Hospital for Special Surgery. The Island Across the River by Jaime Martinez Tolentino. This is the third post of The Island Across the River, read the first one here and the second here. Remember, next Monday you can read more!
Later on that day, I was given a laxative and I spent some time on “the throne.” Then, after a liquid dinner, a male nurse came by and he shaved my right leg, in preparation for the following day’s procedure. At “lights out,” a nurse brought me a sleeping pill to ensure that I got a good night’s rest.
The following day, around six in the morning, a nurse placed a needle in my arm, and she attached a long, thin, rubber tube to it leading up to an I-V drip bag. She explained that the drip would make me a little dizzy, and possibly thirsty, but I was not to drink anything. After that, an orderly came to my room with a wheeled stretcher, and he helped transfer me from my bed.
I was wheeled down the halls and in and out of an elevator, until we reached a rather bleak floor where it was cold. I was parked there for a while until a nurse wheeled me into an operating room where I was transferred from the stretcher to the operating table. Shortly thereafter, the anesthesiologist came by and he injected something into the I-V bag attached to my arm. Jokingly, he asked me to count backwards from one hundred. I reached ninety-seven before I lost consciousness.
When I came to, I felt nauseous, and I vomited several times. Then, I noticed the white plaster cast on my right leg. It went from the inside of my thigh to my foot, which it covered, except for the toes. Most baffling, though, was the six-inch appendage protruding from the bottom of the cast. It was similar to a high heel —a very high-heel— on a woman’s dress shoe. It was, of course, also encased in plaster. Kind of like the horn of a unicorn, I mused, that had been jokingly placed on the wrong part of the human anatomy. Naturally, I remembered nothing about the operation or how the plaster cast got on my leg.
Not long after waking up from the anesthesia, I felt a terrible pain on my right ankle and all through my right leg, and I called the nurse. An injection, mercifully, took the pain away, and I fell asleep.
During the following days, many doctors visited my room and asked how I was feeling. My parents, of course, also came by and they cheered me up, just as they had done so long ago, at another hospital, far away.
As I made miraculous progress, I was helped off the bed and into a wheelchair. Naturally, I had no problem in getting used to that; after all, I had once roamed the hallways of a different hospital, in a different city and in a different country, in just such a vehicle. And I had done that at age four! The use of a wheelchair almost seemed second nature to me.
I was happy the day that I discovered the solarium. It was surrounded by glass windows on three sides, the warm sun filled the room, and the view was stunning. When I drew my wheelchair as close as I could to a window ledge and I boosted myself up on my hands, I was able to contemplate a broad, modern highway below, with a steady stream of automobiles going by at all hours of the day or night. It was F.D.R. Drive, appropriately named, I reasoned, for someone who, like many of the Hospital for Special Surgery’s patients, had suffered the ravages of polio.
As I wheeled away from the window ledge to a spot where I could bask in the warmth of the sun, I noticed the East River just beyond F.D.R. Drive. Every once in a while, a small fishing or pleasure boat would pass by, but on the whole, the river was fairly devoid of traffic.
What caught my attention was an island in the middle of the river. From what I could tell, the hospital from where I was looking at it faced the northern part of the island. Later, I would learn that the island was about two miles long and some 800 feet wide. It had a total area of one hundred and forty-seven acres. Beyond the island, on its far side, was the borough of Queens, New York City.
Of course, I didn’t know any of that the first time that I contemplated the isle. What I did know, because I was looking at it, was that it was the most desolate place imaginable. I don’t mean desolate in terms of vacant or devoid of structures; there were plenty of those. I counted six or seven very large sprawling buildings, some with steeples, but most of them squat, extensive, with metal bars on their windows and green, rusting, metal roofs. They were made of uniform-looking red brick, long turned brown, or quarried white stone, now uniformly gray with age. Here and there, a tower or a steeple hinted at nineteenth-century Gothic architecture. There was a noticeable lack of trees or bushes on the island, and the lack of human or vehicular traffic suggested abandonment, decay and ruin.
As I contemplated the forlorn-looking island, I had a terrible feeling. The place fairly screamed of illness, incarceration, hopelessness, and suffering. It had the same effect on me that I had felt in junior high school when my friend Robert Mc Gray showed me pictures of German concentration camps. I could almost picture the scene in the Divine Comedy, which I had read while I was at Joan of Arc, in which Dante described a sign on the banks of the River Acheron, at the wharf from where Charon’s horrible boat ferries souls towards Hell, warning “abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
The second time that I was admitted to the Hospital… Keep on reading next Monday. Enjoy your day, Yareah friends!