Will I feel it?” I ask the doctor as I do a slight hop onto the operating table. He turns to me while pulling on his gloves. “Latex allergy,” I say, lifting my wrist to show him my plastic bracelet that says just that.
“What happens when you come into contact with latex?”
My eyes meet the resident’s gaze and he quickly looks away, blushing. He’s about my age, I guess, and suddenly I’m conscious of the sheerness of my hospital gown and the outline of my breasts. If he looks closely enough, he might be able to see my new heart pounding, my chest rising and falling from the beat, my skin pulled tight like a drum over the new instrument. I think about telling the doctor the truth: If I take it in my mouth, nothing happens, but if I have sex with latex condoms, it burns for days. Instead, I look at the floor and say, “Rash.”
The doctor switches his gloves and tells me to “lay down.” It’s lie, I think.
Instruments start moving, metal-on-metal sounds, and I whip my head from one direction to another, trying to see. The nurse pulls my hair back into a shower cap and tells me that I’m so pretty, she didn’t think I was a patient when she came out to call my name in the waiting room. I smile at her and resist the urge to ask what other patients look like. She means it as a kindness, I know. But pretty is the wrong word, I want to tell her. The truth is, we don’t really have a word to describe a woman who comes through something a lot like death and remains light. We don’t have it for boys, either, so we say strong for them. We say pretty when we mean you look a lot like life.
I thank her and ask, “Do you strap me in? Should you hold me down?”
“Haven’t you had a lot of these?” the doctor asks.
“I was always asleep.”
“Because I was a kid, I guess. Because I might try to run, maybe.” I smile at my small attempt at a joke. I smile and make jokes in these situations because I think that people, doctors, are more likely to want to keep funny people alive. The doctor laughs as he holds up the catheter, the small needle he plans to insert into the base of my neck, and then cast a thin line down into my heart. The nurse stands to my right and strokes my hair. I take a deep breath to slow my heart and I think about how biopsies used to be for me when I was younger. The walls of the lab at St. Louis Children’s Hospital were painted with stars. Maybe because it was comforting to think of something like this happening in the dead of night, when a kid could sleep through it, wake up six hours later still a little drugged, saying, And you were there, and you, and you. But inevitably, that kid would reach her hand up to the sore spot at the base of her neck and realize it had all been real, in some way, those minutes when someone was taking pieces of her heart.
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Excerpt from “Your Hearts, Your Scars.” Copyright © 2022 by Adina Talve-Goodman. Forthcoming Jan. 24, 2023, by Bellevue Literary Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.