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Photo by Edward Weston

I didn’t know her, only of her.  Only that she was thirty-five, mother of three small children, going through divorce, and now in the hospital with some old TIA’s: transient ischemic attacks or mini-strokes.  Old strokes need no treatment, but the doctors found obstruction in the artery leading to her brain, the left carotid.  They inserted three stents and warned the family about risk of re-stroke.  I knew, from residency, they must have put her on anticoagulants…blood thinners.  She deteriorated the next day, had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, the worst kind of stroke. She bled into her brain, in the area where the speech center lies, where motor control of the right side rests.

I didn’t know her.  Just that she had been through enough already with his affairs and the divorce.  Why this?

Grandma used to say, “When Muslims fast, all their prayers are answered.” So I stopped eating, even recited Joshan Kabeer–the prayer that says God’s name 100 different ways–in two languages, taking care to pronounce the glottal H’s perfectly.  I read it despite practicing Buddhism now.  Though I chanted too.

I didn’t know her, yet dedicated all my activities to her, let her borrow my senses, feel her muscles through my exercise, fill her lungs through my breaths, see art at the museum through my eyes, taste wonderful food at an Italian Christmas through my taste buds.

When she went back to the operating room for a decompression procedure, I imagined her brain on the CT scan, the left hemisphere spongy white from bleeding.  She would have been just a case in residency, the subarachnoid hemorrhage case, the exciting craniotomy case, a cool brain to operate on.  Now, she was Anna, the woman I wanted to protect against death from thousands of miles away.  Had they shaved that beautiful chestnut brown hair?  Did they staple or suture the incision?

The ventilator huffed in my ear, as it pushed oxygen into her lungs, clicking at the end of each breath cycle. A monitor, with tentacles stretched onto her limp torso and fingertip, would display her vital signs in different colors, beeping to her…

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