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Triptych for Sunita


Part I.

She leans against the raised, angled back of the hospital bed. She can see much more clearly today. Her lips feel dry, and she reaches for the plastic cup of water with her left hand. Her hand doesn't move. Oh, she remembers. Bad side. She reaches again, this time with her right hand, grasps the cup, and takes a small sip of water. She sees the small ball on the table at her left side. She reaches over with her right hand, picks it up and puts it in her left hand. She tries to squeeze it. Nothing. She squeezes harder. The ball seems to get a little squished. She is relieved.

She peers at the mirror on the side to see if there is still a lot of swelling on her face. It seems to have subsided. She tilts her head and peers again, looking for the bald spot on her head. She doesn’t see it. Perhaps it’s the distance, she thinks. Or, with more hope, perhaps it isn’t that obvious. She wants to wash her hair but they won't let her. No water on her head for now. Can she shave it all off, she wonders.

She sees the walker in the corner. We’ll try again later today, the physical therapist had said. It will take time.

Part II.

She wanted to wear her Rockport knee-high boots. She found them so comfortable even with the block heel. Even though they were rather tight at the calves, so when she wore them with a long dress or skirt, she didn't zip them all the way up.

But now, she had to pick her shoes for how easily she could put them on and take them off. And the Rockports, regrettably, didn't fit the bill. She couldn't easily bend and reach her feet. Nor could she wear anything with laces, since she couldn't tie them with effectively just one hand.

Clogs worked. And also a pair of sneakers she had bought which had Velcro fasteners. My “old lady shoes”, she would say to her friends, laughing, but somewhat embarrassed and self-conscious.

She chose a deep red top with gold sparkles in it. There were no buttons she’d have to fiddle with. And then a long black skirt, which had an elastic waist band. Once again, minimal fiddling. Red and gold earrings, which hooked into her earlobes easily. Then, to complete the look, red lipstick, which she took her time applying, carefully staying within the boundaries of her lips. She inspected her reflection and pleased what she saw, smiled at herself.

She really wanted to wear the Rockports. She set them by her bed, then sat on the bed. She hesitated a moment, then called out to her teenaged daughter, "Will you help me with my shoes?"

Part III.

She is sleeping. Her face is serene, beautiful, with her high cheekbones, and aristocratic nose.

Before that, her face was swollen, so much so that her left eye couldn’t open at all. Her head was bandaged, and what is visible of her forehead looked black and blue.

Before that, she was awake. She looked at me with her right eye which she could open a little. With tears pouring down her face, she cried, "I don't want to live like this. I just want to die. I just want to die."

Before that, the nurse said she was on prednisone to reduce the swelling in the brain. That it was typical to experience depression with the steroid regimen. Before that, the neurosurgeon said the paralysis on her left side was because the tumor had sat on the motor cortex. What she had indicated as a possibility before the surgery had come to pass. With physical therapy, her left side could regain function. To what extent, she could not say. Before that, the neurosurgeon said that her cognition was unaffected by the surgery. Before that the neurosurgeon said that the tumor was walnut-sized and had grown very slowly over the past 14 years.

Before that she had an X-ray, then an MRI, then a CT scan of her head. Before that, she was in an ambulance on her way to the hospital. Before that, she had had a seizure.

Before that, she was waiting for a bus to go to work.

Before that, she had woken up and had her coffee, preparing for just another day.


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