Twenty-four hours after surgery and it’s time now for me to clean and dress for the first time, in my home and on my own, the wound bequeathed to the back of my left ear. I stand before the bathroom mirror affixed to the medicine cabinet above the faux porcelain sink and stare. My bespectacled face, still unshaved, beginning to appear more and more my age, stares back a long, raddled moment and tells me in its telepathic way that hell lies just ahead and offers me a goofy grin of we’re-in-this-together-buddy comradery and encouragement.
The dressing wrapped around my ear, the one the doctors crafted upon conclusion of their scalpel and cauterization job to remove the cancer, remains pristine white, precisely placed, neatly sculptured, aesthetic, a work of medical art for me to preen before friends and acquaintances and perfect strangers that I am back from the wars-not unscathed, but still alive and proud. And then I begin to envision my own upcoming task at bandage work as the Bizarro version of theirs.
The Allegiance Bedside Bag, twin tab, flame retardant, sits to one side, containing antibiotic ointment, gauze, Telfa pad, tape and instructions. A bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a glass container of cotton balls, scissors, hand sanitizer, and a Ninety-Nine Cent Only Store hand mirror await on an aluminum tray atop the toilette seat. I’ve cleared away soap, soap dish, hand lotion, Listerine bottle, air freshener from the sink, wiped down everything with Lysol. Ninety-nine point nine percent guaranteed free of the most common germs that cause illness. Good enough.
I open the Allegiance Bedside Bag and remove the instructions. They are clear and vague concurrently. “Clean the surgical area with hydrogen peroxide. Always clean gently. Using a clean cotton-tipped applicator, apply a small amount of antibiotic ointment. Cover the area with Telfa dressing. Repeat procedure two times a day.” I read them again, plus the cautions about possible bleeding, and a number to call in case things turn ugly. I mentally scratch my head and look back at my partner in the mirror for enlightenment. We both blink at one another. He seems to be entreating, please don’t hurt me.
I reach up to my left ear, my reflection’s right, and begin to remove the dressing. We flinch together simultaneously, like Olympic synchronized swimmers performing perfect skulls, but miraculously the bandage comes off easily and with no pain, and we both sigh relief with a sheepish grin. Cupped in the Telfa pad I eyeball a mixture of ointment with specks of dried and fresh blood, pooching my lips and nodding. I set it aside and pick up my Ninety-Nine Cent Only hand mirror. Time to see the backside of the moon, so to speak, where all the action lies.
As I raise the hand mirror to my ear, my bifocals report that if I’m to use the uppers, I need to pull back a foot from the medicine cabinet mirror to be in focus, or if the lowers, then press forward several inches. I back away first, but then things are too far away to see details, and so I draw closer, but then I have to tilt my head up to see through the lower reading lenses. Awkward crick in the neck. I consider. I wander out of the bathroom to find my eight-inch high, plastic foot stool for reaching top shelves in the kitchen, bring it back and set it before the sink and climb aboard. Perfect. My comrade-in-arms reflects back his smile of approval. We raise the hand mirror aloft once again. I lean in.
Suddenly the two of us find ourselves at odds about which way the hand mirror should be held and who in fact should manipulate it. I want it aimed directly behind my ear with a clear shot at the wound. He insists that it be held at an angle that only shows the right side of his nose, a corresponding eye, and the front of my affected ear. We struggle for the control of the mirror. It’s an impasse. We eye one another warily. Then we attempt again. Wild gyrations for dominance ensue. I finally manage the upper hand, though just barely, for my counterpart is willful and has a mind of his own. The mirror works its way back and forth, yawing this way, rolling that way, pitching up and down violently, until gradually, with much swearing and dire imprecations, it finds its way to our mutual target. We both abruptly relax, in awe.
A raw, gaping wound on the back of our ear-my left, his right. Magnificent in a raw, gaping fashion that inspires reverence in us both. We let out our breath between pursed lips and nod to one another with admiring approval. The surgeons have done their job well.
And then . . . and then it slowly dawns on us that we are supposed to clean and redress this extraordinary lesion . . . twice daily. Together. How is this possible? It took us ten minutes just to come to terms over the hand mirror!
And in the same instant we both think: Only if you keep your eyes closed and let me do the job!
Copyright © Steve Pulley 2013
Steve Pulley currently resides in Temple City, his old hometown, but for thirty years he lived in such diverse countries as Vietnam, Costa Rica, Bolivia, and Chile. He has published three anthologies of short stories and poems—Message in a Fortune Cooke, Alien Notion, and A Confluence of Grapes. He tends to write light, tongue-in-cheek humor, though he occasionally straightens up and pens something a little more serious. Read more of Steve’s works at SWPulley.wordpress.com.
Editor’s Note: Steve Pulley is a member of Esther Bradley-DeTally’s writing workshop in Pasadena.