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Going Under | by Lisa Sadikman

I love going under. Under water. Under warm blankets. Especially under anesthesia. For the hours I am gone, I don’t fret about wrinkles, I don’t worry about how my daughter is doing at school, I don’t feel guilty for not calling my grandmother. I don’t make appointments or play dates or lunch dates. I don’t know what the doctors cut, probe, slice, suck out, remove, stitch back together. I don’t see the flaps of skin, layers of fat, blood vessels, mucus, bone and cartilage. I am under.

On this March morning, I am ready for my surgery, eager for it. This will be my fifth time going under and I can’t wait. I love the letting go feeling of not being able or expected to do anything but lie there. I love the tingle of the drugs as they course through my veins, the warming of my blood as my body quickly and quietly dozes off. I know there is a risk—isn’t there always a risk when you put yourself in another person’s hands entirely?—but for me there’s also an undeniable relief in letting someone else be in charge of everything: what I’ll wear, keeping me warm, keeping me alive. For a short time, I will be excused from my hectic life. The risk is worth it.

I’m up before the kids wake, before the sun decides if it will shine or hide behind the fog. I pull on my favorite black sweatpants and T-shirt, throw on a cozy hoodie. I creep through the house, wishing I could satisfy my groaning belly. I haven’t eaten for 12 hours, per my pre-op instructions. They don’t want me throwing up during or after surgery. I wouldn’t want to ruin my day off like that anyway.

Outside, there’s a chill in the air, a hush, the odd rush of a delivery truck passing by as I gather the newspapers from the driveway and drop them by the garage door. I’m driving myself to the hospital and my husband will take BART into the city to pick me up and drive me home. I take my husband’s car, the one without the kids’ car seats in the back. Carpooling is not my job today, even though I begin my journey on the same streets and highways that prescribe my daily loop from home to school to grocery store and home again, then back to school and on to gymnastics class and home again. Today, though, I drive right by my usual exits and head toward the Bay Bridge.

When I get to the hospital the admitting nurse is all smiles and forms. She ushers me into a changing room without a mirror and tells me to remove everything, take it all off, even the jewelry, even the glasses. Off come the sweatpants, then the T-shirt, the lacy underwear. On go the enormous green gown—one size must fit all—and blue non-skid socks. I fold everything neatly and put it in the big plastic bag the nurse gave me. I finger my wedding ring, a simple platinum band, knowing I need to take it off, leave it behind. I shimmy it over my knuckle and zip it into the inside pocket of my purse. Suddenly I’m struck by the What If? I reach back into my purse and pull out the piece of paper with my pre-op instructions on it. I scramble for a pen and scribble love notes to each of my children, to my husband, just in case. Clear and sweet, my hurried words cover all the bases of how and why I love them. If something goes wrong, they will know this and they will be okay. My heart settles back into its natural beat as I walk out of the changing room, leaving my plastic bag behind.

The nurse meets me in the hall and takes me to an empty pre-op bed. I climb up into the clean sheets, rest my head on the propped pillow. Without my glasses, everything is a bit fuzzy, but I don’t mind.

“Would you like a warm blanket?” she asks.

Yes, oh yes, I’d love a warm blanket. “Yes, thank you,” I say.

The nurse walks over to what looks like an enormous microwave, opens the door and pulls out a perfectly folded white flannel blanket. She brings it to me, tucks me in, asks if I’m all right. She starts filling out my forms, asking me questions: Are you allergic to any medications? Please spell your last name. What is your birth date? While she’s writing down my answers she asks about my kids, what I do, how I like living in the East Bay. I like this pleasant chit-chat, this small talk. She comes back to check on me several times always asking if I need anything, if I’m okay. Yes I tell her, yes doing great. The surgeon comes in through the fluttering blue curtain to say hello. He smiles warmly, tells me not to be nervous, everything will be fine. Yes, I say, everything will be fine.

Soon I’m wheeled into the operating room. The nurse comes in with another warm blanket and tucks it around my legs, under my feet. I think about waking up on the other side, being pleasantly groggy for hours, coated with a sweet, sweet dusting of drug-induced sleep. I know they’ll bring me cold apple juice and those little packets of Saltines that I love, as many as I want. The anesthesiologist gently takes my arms and straps them onto boards out to my sides. He smiles at me and I smile back as he pushes the drugs into my IV. A warmth floods my veins, spreading through my entire body. I imagine my every molecule blanketed in this warmth, expanding and sighing, taking a blissful day off.

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Lisa Sadikman lives in Oakland with her husband and two young daughters. Her work has appeared in Salon, Business 2.0, Attaché magazine and Literary Mama where she is a Profiles Editor. Currently free of any ailments, she worries she won’t get to go under again for a very long time.


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Illustration by Susan Sanford