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I hear my mother stir at 4. I get up and we work, silently, on the puzzle. We don’t finish.
We’re out of the house at 5:30. Mom drives about ten m.p.h. over the speed limit the whole time. By seven, everything has been evacuated and punctured and wrapped in soft cloth and measured. We sit in pre-op, making jokes about graduate students attacked by chimpanzees and, after learning that the chimpanzees will not be euthanized, my mother asks whether the graduate student should be. Nurse Lisa has just learned that she will have to replace the engine in her truck. My father has the same truck and gives her tips. She’s concerned about my mother’s blood pressure. She took her meds but it’s still off the charts. The blood pressure machine makes a mooing noise.
Four doctors plus an anesthesiologist are engaged for this surgery. I already know that three of them did their residencies at Stanford. Based on the dates of their degrees, all of them are approximately four to five years older than me. Four of them peek in to talk to my mother before the surgery. Two of them speak English as if they didn’t grow up in the U.S. One, my father whispers into my ear, is probably Muslim. So, I remind him, was the doctor who treated his father in the last three weeks of his life. My mother, he says to me irrelevantly, never trusted a doctor with a beard. She always said they had something to hide. I squeeze his hand. I don’t think they’re hiding anything, I say.
Their pastor drops in and prays with us and leaves. The surgical nurse comes in and asks my mother to state her name and to describe what is about to happen. My mother does it. She surrenders her hearing aid. We say psalm 23 together and hug her. When I lean over, she whispers into my ear that she loves me and that I should make sure my father eats. They wheel her away. “To guarantee your safety on this journey, please keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times,” the orderly says, and my mother laughs.
We watch her go through the doors. She reaches up to wave the non-IV’d hand over her head as she goes through, and the orderly tuts.
Nurse Lisa pulls me aside and says to me, after you came into the room, your mother’s blood pressure fell by over sixty points.
She’s worried about my father, I say.
The waiting room is appointed in the bourgeois style of small city hospital waiting rooms. It makes you think this city is a place you’d like to raise your children. You would. I assume that’s why people with Stanford educations come here. Or maybe they like the fishing. There’s a screen with numbers on it like the flight status terminals in airports, and my mother’s number changes from green to pink, indicating the surgery is underway. We both see it flip.
My father goes around the waiting room, making friends with everyone else who’s here. We have at least four hours to wait. I ask my dad if he wants to eat. He says no. I pull out the laptop to watch Strike Back episode 1.2 and discover the wifi. Didion sent me a message, and we exchange a few more. My blood pressure falls, I sense, or at least my heart rate. All we waiters are equipped with cell phones set to the highest volume. When one goes off, everyone jerks.
I watch the scene where Porter takes off Katie’s hood. Three times, four times, six.
I’m transfixed but I shake it off and ask my father, do you want to eat? He says, I could eat something. We find the cafeteria. He eats a whole wheat blueberry pancake. I eat an egg and cheese muffin.
We watch the weather forecast. We agree with everyone in the waiting room that it is too hot. My father dozes off. Our phone does not go off. We’ve been told that this is neither good news nor bad. Nothing means anything, or is it that nothing means nothing, or anything means nothing. I think again that there are too many beeping noises in the universe.