What Have You Done To Yourself?
Nonfiction. I think. I'm still not convinced it really happened, even with the x-rays. This is a cautionary tale about Vortex's and beautiful Saturdays.
‘It’s probably in fragments,’ says the doctor.
Everything that came before this sentence is deleted from my brain. I ask if she’s joking. She says that she isn’t and yet we both laugh, polite laughter, didn’t quite understand the joke laughter, laughter inserted into the place that laughter should go. I guess it’s funny. The flesh of my right little finger bursts at its seams, swells purple against the knuckles. It’s stuck out all fancy-like as if the bone had spontaneously exploded while I was sipping at some tea.
The orthopaedic surgeon becomes the sixth medical professional to receive my Spiel and she is the least incredulous. Also the busiest. In a whirlwind five minutes she draws an arrow on my hand, tells me not to eat anything after midnight, like a gremlin, because I’ll be having surgery tomorrow—either a couple of pins or a K-wire depending on ‘what it looks like on the inside’—the major risks of which are from the anaesthesia, and once I’ve fully understood the concept of possibly dying from a bizarre picnic-adjacent sports blooper, I’ll need to sign this consent form, and then go get a CT scan, and then someone will set the finger in a temporary cast, and have I got any questions. I do. Lots. Metaphysical ones mainly. Questions about Mortality. Questions about foam and human bones. And is this like a calcium thing or just the bad kind of miracle? And will I ever pinky swear again? And seriously, is she joking?
‘No,’ I say. ‘No questions.’
This seems like the right answer. I’m a bug on this poor surgeon’s windshield, I get it, the Fracture Clinic is doing big business on this day of rest. A lot of my questions don’t have answers anyway, and I don’t want to take up any more of her—
‘Oh actually,’ I say, ‘Could I get a picture of the x-ray? For my… uhh, for my blog.’
It’s like a chink in a porcelain plate. An orderly comes to escort me to the medical imaging wing, across a carpark. But the porcelain plate is my bone. ‘What have you done to yourself mate?’ he asks. I tell him and we laugh politely in the place that laughter should go. The chink is a splintering of my skeleton. The orderly reckons the weather must be pretty different from when I came in, now all muggy and overcast out of nowhere. A bone in my body is in fragments. Not nearly as good as yesterday, he says. Shattered, broken, blown apart. The orderly reckons yesterday was an absolute screamer. Fragments.
The Vortex whistles as it flies. Like a cartoon bomb. Weeeeeeooooooo. Its nose is densely packed foam and its tail is foam fashioned into fins for aerodynamics and the rest of it is basically more foam. Suitable for ages six and up. Plastic slits in its sides are what makes the whistle.
This is the first nice Saturday of Spring. It’s a screamer. T-shirt weather. Sit in the grass weather. A bad day to be a beer—and well yeah there’s a couple of ice cold VB’s being put away, sure, it’d be rude not to, but everyone is still Vortexing Responsibly. Safe distances, moderate throws, two hands free. It’s similar to throwing a tennis ball but you’ve got to get it up. So it arcs right. Whistles longer. The fleshy rubber sheen slaps and sticks in the palm, bows to pressure, snaps out of the hand. Easy to catch. So easy kids do it. It’s made for kids. It’s a Nerf top seller.
Far out it’s a nice day. No backburning. COVID restrictions a hazy dream. Perfect temperature. General feelings of existential doom put away for now, until after the picnic at least, because what a bloody Day For It.
Snap—weeoooooo—slap. Snap—weeoooooo—slap. Snap—weeoooooo—thwuck-uck—ooh.
That sounded wrong. Feels a little wrong too. In comes the tight hot feeling of a jarred finger. Ha! Catch much? Just squeeze it and it’ll pass. Okay well squeeze it harder then, or tape it or whatever, stick it in the esky with the beers. It’s not that bad. It really literally can’t be that bad. Hot blood is rushing in and throbbing waves of pain up and down, but only because the ligaments like the attention, they’re sensationalists, like how ankles think they’re never going to walk again after any little roll. Pain is in the mind. The body is mistaken. Aren’t these things made of foam?
Day Surgery at a public hospital is a strange and anonymous meritocracy. I get through fifty odd pages of Stephen Fry’s Mythos in this particular waiting room—a random grab on the way out the door yesterday.
Everything but my underwear goes into a bag. I’m given a gown, a new mask, a blue hairnet, and I’m encouraged to keep my phone and book handy because it could be—well it might take—a specific time isn’t really—the surgeon has been tied up.
I get it.
