Body, Issue: Birthday
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The Night I Took Uber Pool to the Emergency Room

I’m crawling around on the bathroom floor, picking up pieces of myself. These pieces are not metaphor. They are actual pieces. Plum-sized, beet-colored, with the consistency and sheen of chicken liver, four of them have shot out of my vagina like shells from a canon.

Altogether 18 of these projectiles will erupt from my body. “A chai,” I apparently joked, after the last one shot out, although I have only a vague memory of this. For now, there are only four, I’m still conscious, it’s just after midnight, and my 20-year-old middle child, Sasha, the only other human in the apartment — added bonus, I’m mid-divorce — is fast asleep after having arrived home only a few hours earlier from her Birthright trip to Israel.

I am bleeding out. But my brain, starved of blood and in shock at the sight of so much of it, cannot process this information. Instead, I’ve become convinced that the ordnance sliding around my bathroom floor are my internal organs, which I must rescue so someone can put them back inside me.

I proceed to do what anyone in my position might do. I head straight to the kitchen to hunt for Tupperware. Not just any Tupperware. The glass kind. Heaven forbid my liver and kidney should come into contact with BPA’s. It does not even occur to me, in my befuddled state, that had my internal organs actually fallen from my body, I would not be rummaging in my kitchen cabinet searching for a container to store them.

With the masses now safely ensconced in carcinogen-free glass — I’ve seen enough medical procedurals to know about the importance, when transporting human organs, of picnic coolers — I call the answering service for my surgeon, who three weeks earlier had removed my cervix. This post-op emergency, which I’m not yet prepared to call an emergency, is highly unusual. In fact, of all trachelectomies — that’s the fancy name for cervix removal — performed in the U.S., only 0.24% result in “vaginal cuff dehiscence,” which is the fancy name for “holy Jesus fuck, the stitches where they sewed up the top of your vaginal canal have come undone, and now you’re a blood clot howitzer.”

The rest of the night becomes fuzzy, as I slip in and out of consciousness, so I’ll just mention the scenes I do remember in the order in which I think they occurred. This is not me trying to sound post-modern. It’s just the jump-cut way I recall them, devoid of the normal transitions that streamline a narrative.

“Sweetie, I think something’s wrong.” I finally wake my sleeping daughter. “I might have to go to the hospital. But you stay here with Lucas and walk him in the morning.”

 It does not even occur to me, in my befuddled state, that had my internal organs actually fallen from my body, I would not be rummaging in my kitchen cabinet searching for a container to store them.

Sasha’s widened eyes, staring at the contents of my Tupperware container.

The crack of fireworks. The world spinning.

“Mom! Oh, my god! That’s not your kidney. If it were your kidney, you’d be dead.” She pokes it with her finger, un-squeamish. “I think they’re giant blood clots. We have to go to the hospital. Now.”

Me: “I’m so tired. And no one’s calling me back. Maybe we should wait until tomorrow.”

Pools of blood on the bathroom floor. In my bed. Down the hallway. In the kitchen near the Tupperware shelf and refrigerator. What’s happening?

Sasha, assessing: “Are you kidding me? Let’s go. I’m coming with you.”

I remain firm. “No, you have to stay here with the dog!”

She doesn’t listen. I am being pulled outside.

Streetlamps. Darkness. I smell pot.

“Nobody says pot anymore,” says Sasha. “It’s weed.” The numbers 1:43 AM atop the smiles of my three sun-kissed children on the face of my phone. Uber pool. I actually order Uber pool to go to the emergency room.

More fireworks.

My daughter to the driver: “Yes, it’s an emergency!”

Warm blood. Under me. On the seat of the Uber, down my legs, in my shoes. An apology to the driver. “Don’t worry. Just go. God bless.” 

Two decades earlier, when my water had broken in a taxi, the driver had spoken those exact words. Don’t worry. Just go. God bless. The 20-foot distance between car and emergency room seems as unbridgeable as it had for that birth. My daughter offers me her shoulder to lean on as we exit. I am both grateful and ashamed. How, in the twenty years between soiled taxis, have our roles reversed?

[I have absolutely no memory of entering the hospital, but I’m told I did.]

The world tilts. My body falls, seemingly in slow motion. This is a thing, backed by science: a perception of time expanding and slowing down during a moment of trauma.

Darkness.

[My glass Tupperware container flies out of my hand, splattering on the ground, and drenches my daughter’s sleeve. I have no memory of this.]

Overhead lights. Flourescent green glow. Scared voices shouting. What’s happening?

“We have to move her to another stretcher. There’s too much blood.” How long have I been here?

Hands under me, a sleepover levitation: light as a feather, stiff as a board. Air underneath, then, boom, solid stretcher below. The antiseptic stench of the prior one being hosed down with bleach. I peek. Bad idea. A voice: “Get her into a room! Now!”

