"You can lie back and relax," said the first nurse.
"That word is not in my vocabulary," I replied, sitting bolt upright on the gurney. It's the second time I've said that today. When the physical therapist was waving my right leg around in the air this morning, she kept poking my knee and saying, "Relax."
"It is relaxed," I told her emphatically.
Blood pressure cuff, pulse ox.
This time when they roll me into the operating room, I am sitting up. I am embarrassed by the people and recovering patients staring at me. Fortunately, the doctor agreed to see me while I still had my clothes on, before the indignity of untied hospital gown and surgical cap with American flags.
"Roll on to the operating table on your tummy," the next nurse instructs. One of the vertebrae cracks sharply in protest as I settle on my stomach.
"Ow," I say, equally sharply.
"What? What?" asks the second nurse worriedly. "What happened?"
I explain and she relaxes. She is strident in a kind way, and reminds me irresistibly of one of my neighbors.
"Ooo, pretty bra," croons the third nurse as she disarranges my draperies, prepping my back.
"I made sure I put on a nice one," I observe drily. And it's true, I did.
"We appreciate that," she laughs. "We see all kinds."
And the second nurse joins in the laughter.
Before the inevitable question, I say, "Running with the bulls in Pamplona."
They believe me.
"No, no," I tell them. "I was really brushing my teeth."
This becomes a subject of tremendous hilarity. When the doctor comes in, the second nurse asks him, "Did you know she did this running with the bulls in Pamplona?"
"You did?" he asks the back of my head, clearly startled.
"Brushing my teeth," I murmur into the operating table.
"So," he says with heavy humor, "You were running with the bulls at Pamplona but you're telling everyone that you hurt yourself brushing your teeth."
"Pretty much," I respond.
They count my vertebra, and agree that they've reached the right one. Hot sting of lidocaine and then a hard, heavy punch in the spine. I gasp with the discomfort. The cold burn of cortisone coursing through the canal follows and I gasp again.
It's interminable, seemingly. Then the doctor leans down, hand on my shoulder and says reassuringly, "The needle's out."
When I am back in the recovery room, the fourth nurse asks how I am, and then a fifth nurse appears to see how I am faring.
"You need to rest for the remainder of the day. Put your feet up. Take it easy."
"Sure," I tell her, dripping irony.
"I know," she smiles just a little. "That's how people like us end up like this. We never stop moving."
She runs through the list of dos and don'ts, the when-this-might-work and maybe-it-won't. The doctor reappears when I am standing again, and weirdly, I seem to be the tallest one in the room. Maybe in the world. Muscles spasm and twitch. Nerves sizzle. I wonder at this strange sense of tallness, noting I am standing up very straight.
"I looked at your MRI," he tells me as I prepare to leave. "That fragment is very large."
His hope is that his work will give me relief. But his words are ominous. And I know the size of the fragment: 3/4 inch by 1/2 inch stuck in that tiny space.
"Call us if you need anything," the nurse says. She is kind, and she looks worried. "And take it easy."
Go listen to some good music: "Take it Easy" from the album Eagles by The Eagles. Leaving the surgical center, a bit wobbly, we held the elevator for a very elderly lady using a cane and her companion. "You're wearing green!" she said with evident pleasure. "Because," I told her gravely, "my sassy daughter told me she would pinch me if I didn't." And this response, for whatever reason, pleased her, too.