I just volunteered for an experimental procedure. The risks are high, I am told.
“The risks are very high.”
That’s what they told me.
But I signed the papers. My risks are very high if I don’t have it, that’s what I told them. I am quite certain that I will die if I do not have this procedure.
I’ve been on a waiting list for months now, just to be considered. I just met with the doctors who asked me to describe my symptoms to make sure I qualify.
“Do you experience extreme and rapid deviation of blood pressure?”
Yes, I told them, sometimes my pulse fills my whole body, so all other sound is drowned out and I can’t hear the laughter of children or the tea kettle whistling or a tourist asking for directions to a market or even my own private thoughts. I just hear thump thump thump, and I think I can see my fingertips swelling with all the pooled blood in them. But then the rest of the time, most of the time, I lose it. I lose my pulse. And I convince myself that there is nothing inside me at all, just air between ribs, or water. I feel as though I am floating through my life, living inside a scummy fish tank of myself, belly up.
“Alright.” They said. “Do you experience any physical pain, and if so, where and how severe on a scale of one to ten.”
I told them I wasn’t certain what kind of pain they meant. Pain is subjective. The only other surgery I’ve had was to remove my wisdom teeth, and once I had gallstones. But I have no children; I just sit and nod my head at parties when other women swap their labor horror stories.
I’ve never been in a war, or a fist-fight, or been stabbed, or hit by a car. But this is pain, a strange pain. Like when you are sleeping and suddenly you wake up in a panic because you’re arm isn’t there. And you lift it up by the wrist and shake it a little, and then a little harder, but you can’t feel it. You watch the muscle wave inside the flesh but it isn’t yours—not your muscle, not your flesh, not your arm anymore. And it doesn’t hurt, exactly, not like something called pain, but it is painful. I suppose it is the pain of not belonging to yourself anymore. But then always the pins and needles come, and your arm wakes up so you can go back to sleep. Except I don’t get the pins and needles, just the dull ache of an absent part. Only in my case, it isn’t my arm: it is my heart. I tried to explain this to the doctors, but they only kept asking me to place it on a scale of one to ten. It isn’t a numerical feeling. Feelings aren’t really calculable, least of all painful feelings. But the minimum pain level to be considered for the operation is an eight, so I told them I was a nine, because I know that in their language, that means it is serious, and it is serious.
So with a nine, I qualified for the experimental procedure. And I understand the risks, which are high. But my heart is no good to me anymore. They are going to attempt to replace my heart with a red cardinal. A cardinal with feathers of brilliant crimson; a cardinal who will build its sturdy nest between my ribs and sing cheer cheer cheer what what what. And predators will hear its warning and stay away—the cooper’s hawks, and loggerhead shrikes, and screech owls, and milk snakes, and coluber constrictors—they will all stay away.
Cardinals mate for life, you know.
They stay together year-round and feed each other dinner beak-to-beak. Cardinal pairs change their songs, the pitch and the notes, to harmonize with each other. Or to locate each other if one should get lost. Cheer cheer cheer, what what what. We sing the same song, the cardinal and I.
Jessie Drake is a transplant to Portland where she scrapes together a happy living as a freelance writer, editor, transcriber, actor and quilter. She studied Theatre and English Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA where she also worked as an actor and dramaturge with Ratatat Theatre Group and Lit Moon Theatre Company. Her poetry has been published in Westmont’s literary magazine The Phoenix, and her first play was accepted for the Aspiring Female Playwrights Workshop and Staged Reading at Center Stage Theatre in Santa Barbara in 2010. This piece, “The Procedure,” was originally written for Intimate Strangers: A Night of Art and Performance by the Portland Fiction Project.
Artist: Bennett Slater======Cardinal Arrest