bridget g. dooley
Cardiac bypass means plucking veins from the patient’s limbs then tying them round the heart- chambers so new blood leaks in. Sometimes it works, but it’s the same with surgery as dad says about cars, it’s not just fitting parts into their places, it’s also the mechanic’s discretion, the make and condition of the machine, the weather in the area, whether they salt the roads. We live in Michigan. So the roads are salty.
When my dad had it done he was so out of it coming off the anesthesia that the first thing he told me over the phone was that ducks drink blood. Or probably he’d said “ducts drain,” some reference to internal mechanisms. But it sounded like “ducks drink blood” and I couldn’t get the picture out of my head. Not for months. Like that’s what they’re really doing with their heads dunked down in pond water, webbed feet waving. Guzzling down gizzards-full.
At the hospital they had a special arm chair for him, with a foot rest for his blue, bandaged ankles. He moved his toes to a beat and called it calisthenics. He kept time in little exhales of air that reminded me of fax machines, or the way internet used to sound. This was supposed to keep his circulation from cutting off, to make up for the veins they’d taken from his legs.
Thick clear tubes ran from below his gown to a machine that showed liquid levels ebbing with each awful little breath. They gave him a pillow to hug, oblong and shoebox-sized, with a heart embroidered on it. He was in a Catholic hospital. Old parish women made the pillows.
They sewed a firm bar inside the stuffing, so he could cross his arms and hold the pillow close when he coughed or laughed. The bar was there to keep his sternum from separating.
Dad coughs almost as much as he laughs, so that pillow ended up stained blue from being up against his chest so often, blue like his legs were blue around the bandages, where they’d disinfected him.
I left the hospital and found a party store. I got a Free Press for him and three oatmeal creme pies, a pop, and some cigarettes for myself. I don’t like creme pies or cigarettes. I only drink diet pop. But I stood outside the hospital in the designated smoking area and I ate all the creme pies and drank all the cherry pop and smoked until I thought I’d die. The cloud coming from the cigarettes was a different color than the cloud from my breath which was a different color than the white clouds from the smokestacks. When I didn’t die I walked back in the revolving door and brought him his paper.
That winter a worker at a Ford assembly plant did himself up like Rambo, tanktop, headband, AK-47, the whole thing. He shot up the one-armed steel-setting robots and a few of the workers who manned stations on the line. The gunman was a former employee. He knew all the best ways around the place, gave the cops a real run around. When they finally found him hours later he was in an underground storm drain tunnel, blood stained and asleep. November and there he was, curled up in a concrete tube, lips blue as my father’s legs. Cold weather can have a pronounced effect on any vehicle.
Bridget G. Dooley is from Michigan, but she now lives in Athens, GA, where she is a PhD student in Creative Writing and the assistant to the editors at The Georgia Review. You can find her at bgd.neocitites.org.