Alina Zollfrank



Fixed means mended, repaired.

Mended, repaired means once broken.

Broken means something not whole.

Whole means desirable, perfect, as designed.


Fixed means four weeks in the hospital, even on your ninth birthday.

Birthday means two things therefore: the day you emerged from your mom’s womb and the day you emerged from anesthesia with your own wound.

Anesthesia means facing a chilly shower in a tiled room after a sleeping pill the bright night before from the doctor who said rest would be good.

Rest means you didn’t sleep. You went into the echo-y bathroom and questioned why me? why me? and cried but just a little and not too loud because you’re a good patient.

Good patients are brave. You’ve been one since you were two and your dad surmised something was off kilter. Your heart beat out of your chest while you were softly dreaming in your bed in the dainty stone house.

That stone house, you missed it while you silently swam in the white hospital bed. And your dad’s good-night-time stories. And your mom’s keen thoughts, her tea cakes. And your sister’s wild-child cries. Your sister who came into the world because your parents needed a spare. Just in case.

Seven years on an East German waiting list to go under the knife. Daily you swallowed ten bitter drops after dinner – foxglove to keep your one engine running. A good patient.

A quiet child. A pale being. You blended right in with the starched sheets and the lacy curtains on boxy hospital room windows, your universe for a short eternity. A world of stretchy hours. Books were currency. Meal times a welcome interruption.

The nice lady across the hall got fixed.

On the night before your surgery, she gives you an apple. A red-cheeked, glossy one. All dark satiny hair and jolly voice, she tells you about the hole in her heart and how she should have died thirty years ago.

They just found this thing – can you imagine? You nod and inspect the apple and wonder about your own hole as you bite into juicy cheeks. Eat up, eat up, she says, you need the vitamins.

The good nurse, the kind nurse, calls you Little Red Riding Hood here. You imagine the apples she carried in her basket as she skipped along soft forest paths.

Maybe it’s all a fairytale and you’re a princess caught in a magical tower with purple tiles on the walls and locked doors. Locked doors everywhere and evil night nurses that draw blood and don’t catch you when you pass out and hit your temple on the corner of the iron bed. Who slap your face, scold you to wake up.

Body Plot I:

You’re fixed now, they say when you emerge and can’t even lift your heavy head off the pillow. Your skin, all your skin, stuck to plastic covers. Your wrists tied down. Your tongue glued to the roof of your cardboard mouth. Lead weights on your chest.

Sandbags on stitches for when you are throwing up, they say. So you won’t split open where we’ve already split you open. Your lip quivers with exhaustion. Can’t talk. There’s a tube down your throat and you want it out-out-out. You heave, and then you drop off again.

A clock in your line of vision. You’re in third grade and know how to tell time. Hour hands. Minute hands. You can’t feel your hands. 12:30. Makes sense. They said surgery would take 4-5 hours. Go to sleep now, count back from a 100, they whispered, and then all will be okay.

But why is it dark outside? Am I fixed?

I’m thirsty. Can someone bring me a drink? How do I pee? What is that thing up my body? How can I pee? Can you hear my thoughts? I need to pee.

Don’t cry, they say, don’t be upset. Stay calm. You beg with your eyes: Release me. Help.

You don’t like this. You didn’t tell me about the tubes. So many tubes. Or the pain. So much pain. Or the smell. Such icky smell.

Darkness, you fall into her again like into a cape from a tale.

Wake later. No nurses this time. On your left, a woman in another bed. Beeping machines. Rasping. Pitchy gasping. Before light returns outside, you realize she’s died. You wonder if she liked apples.

You cry, but no tears come; you’re all out of fluids. You didn’t tell me about the pain. About – alone.

THIS means fixed?

Body Plot II:

Go live, they say later. You’re all set.

Have a good life, a normal life, a nice life.

You’re unsure what exactly that means. Your parents paint relief on their faces; your sister skips, ecstatic you’re home. Classmates bewildered when you return to school.

You leave them all in the dust with your studies but not with your body. Your body and phys ed don’t mesh. Not sporty, your dad and PE teachers conclude for years. Out of shape. You accept this. You’re fixed, just not talented.

Your scar is your medal. It grows and stretches with you, gets paler over time while you get pinker. Subtly, some ask, It doesn’t hurt, does it? It hasn’t hurt since that autumn. It stopped hurting after they yanked metal staples out. And all the tubes. And the stitches. It stopped hurting when the body started giving.

You look fixed; you feel fixed. You’re living. Forgetting.

Body Plot III:

Until you’re not. You’re 39 and you’ve had two babies and your one body stops behaving. Well, says the green family doctor, looks like heart failure to me.

You wore the bare scar, you dealt with the pain and the stares (Did you have a heart attack? You’re so young! What’s that on your chest?) Tears come, go, anger comes. Go! Denial: the new default.

You stand in the street, breathless. Drop your forehead to knees. Time slows down around you. Then it speeds up.

Speed is what flashes across the screen when they hook you back up to machines, same but different from your childhood, now, on this modern side of the ocean.

An ocean of thoughts in which you bob. When you blink, you find yourself in the car breathing into a paper bag with hours missing. Blank. You drag yourself through days and shed tears your kids witness because this, this you didn’t see coming.

Smells take you back to then. Bandaids and disinfectants are triggers. Wrapping tape is worse. Medical appointments without windows: pure horror.

You learn to adjust. Avoid intensity. Avoid startling. Avoid sleep disturbance. Avoid hills. Avoid flights. Avoid viruses. Avoid resistance. Avoid triggers. Avoid cardiac strain.

Take magnesium. Take fluids. Take advice. Take beta blockers. Take a talk therapist. Take the PTSD diagnosis. Take EMDR. Take calming herbs.

Take slow walks. Take steroid inhalers. Take – haha! – heart.

Take to the yoga mat. Take time. Take breaths. Take what you have inside and accept.

Accept means calm. Calm means peace. Peace means here. Here means presence.

Presence means in this, your body. With gratitude. Gratitude means embracing, embracing your chiming, loving, singing heart.

Differently, distinctly, it’s working. Somehow. Working means repaired.

Repaired means mended, mindfully. Mindfully means surrender. Surrender means yes.

Yes to living. Living means trusting. Trusting your unique heart with its own rhythm, on this journey.


Repaired means fixed. Or does it?

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About the Author

Alina Zollfrank from (former) East Germany loathes wildfire smoke and writes to get out of her whirring mind. She cares for two teens, a husband, three rescue dogs, and countless plants in the Pacific Northwest and finds inspiration in the lightness and heaviness of this world. Her essays and poetry have been or will shortly be published in Bella Grace, The Noisy Water Review, Last Leaves, Thimble, Braided Way, and Invisible City. More of her works can be read at