Before and After

The OR nurse is almost unrecognized in the halls
where her full face shows, breath openly contaminates the air,
sneezes spraying , laughing and eating, touching everything
with naked fingers, where her body is revealed
and she walks like a woman, hips bumping into edges,
hair hanging loose, limbs crossing over surfaces until nothing is clean.
The OR nurse washes her hands before and after
and before and after and before and after, she strips scrub
and pees and looks for blood, wishes for it, waits for it,
washes her hands before and after and still nothing. She stands
on a step stool at the edge of the sterile field,
as a cyst the size of her head is lifted from the belly.
This becomes the specific nightmare of the OR nurse,
that something huge like that grows in her
without telling. The surgeon laughs "oh, we would tell you,"
as if he would know, as if anyone can see anything happening,
all the malignant possibilities lurking their time under the layers,
epidermis, dermis, subcutaneous fat, fascia, serosa, muscle,
cavity. For example between cases she is washing her hands
before and after and looking for blood until she comes to know
it won't be there. She stands at the stirruped legs of a D and C,
watching thick plum tissue whisked out through the cervix,
away through a tube, measured in a fat clean jar.
All she has to do is ask, the doctor will slip her a drug
that costs sixteen cents, maybe fifty dollars on the streets of Mexico,
but free to an OR nurse, to save her from a waiting room
of a clinic in another city. White baby aspirin size salvation.
At the sink the doctor scrubs skin from his forearms, his wrists,
under his nails, giving her instructions to solve the bleeding,
really just a matter of disrupting extra cells, like washing hands
the way they were taught, how warm water lifts oils from crevices,
soap emulsifies, and friction. It's a matter of some vigorous intent,
time, devotion to the task. No crying will be necessary,
before or after. The OR nurse notes significant times:
patient in the room, surgeon in the room, anesthesia begun,
complete, first cutting, closing, and anesthesia rolled backwards
like time in a rug, like an hourglass tipped on end.
She counts the sponges, the sharps, the blades.
It's a matter of what should be there, inside, and what should not.

1997 Jessica Manke (bio)


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