Owens Street

They take a time out before they get started and the surgeon reads off the patient’s name, the operation, the time, and the date. She counts everything out loud: thirteen instruments, three sharps, ten gauzes, four tubes, one small dollop of lubricant. I count to myself: one patient, one surgeon, two aides, one witness; two injections, three pills, three blankets.

One of the machines clogs at the beginning and they spend ten minutes troubleshooting; I don’t know what the machine does, exactly, but the rhythm is familiar. They change one of the tubes and try starting it again; no dice. They turn it all the way off and back on again; no good. Finally they replace both tubes and power it off and on again and then it works. “This happens every time one of the tubes is replaced while it’s running,” says the aide standing by the door, not for the first time. She’s the only one not in scrubs.

We watch on the monitor as the surgeon works. It’s a strange, aquatic world, pink and red with blood, flesh waving gently in the current like sea anemones, muscle walls flexing slightly. Her hand is tight on my arm; other than that, the room is quiet, with only the hum of the machine and a slight sound of running water to break the silence.

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