Angelina Jolie went public about her elective surgery to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. She wrote about it for The New York Times in “Diary of A Surgery.” “The beautiful thing about such moments in life is that there is so much clarity. You know what you live for and what matters. It is polarizing, and it is peaceful,” she wrote.
Husb. is in the ICU in the Surgical Shock Trauma Wing of the University of Maryland Medical Center recovering. The good Doctors Ord and Lubek removed his fibula bone ankle to knee and modeled it and micro-surgically reattached arteries and skin and muscle and stuck it in his face to replace a six-inch portion of tumorous jaw. He looks like a shark attack.
The UMMC’s waiting room is called the Healing Garden. At first I wanted to hurl something at it — its logo is a Palm Tree — but after a few hours sitting, crying next to a palm tree with my complimentary pillow and blanket and Sanka, I looked up and saw the other people waiting for their loved ones, with a pillow and blanket and complimentary tea, and their anxiety. Nurse Gladys, the family support liaison, was an angel. “They cut-skin at 8 a.m., hon,” she said.
The room was “the republic of suffering,” which is also the title of Drew Gilpin Faust’s book about the American Civil War. It was humbling and humanizing. It was clear that “we’re all just walking each other home,” as Ram Dass has said. I could let go of the laundry. I could let go of my obsessive throw-pillow pattern combinations.
I made friends with a woman whose husband’s stomach was being removed. A man who brought in his wife’s plushy crocodile, so it could be the first thing after her double mastectomy that she saw. He asked me if I’d take his picture with it.
I’m listening to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living via DD,7’s Hello Kitty bedazzled ear buds. I’m eating cupcakes from Sweet 27 and I’m in awe of the ICU nurses who are also angels of the extremely calm and competent kind whose large enfolding wings are secreted under pink scrubs. (Bold lettered SHOCK TRAUMA-emblazoned scrubs had to be phased out — scrub theft was a problem because they looked so righteous and so awesome.)
The kids have started to display my shock trauma wrist bracelets alongside their Legos, and Minecraft bobbleheads. I think this is what Kabat-Zinn is talking about when he talks about “the full catastrophe;” the terrifying and the mundane, the throw pillows and the stapled skin grafted au revoir leg bone of my Husb. are all just experiences of being human.