full of urine. Worried that it might overflow, she buzzed her nurse. A different nurse appeared this time. “You’re going to have to start urinating on your own, you’ve had this catheter in for too long, ” the nurse said with a bossy edge to her voice. “My bladder nerves were damaged during surgery, they’re taking awhile to bounce back.” Sharon said, trying not to reveal any emotion. The nurse gave her a chastising look, her expression suggesting that it was somehow Sharon’s fault that she wasn’t able to urinate. Dear God, where was her sweet nurse?

Ten minutes later her surgeon and his team of oncology residents were staring down at her. They always seemed very tall to her. It felt like being surrounded by tall, large headed aliens who were staring down at their human specimen restrained on a metal table. A very handsome resident, Dr. Josh Doukas, pulled her gown aside and inspected her ten inch long abdominal scar. “Looking good, looking good,” he said. She felt humiliated. Her sad little tummy, all mangled and grotesque. Why did Josh have to be so good-looking? “Now let’s take a look at your stoma, how has your output been?” If there is one thing a girl does not want to be asked by a handsome medical resident, it’s “how is the fecal waste matter that is flowing out of the red intestinal stump on your stomach?” Sharon wanted to disappear. Instead she smiled and patted the hideous bag affixed to her belly, the one that was collecting her waste. “It’s working well, though I’m still only eating soft foods.” The surgeon and his team continued to ask her questions and discuss her case amongst themselves. Sharon was a bit of a Cancer Celebrity, in that she had a very rare type of terminal cancer. The doctors, though they made a decent effort to hide it, were actually quite excited to have her as a patient – she was a fascinating case.

After lunch the physiotherapist and her assistant came by to help bring Sharon on a walk. They were both plain looking, lovely young women. Makeup free, hair pulled back in ponytails. The types who wore Patagonia jackets and comfortable European made shoes. Along with Sharon’s bladder, there had also been damage done to the nerves in her left leg. Apparently it had something to do with being splayed out on the operating table for twelve hours. So much to Sharon’s surprise, when she had awoken from surgery she’d found that she couldn’t walk, one leg was fucked up. The three of them walked slowly, Sharon’s urine bag attached to the walker, her giant splinted leg awkwardly inching forward and brutal pain shooting out from her incision area. She had once read about doctors who performed “vaginal tightening surgery” and for a moment Sharon wondered if her surgeon had tightened her tummy while stitching her up. The pain was enough to bring on another wave of nausea. She bent her head into the little plastic barf bowl that the assistant always brought on their walks and threw up a little clear liquid.

Sharon succeeded in making it across her room and halfway down the long corridor. This was considered a victory and for her prize she was offered a pain killer drip and some frozen yogurt. Sharon passed on the yogurt, but was excited about the painkiller drip. Maybe this is what it felt like to be a heroin addict – you looked forward to it, it was the highlight of your day. What if she became a drug addict? Then again she thought, who cares? I’m already dying, so why the hell not? She laughed to herself as the drug hit her body. She felt warm and cozy and happy. The sweet nurse – Louise was her name – stopped in and put a couple of pillows under Sharon’s legs so that they were angled upwards. “Sleep well Darlin,” she whispered to her.

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