In Her Body
I didn’t know her, only of her. Only that she was thirty-five, mother of three small children, going through divorce, and now in the hospital with some old TIA’s: transient ischemic attacks or mini-strokes. Old strokes need no treatment, but the doctors found obstruction in the artery leading to her brain, the left carotid. They inserted three stents and warned the family about risk of re-stroke. I knew, from residency, they must have put her on anticoagulants…blood thinners. She deteriorated the next day, had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, the worst kind of stroke. She bled into her brain, in the area where the speech center lies, where motor control of the right side rests.
I didn’t know her. Just that she had been through enough already with his affairs and the divorce. Why this?
Grandma used to say, “When Muslims fast, all their prayers are answered.” So I stopped eating, even recited Joshan Kabeer–the prayer that says God’s name 100 different ways–in two languages, taking care to pronounce the glottal H’s perfectly. I read it despite practicing Buddhism now. Though I chanted too.
I didn’t know her, yet dedicated all my activities to her, let her borrow my senses, feel her muscles through my exercise, fill her lungs through my breaths, see art at the museum through my eyes, taste wonderful food at an Italian Christmas through my taste buds.
When she went back to the operating room for a decompression procedure, I imagined her brain on the CT scan, the left hemisphere spongy white from bleeding. She would have been just a case in residency, the subarachnoid hemorrhage case, the exciting craniotomy case, a cool brain to operate on. Now, she was Anna, the woman I wanted to protect against death from thousands of miles away. Had they shaved that beautiful chestnut brown hair? Did they staple or suture the incision?
The ventilator huffed in my ear, as it pushed oxygen into her lungs, clicking at the end of each breath cycle. A monitor, with tentacles stretched onto her limp torso and fingertip, would display her vital signs in different colors, beeping to her heartbeat.
I sobbed while searching the literature for new treatments: surgical, medical, holistic, anything. Had we baboons made any scientific progress in the past five years? Screw the poor prognosis. Blast it’s-the-worst-kind-of-hemorrhage. I wanted to fight death on her behalf; fly to where she was hospitalized and sit by her ICU bed, not as a physician but as a woman; read to her; play her children’s recorded voices; have harp music at the bedside, because in one study it helped stabilize patients’ blood pressures. I would do what the doctors didn’t have time to, recruit her mother to read her favorite book, ask her father to tell her stories of childhood Christmases. No one was allowed to walk away from Anna or assume she wouldn’t make it, not even the soon-to-be-ex-husband.
I needed her to fight, for her life, for the sound of her children’s voices, for her youth, to prove she can, and because he had resigned.
I didn’t know her, yet wanted to be there because no woman should face death or disease alone.
I still don’t know her.
What makes me wage the war of the century for her sake, convinced I’m the only one in her corner? Is it that I have experienced divorce too? Or, that the woman I want so desperately to devote my senses to, the one I’m defending with all my might, the one I wish others wouldn’t give up on, is me inside Anna’s body?
Bahar is an Iranian-American woman who immigrated to the United States at the age of seventeen, having lived through the revolution and Iran/Iraq war. Once a non-stop talker, she had to remain silent for a year before being able to communicate effectively in English. She left a career in oral and maxillofacial surgery to become a writer. Her works have been published in a number of literary journals including: Mslexia, the Newer York, Mandala Journal, Monkey Bicycle, and Marco Polo Arts Magazine, where she is a regular contributor. Her non-fiction essay is forthcoming in the anthology In The Night Count the Stars.