There are almost no visual components to the memories of my first waking moments after surgery. Mostly, I suspect, this is because I was still pretty doped up—and thus mostly unable to open my eyes. What's left is a mishmash of sound and pain.
Pain. I knew before I was even told that the doctor had made two holes in my body, because I could feel them both, individually, one on top of the other on my abdomen, two fingers of fire—no, something worse than fire, because fire can be extinguished and there was nothing to the intensity of agony in my belly that suggested a temporary nature. I screamed—or tried to at least. Most likely I grunted angrily.
It was going to get worse: I still needed to be transferred from the operating table to a recuperation bed. I could hear the nurses around me talking–male and female voices mixing together in a kind of urgent incoherence—and then the sheet below me tighten in a one-two-three! movement to lift me to my new repose. It squeezed my wounds a little. I screamed. "YOU'RE HURTING ME!" I wanted to say, but I don't think I managed actual speech.
And then: blackness.
Soon after, though, a new sensation emerged. I still hurt, still hurt too much to want to endure or survive. But then the sponge touched my skin: someone was cleaning me, a soothing touch in the midst of misery. Along my left leg, up the calf and thigh. And then, finally, up from there. The post-surgical moment when I first thought I might survive occurred when a nurse—whose face I've still never seen, I don't think—oh-so-briefly washed my balls.
There's nothing erotic to this. But the pain had been so thorough, so penetrating—and the warm, sudsy sponge against my testacles made me feel ... loved. And then, blackness again.
Something similar would happen over my next few days in the hospital. Young men wiped my ass. Older women washed me all over. A beautiful young Indian woman showed me how to empty the shit from the bag on my stomach. At one point on my last day—seriously, I'm not making this up—a woman washed my feet while singing Negro spirituals. It was a resonant moment—possibly slightly absurd, but it felt resonant—that did not get me to return to the Christianity of my youth. But that's as clean a shot as anybody will get, most likely.
Losing control over these basic functions, I guess, should make me angry on some level. But for whatever reason, I resigned myself pretty quickly to the idea that I didn't have control of this situation. And so I accepted it: Every ass-wipe was a gift, a step closer to home and recovery.