Ed N. White

The Refrain

Shadows surrounded me: muffled voices, excited tones. Hands slapping me, and something was stuck on my chest. Then sounds broke through the fog. Voices urging, “Speak to us, Ed, say something. Anything. C’mon, Ed, say something!”


The shapes were happy now. “Good! That’s good, say some more. Anything.”

“Whaaa say?”

“Tell us what you do?” Anxious hands were rubbing my hands and the untethered arm.

I began to “wake,” and through the fog, the shapes of men and women clad in blue gowns appeared. What had been a planned overnight stay became four days of hospital confinement, tests, and needles. On the fourth day, it took every ounce of whatever I had left to convince them I was well enough for discharge.

For eleven years, I fought through the pain and debility of severe arthritis. Confident that I could beat it and unwilling to give in to conventional wisdom and medical advice. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and agreed to a total hip replacement. There was nothing left on the left side, the initial target. The doctor suggested that he could fix the right side later. I said, “Maybe.” After this episode, which nearly took my life, I say, “No fucking way!”

There is no one to blame for this but me. Now, well into in my eighth decade, I think, “What’s the point?” My immediate problem has been fixed, and several weeks later, it’s giving me some positive results. What I didn’t expect with the surgery is that I would go unresponsive, twice, and need resuscitation by the Emergency Response Team. Why the hell do I have a DNR clause in my Living Will anyway?  But at least my response made the team happy.

The decision for this surgery was reached after I had tried everything else–every pill, potion, topical, exercise, yoga, tai chi, and appliance I could find. I did well for years even as arthritis spread to other parts of my body, probably advanced by the twisted and awkward movements from “lefty,” my “bad” hip.

I went through the pre-op and COVID testing, feeling strangely at ease. This was surprising since I’ve had “bad things” happen to me in hospitals. Which, in large part, abetted my surgical reluctance. On surgery day, my wife drove me to the hospital. We kissed, and hugged, and bade goodbye clutching our sixty-three years together in one moment. I hobbled to the lobby with my cane and was placed in a wheelchair. The attendant was far happier than I had hoped and chattered giddily as she wheeled me to a room and gave me a gown and plastic bags for my clothing.  She told me to get on the gurney when I was done and left the room. A nurse appeared, tethered my right arm to an IV drip, and disappeared.

I lay there for about five minutes staring at the ceiling tiles trying to count the little squiggles in the acoustic pattern. Then, I got a cramp in “righty,” my good leg. My foot felt like it was twisting off. I was alone. I called out. A passing young woman wearing gray scrubs looked in and said, “I’m not a nurse. I’ll get one.” She left while I twisted on the gurney, trying not to embarrass myself by screaming. Two minutes later, my surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and a nurse, entered the room together.

The nurse, surprisingly, was the first one to speak. “What’s wrong?”

“My right leg, it’s cramping.” I was squeezing my thigh as far down as I could reach—far above the torment.

They came to the gurney, stood at the foot in a line, and the nurse said, “What do you want us to do about it.”

What? I couldn’t believe it. “For Chrissakes, do something!”

The anesthesiologist, the tall man in the center of this trio of casual unconcern, said, “I will fix it. Soon you will feel nothing.” He rolled me onto my right side, probed my left side with his fingers, scratched on a target (I later saw the purple ink in a photo), and began sticking me. He was right—I quickly felt nothing. And knew nothing until I finally awoke in Recovery.

The plan, discussed with my surgeon, was for a Spinal Block with an additional sedative to keep me calm. I suggested an “industrial strength” anti-anxiety agent trying to make a joke out of my usual anxious state. I thought I’d get through the operation in some kind of “twilight zone” where I could listen to the work going on without experiencing any discomfort. I had already written a 100-word flash fiction of what I imagined would happen, titled Hipster, for fridayflashfiction.com. Now, I was ready to write a redux of the actual operation. Whatever juice I was given gave me no chance. I was gone. Deep into a nether world where my blood pressure dropped to 50mm HG Systolic and 30mm HG Diastolic—once during the procedure and again in Recovery. 

Later, when I asked the nurse how close I’d come to death, she spread her thumb and forefinger a skosh apart and said, “We were this close to calling a Code Blue.”

I’ve been there before. Fifty-years ago, I had a severe Anaphylactic shock from multiple Yellowjacket stings. All the evidence pointed to death. The one thing I remember, as if it were yesterday, is the overwhelming sense of well-being. I saw the “white tunnel” for a brief passage during a time of unrelenting stress in my life. A feeling of warmth and comfort. As Mitch Albom wrote, “No more worry, no more pain.”

Bob Dylan said, “He not busy being born—is busy dying.” Words to live and die with as so many souls are facing the uncertainty of severe health issues.

This, too, will pass as my busy-ness comes sharply into focus. Now, I’m confident the end is a beautiful place. No more worry, no more pain.

Back to Top of Page | Back to Essays | Back to Volume 14, Issue 4 – December 2020

DRW TO FIGURE THIS OUT (notes from author): Also, here’s the link to Hipster. https://www.fridayflashfiction.com/100-word-stories/hipster-by-ed-n-white (NOTE: I linked above but can repeat here if needed). This link will get you some of my other stories on FFF.  https://www.fridayflashfiction.com/apps/search?q=stories+by+ed+n.+white

About the Author:

Ed N. White lives on the Suncoast of Florida writing about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. Histria Books. will publish his middle-grade mystery series Miss Demeanor, by Celia J. The Case of the Long Blonde Hair in the fall of 2021. They have recently accepted the rest of the trilogy, The Case of the Crooked Cat, and The Case of the Clumsy Clown for future publication.