I lie fairly comfortably in a hospital bed for a length of time that is both four hours and also unquantifiable because it’s in its own dimension; no single second is unendurable, yet all stacked up they start to hurt; moments ache, there’s squirming, it’d be nice to just scream, or get up and sprint just for the sake of sprinting. I read. Can’t delineate the Myths from one another I get through so many. Maybe I’m a tragic figure too. A tragic finger. I laugh at that one for longer than it deserves because I haven’t eaten or had anything to drink today. Can’t delineate the Myths from my life. Is this a hospital or some special wing of Hades zoned for pre-op purgatory? Maybe I’m Icarus, burned by the sun on the first nice Saturday of Spring. I’m King Midas getting a couple of screws drilled in to fix his haunted touch. Zeus smote my pinky with a very precise lightning bolt for some wrong I cannot fathom. I am Sisyphus, as are we all.
One instant I’m in Olympus and the next I’m being wheeled, I don’t know what time. Someone parks me in the operating theatre’s lobby. Busy blue-scrubbed bees buzz around me, stinging me with needles, sticking electrodes to my heart. And they’re all here for me? For my pinky finger? Because of a Vortex? Some of the bees introduce themselves with names that I immediately forget. They explain what they’re doing while they’re doing it and they ask if I have any questions. Nothing specific. Nothing easy. I shake my head. I literally hear my heart beep faster. And they all want to know.
‘What’ve you done to yourself?’ asks the anaesthesiologist, after explaining that there’s an extreeemely teency-weency risk that I might never wake up. I give her the Spiel.
‘What’ve you done to yourself?’ asks the anaesthesiologist’s assistant, who wasn’t around for the first anaesthesia-risks explanation and gives it to me again. I give the Spiel.
‘What’ve you done to yourself?’ asks a nurse wrapping me in a heated blanket to control my body temperature when I’m unconscious. The Spiel.
‘What’ve you done to yourself? asks the surgeon. Spiel.
I should really staple a diagram to my forehead.
I’m wheeled in. The theatre is busier than the lobby, and it’s loud, and Post Malone’s ‘Circles’ plays over the speakers. I think I get it. More things are plugged into me. It’s just like TV but from an angle I’ve never seen before, in more dimensions than I’m used to. I’m spoken over and around. Rarely to. Like I’m not here. Maybe I’m not.
What have I done to myself?
A mask is fitted over my face. Voices tell me to take a deep breath. Am I going to dream? Deep breath. And how could anyone hope to capture all this in my obituary? Deep breath. And but did I really do this to myself though? Deeep breeaath. And they reckon my bone is in fragments? Deeeeep Breeeaaaath. From a Vortex? Brreeeeeeeaathh. Seriously, are they fucking jok—
It’s not like waking up, it’s more like slowly existing again, finding myself in the blackness, anchoring in an ocean that has no bottom, trying to see straight. Waves ripple out from the stomach. I slosh. I’m at sea. Did someone punch me on the inside of my throat? There’s a chicken and mayonnaise sandwich refusing to dissolve in my mouth, it clumps, the saliva can’t break it down. Juice softens it enough to swallow. The juice is good. That cheap apple stuff is sweet rain in the desert. My hand doesn’t hurt. Actually honesty nothing really hurts, even my headache doesn’t hurt. I can see where there should and will be pain, though.
I pray to Zeus that I never have to be generally anesthetised again.
No one I ask knows what’s in my finger.
And I’m not so sure I found all of myself in that bottomless black sea.
I actually get pretty good at tying my shoelaces with one hand, but it never doesn’t feel weird. There’s toothpaste all over the vanity. Messes in general. It’s impossible to write a meaningful sentence left-handed without it looking creepy, like the musings of a deviant child—pages fill up with weird haiku-esque chicken scratches about dead Greek Gods and no letter is straight or smooth or really looks like it should. And, oh, goodbye quickly putting on a pair of socks. Sayonara buttering a piece of toast before it cools. Both typing and wiping is awkward and slow.
I’m a stranger inside my own body. There is an unscratchable itch beneath the cast that goes almost to my elbow. I still don’t know what’s in my finger.
What have I done to myself?
Twenty-three days after my surgery, I will find out that there are two screws in my pinky. They’ll stay in there forever. Until I or they decay. The glossy purple scar, when my finger is finally unsheathed, will look like a small shark bite, and ten weeks after the surgery I will be able to make a fist unassisted. But it’s not like I’ll have anything to punch.
If you liked this story share it around or give it a like. If you want to hear about a totally unrelated and weird fiction podcast I’ve been working on, head here: www.thesestoriesarenotreal.com or just wait until Wednesday when, ugh, I’ll have to post about it.