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Prosthetic

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The first thing I notice as the scrubs slide over my head is how comfortable and out of place they seem in a floor-to-ceiling white corridor lined with hard lighting and harder surgical steel carts. I wrestle my green Saucony’s into blue plastic covers and slip a mask over my head, creasing it with a pinch at the bridge of my nose. I leave the locker room and follow Dr. N down to the pre-op room. Lena’s legs are pulled to her chest under a creamy hospital blanket. Her lips twitch and she holds her face taut as she receives her subarachnoid block. She listens to the pound of the anesthesiologist’s fingers typing into a rhinestone-appliqued cell phone, feeling her meninges numb. Her eyes remain open for a few moments, watching me watch her slip away.

I don’t hear the construction paper tearing sound that I expect; the scalpel slices smoothly and effortlessly through the yellow plastic and her iodine tinged thigh. A thin line of blood meanders to the surface and I exhale. Her leg muscle bulges like cottage cheese and platelets pour down like paint. Hemostasis shakes his head regretfully and retreats; “Looks like you guys got this one,” he mutters under his breath as he skulks from the slice of blades, toting blood adhesive and prothrombin . Dr. N continues to cut through fascia, his physician’s assistant steadily cauterizing blood vessels. I don’t know how he’s doing it; the air tastes like dental fillings and ammonia under my mask as I watch in a mix of horror and amazement while burnt steam hisses from the end of the torch. After several minutes of precise scraping and delicate wrist movements, a femur, pearly white and rooted in gummy tissue comes into view. My eyes pixelate back to focus just in time to see her lollipop femur head reluctantly inching from a greedy acetabulum mouth ringed sticky and cherry red. Look at how much we have in common, I think to her. Under my olive skin and gray eyes, you and I are exactly alike.

Doctor N looks at me with a boyish smile from behind a Hazmat visor splattered with Lena’s pulpy bone marrow. From just outside the plastic partitioning around the ceiling, the gesture looks almost manic. Doctor N hammers a prosthesis into the bone and I can only imagine the gravelly, sand- between-your-teeth annoyance her body feels as soup warm erythropoeitin is replaced with crosslinked polyethylene. I imagine the procedure - or the brutal part of it, anyways - is over; that he’ll screw in the new head and call it a day. Her bones wince as the wedge shaped rod is forced back out with an assortment of carpentry tools and medieval torture devices. My lips whiten as her femur is expanded millimeter by millimeter. I wonder how many times it has taken doctors to figure out the optimal diameter for a prosthetic hip. How many bones have shattered in splinters like glass figurines.

I hear the prosthesis company’s representative explaining that they use cement to adhere the fissures in the metal to the hollowness of the bone, his words traveling to me like bubbles underwater. Once Dr. N forcefully contorts Lena’s leg into all the positions she could presumably choose to manipulate the limb into, he lets his PA close up. He’ll stitch elastic muscles and plastic skin with tiny, careful loops of fishing wire; he’ll tailor her, send her home pressed and pleated like a fresh paper doll in a chain. We leave the room and I melt out of my scrubs. I catch a cab home to brush my teeth clean.
The next day, I do rounds with Dr. N. We’re outside of Lena’s room and my heart beats nervously. I’m suddenly embarrassed, scared to meet this woman who has no idea of who I am or of what she inexplicably means to me. We knock on her open door frame as a common courtesy, but there’s really no need; privacy doesn’t exist in hospitals. I meet her flat brown eyes immediately, expectantly, and she gives me a polite smile before passing over me to the 6’3’’ surgeon standing to my right. She doesn’t fixate on me like I had hoped for. She listens to Doctor N tell her how well the procedure went, how I watched the surgery; another quizzical firing of neurons to her zygomaticus that twitch her lips upwards. But not really for me. I want to tell her that I witnessed a group of people with Ivy League degrees and February-cold hands play God and recreate her legs. That through her blood’s dizzying waltz, I didn’t look away. I feel these words bubbling like soda and tickling their way up my nose, but I realize that I can’t say them. I toss a grappling hook glance back to her and pray it catches before I follow Dr. N to the next room on his chart. I’m adamant about retaining her face in the sea of images in my mind, but maybe someday the wire will fray and snap. You can pull apart the seven pounds of human heart, hold the valves and chambers in latex gloves, but never understand what makes them beat.





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