Sitting in the surgical room, waiting for a minor outpatient procedure, I try to redirect my sense of dread by listening to the nurses chatting:
“The knees, they’re the most unforgiving body part.”
“How about the uterus? The uterus is a vindictive organ. You mess with it and it’s going to fight back.”
Immediately I am looking all over the room for something to write with: The uterus is a vindictive organ –! That’s got to be one of the best lines I’ve heard in my entire life. Profound and very possibly inarguable . . . .
But pens apparently aren’t needed in the surgical room, as I can’t see one anywhere, and even if I did, I can’t get to it, I’m hooked to an IV, and besides, here comes a nurse, still talking: “The liver, now, it has a great sense of humor, but the uterus has absolutely none. —How ya doin’?”
She’s addressing me. “Oh!” I say, still etching the dialogue into my brain in a desperate attempt to preserve it. “I’m, um, good.”
—What does she mean, the liver has a great sense of humor? Because it’s able to regenerate? Or is there some other reason? What can that possibly be?
“So, you know you’ll get propofol, right, and this will all be over in a jif,” she says cheerily, busying herself with the tubes and such.
—Propofol. Isn’t that what killed Michael Jackson?
I am just about to ask when the anesthesiologist comes in and says, “All right, let’s do this.”
I want to say, Hang on a second, I really need to know about the liver’s sense of humor, when the anesthesiologist says in a low, silken voice:
“Do you have a happy place?”
I so know what THIS is. Get me talking about something happy so I’ll go under peacefully. A completely obvious ploy.
I don’t want to be put under, I don’t want to talk about my happy place, I want to know about the liver’s sense of humor before I wear myself out wondering about it.
But the moment’s upon me and suddenly this question about my happy place makes me want to cry.
See, I think my happy place is a little like Heaven, and if I start talking about it—will I wake up?
—No need to fight. Just embrace it, says my own voice in my own head. At least, I think it’s my own voice.
So I say, “Yes, I have one.”
“Tell me about it,” says the silken voice, as warm as a blanket.
I sigh. “My grandparents’ home.”
“Where’s that?” asks the liver-humor nurse.
“In Beaufort County, out in the country. Some people say at the end of the world.”
“Why were you happy there?” coos the anesthesiologist.
“Well, because they were there. My grandparents. I always wanted to be with them.”
And they always wanted me, I think, but I don’t say it aloud. I can see them, faintly, as I speak. Standing out in the yard, watching for my arrival. One or the other or both, every time they knew I was coming. Watching, waiting.
“What was it like there?”
I’m not sure who asked this.
I can see it as I speak, as if through a window in my mind. The blue sky, the trees. Grandma’s azaleas, the camellia bush, the orchard, Granddaddy’s garden, the old hen house. I am not sleepy, yet. Maybe I can fight this, a bit . . .
“I grew up in the city and in the summers I’d go stay with my grandparents. I loved the country. It was a little paradise . . .”
It was love personified, love-infused, love written in the veins of every leaf, in every blade of grass, in the black earth itself that gave back so abundantly of what was given, love echoing in every birdsong, in the vibration of every cicada, love painted on the iridescent bodies of dragonflies in a place more alive than any other I have ever known.
“Time to wake up, now,” says a gentle voice in my ear.
—Grandma? Is it morning, already?
I’m so sleepy, still.
“Here you go. It’s all over, and everything is fine. You did great.”
It’s the liver-humor nurse.
I’m dressed, wheeled out to the car, buckled in beside my husband who’s driving, and well on my way home before I realize:
I STILL don’t know why the liver has a great sense of humor.