Darkness.

Irrational anger and sadness as the nurse removes my green yoga pants, now soaked red. “No, please! Don’t throw them out! They’re my favorites!” Too late. They’re in the trash. Relief at having a tangible object outside of myself on which to misdirect my feelings.

Darkness. Beeping.

The constant gush of liquid underneath me. How much blood does a body hold? Tiny droplets of sweat on my upper lip. A warm trickle of tears down my cheeks. I am salt. On its return to the sea. I can actually feel my body dying. 

Darkness. Beeping.

More clots flying out. A thousand more. No. Not a thousand, says my daughter. She’s been counting. We’re up to sixteen. Her voice: “Someone please get in here! Now!”

Darkness. Beeping.

The eighteenth clot emerges. My daughter’s face, the one she puts on when she’s trying too hard not to be afraid. I see your fake composure, young lady, and I raise you fake levity. “A chai!” I say. She laughs. Success.

Darkness. Beeping.

A nurse shoves massive hunks of gauze up me: “This is not going to stop it, but we have no other solution until the surgeon gets here.” 

Darkness. Beeping.

Pressure. So much mounting pressure. I stand up to relieve it. Voices are yelling at me to lie back down. The blood-soaked gauze shoots halfway across the room, where it lands with a splash in a bedpan held out like a catcher’s mitt. “Score!” I shout, with a fist pump. Levity is all we have.

Darkness. Beeping.

My child’s voice, finally breaking, as she leaves the room and whispers into her phone. “Jen? Jen? Oh my god, Jen! It’s awful. When can you get here?” Jen is my sister, a choreographer who lives in the Bay Area but is unusually in New York this holiday weekend to research footage from the original Fiddler on the Roof in the Lincoln Center archives.

A Fiddler ear worm: Is this the little girl I carried? I gave birth to my own savior out of the canal trying to kill me. My brain bends in on itself, pondering this.

Lisa, my literary agent and friend, is now in the room. Cool. How did she get here? My daughter texted her. Oh. That’s smart. Lots of talk about what to do with the dog. 

Darkness. Beeping.

Jen has arrived. After Lisa, I think, but I can’t be sure. The soothing chatter of women at my feet. Beautiful women, all three of whom look as if they come from the same shtetl. 

The surgeon’s flip flops. I’ve interrupted her beach vacation.

Hallway lights rush by, a tracking shot. As does my life, in no particular order: preschool apple juice; pumpkin patch; red Schwinn; blue eyes. Dad’s. They closed fast. Four months exactly, from diagnosis to death. Atheism has many parents.

“I wish Dad were here,” I say. Out loud? Maybe not. I’ll ask Jen if she remembers.

[Jen says she doesn’t remember. But I said a lot of weird things that night, so maybe. “What things?” I ask. “Crazy things. Like, you were upset about them throwing away your yoga pants.”]

My shtetl, halted by a double door. “You’re going to be fine,” they say, growing smaller.

Liars, all of them.

An operating room. Frigid air. Overhead lights. I’m watching myself from above, a bleeding body on a slab, arms spread, wrists bound. We are all Christ under the knife. The speculum goes in. Dear Science, I will not die for your sins. That cervix should have been removed years ago, when you took out my uterus, and you know it. Back then you claimed it played a role in sexual pleasure. In the passive tense: “It is believed to play a role in sexual pleasure.” Ha! I could have told you — any woman could have — that the clitoris is the only game in that town. That a cervix, unmoored, has no role in a body other than wreaking havoc. This havoc. These masks. This clattering of metal scalpels.

Gas. A voice. “Count backwards from ten.” Ten. Nine. Eight…

Fade to black.

Filed under: Body, Issue: Birthday

by

Deborah Copaken

Atlantic columnist and New York Times bestselling novelist and memoirist Deborah Copaken is the author of The Red Book and Shutterbabe, among others. An award-winning war photographer, Emmy-award winning TV news producer, and screenwriter of the Shutterbabe pilot for NBC, she also served as a consultant on Darren Star's TV show YOUNGER. This winter she'll once again collaborate with Star as staff writer on his new Paramount TV series, EMILY IN PARIS, which she helped develop. Her new memoir, Ladyparts, just sold to Random House and is scheduled to appear in 2020, inshallah, because she also has a full-time job as Head Writer at the Silicon Valley tech start-up Neurotrack. Her writing and photographyhave appeared in publications worldwide, including The New Yorker,New York Times, Washington Post, The Nation, Observer, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, O, The Oprah Magazine, Elle, Paris Match, etc. Her most recent "Modern Love" for the New York Times was adapted as the pilot episode of Amazon's new series by the same name.

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