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"Side Effects"

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

“Ten blade.”

I could hear the whoosh-shah of the ventilator forcing air into my lungs.

The smell of latex and antiseptic pierced through the rubber tubes shoved down my throat.

Is someone there?

“How was your vacation, Denton?”

Metal instruments clicked together.

“Too short.”

Stop-wait, wait.


“I got to hit the fairway a few times. Thursday I swear I was gonna land an eagle.”

Drip. Drip. My I.V. leaked antibiotics into my bloodstream.

“Did you get it?”

CLICK! Blinding white light flashed above my eyelids. The lamp made a low humming noise.

I can’t move.

“No. I chucked my last bloody shot and ended with a double bogey.”

More laughter.

The tiny cold shiver was my only warning as steel sliced open my chest cavity.

“You wanna grab lunch after this one, Bob?”

I screamed. I’m on fire-stop-

CRACK! The sternal saw broke bone apart.

“Sure. I know this great Thai place.”

I burned as the scalpel dug deeper. A hand brushed my hair.

72 hours earlier.

I sat in an examination room at Massachusetts General Hospital. It smelled like a county jail bathroom. I was the only one who seemed to notice these things.

“Baby, you need this surgery. Do you want to die? Dr. Cooley is a highly renowned heart surgeon-

The pretty man in the white dress cleared his throat.

“Cardiovascular, ma’am.”

Mom ignored him. “Do this for me and your father. Don’t you want a healthy, working heart?”

They always asked me questions like I was an idiot. Don’t you know the sky is blue? Oh, how silly, pigs can’t really fly, dear. You can’t live without a heart.

My black rimmed eyes didn’t blink. “I fucking hate doctors. I hate hospitals. And I don’t want to get cut up like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Dr. Squinty Eyes put his manicured hands on my parents’ shoulders.

“Could I have a moment alone with Becca? Maybe I can reassure her.”

Sure, and maybe I can bust up your multi-million dollar schnauzz.

My dad smiled. “Yes, of course.”

Once we were alone, Dr. Hands in His Pockets tried the nice guy approach.

“Becca, I’m going to make you a promise, from one adult to another. You are in the very best of hands. We are going to give you a brand new working heart that pumps blood to all of your pesky little arteries for the rest of your long, long life. You can meet my whole team, and decide for yourself if you can trust us to make you better.”

Well that whole ‘adult’ vibe lasted about 10.6 seconds. But I liked being able to make my own judgments.


Everyone was thrilled of course. If they could, my parents would’ve passed out stickers saying, “Becca isn’t suicidal anymore.” I got to meet Dr. Eyebrows Are a Different Color. He was the surgical assistant, AKA my doctor’s bitch. Next was the circulating nurse, Nurse French. She liked to wear pearls and red lipstick. Very patronizing. The technologist was Dr. Sad Smile. I wanted to make some stickers for this guy.

Finally the day came for the dissection. Nurses rolled me into the surgical room. My doctor held my hand, thinking his sweaty palms would somehow comfort me.

There was a man sitting in a rolly chair in the corner. I sat up.

“Who’s that?”

My doctor placed a hand on my shoulder. “That’s just the anesthesiologist, Dr. Carson. His job is to make sure you sleep through all of this and don’t feel a thing.”

The nurses pushed me back on the gurney and left. Dr. Late Announcement went to scrub in.

I stared at the ceiling, confidence suddenly gone. My chest rushed up and down.

Carson slowly creaked his stool over to me. Wordlessly he pushed needles under my skin. I could smell wintergreen mint as he breathed into my face.

“Hey, what are you giving me?”

He didn’t answer. My limbs began to feel heavy. I tried to move my arm, and nothing.

Carson took off his glasses and bent over. Mint permeated the air.

“It’s Becca, isn’t it?”

I didn’t like his voice. Suddenly I was seven years old again, listening to my parents’ book on tape in the car. The narrator seducing me to keep listening.

He curled my bangs behind my ear.

“You’re very lucky, my dear. Today you get to learn a little secret, only us pain doctors know.”

Pain relief, I mentally corrected him.

Carson slowly wheeled himself around my bed, like a child in the teacher’s chair. My eyes followed steadily.

He leaned his elbows onto the crackly white paper. “Anesthesia. General, to be specific. To most people, it’s a magical drug that--takes all the pain away!” He smiled, his bright eyes staring across the room.

I screamed at my muscles. A wrist twitched.

“But…” he looked down, confused; remembering I was still there.

“You understand of course why I can’t let that happen. I have a duty to heal. And pain, it—it is incredible! Torturing prisoners changes wars. Disciplining children creates model citizens. Helpless puppies become dogfighters. It has to be studied!”

I used all the strength I possessed to slightly shift my arm, trying to find a panic button.

He hooked his mangled fingers around my wrist.

“Now, now shh…Becca, Becca. This-“

He pet my hair.

“This is going to be fun for you and me.”

My nose burned. Mint in the air, sweat leaking through the thin gown. And I smelled my fear.

His voice dropped. Steady and calm. Professional.

You are going to be paralyzed for six hours, the longest of your life.”

Warm urine ran between my legs.

“And you won’t remember a thing when you wake up.”

That crazed grin came back. “Isn’t is brilliant? Isn’t it wonderful?”

My eyelids shut without permission. I felt Dr. I Was Right tug on my hair one last time. The first of my pain.

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