The Operation

By Martin Falatic
Written 2002-10-08
Revised 2002-10-08

Uncomfortably cold… that’s the first sensation that comes to mind when describing the experience. Lying nearly naked under a thin blanket, as various still-colder things are insinuated into one’s veins. Chilled, then, from the inside out. Shivering.

They wheel you into a brightly lit room, all business and precision, devoid of human warmth. You are the patient, they are the healers, and in this room your fate will be decided. A hesitation, a tiny slip, may lead to nothing more than an extra stitch, a moment’s repair… or it could be catastrophic. Redundancy upon redundancy, as monitors are connected and calibrated, scalpels and sutures are arrayed out of sight on trays along with the other necessary tools of the trade. People file in and out, busily preparing for a moment you won’t even remember.

And the thought creeps closer to the surface: what if? What if, in a particularly important moment of fevered labor on the part of man and machine, the body is divorced from the soul? Surely one would know – some sensation, perhaps of seeing oneself from above, a bright light, clarity in adversity and all that? – or perhaps not! Does not the dreamer awaken invested with the sense of another reality, one that seems to co-exist just on the other side of consciousness? Illusions, perhaps, may mark the occasion… or, more fearfully, dreadful silence: no porter to call out the unscheduled stop along the way, no last moment to forgive or remember or forget or cry or scream primally at the world for all its evils and all its goodness, fire and beauty lost forever…

Instructions are given, breaking your reverie. “Stretch out your arm”… “Make a fist”… “Relax!” (Indeed!) But you are already numb to the pokes and prods, and you lie quietly under that cold, bright light. You meet the staff, some with reassuring smiles, most busily efficient. Perhaps it distracts focus to empathize with one’s patient; better to be precise than friendly, one surmises. You ask a question or two: will it hurt? Will I remember the surgery? But at some level now bubbling beneath the surface your deeper question is unvoiced: “Will I live?”

No matter what your faith (or lack thereof), the will to live is a dominating force, rivaled only by the impulse to protect that which one loves or holds deeply meaningful. We might make light of it, deny it, or subsume it, but here it comes painfully to the surface. Perhaps it is a simple biological imperative, to hold tenaciously to life. Perhaps it is far more: the mind’s unconscious knowledge of a Creator for whom life is sacred… or of a universe where there is no second chance. The preparations continue…

Finally, you meet the anesthesiologist. You have a couple of minutes left, and you try to think what you might have forgotten… perhaps you pray for safe passage no matter what the outcome… or perhaps you wonder how long the recovery will be. Or, you might find yourself thinking about the moment you succumb, knowing that if all goes well it’ll be like falling fast asleep, only to awaken hours later feeling as though almost no time at all has passed. Surely there will be unfamiliar noises (so they explained earlier), tubes, aches and pains perhaps, but for all these things it will be as if you’ve skipped X hours into the future and in that time were taken apart and put back together again, blissfully unaware.

The relaxants have done their job, and along with the next, much more potent dose via the I.V. comes the oxygen mask: the moment has arrived. “Breathe deeply,” you are told, and in that final ten seconds or so you consider a fundamental question: what if there is no awakening? Perhaps you considered it earlier, but it takes on new significance now. You wonder what lay beyond… beyond hope, beyond reason, beyond self, beyond consciousness, beyond love and life and laughter and pain and heartache and fear and loneliness and politics and religion and discovery and disillusionment and…

As your mind races, you breathe deeply, a final gulp in a drowning’s surrender. You wonder what lay beyond, as your eyes wobble and your vision fades and the sounds of the room seem far, so very far away, and perhaps it’ll all be OK and perhaps there is a god or a heaven or a peaceful hereafter or something other than this dreamless sleep, this yawning chasm into which you feel yourself falling and you cannot stop and… and perhaps… perhaps…

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