a Keyhole story
All throughout his surgery they asked him questions. They showed him pictures like grade school lessons. They were all in color, he guessed to make sure he could still see. There was wrath in there, it was almost light school. All the while saws buzzed and tools clanked on the metal rack. He knew the back of his head was open to the breeze.
After three hours of surgery Clive Felton's head was back together. Someone gave him some water and he swallowed it. He was numb except a little in the extremities. He contemplated the oddly vertical gray tile in the shadows of the operating theater. He must be cured, he thought.
"Am I well?" he asked a nurse.
"You'll have to recover for a while" she said. "Your skull needs to heal and we need to test to be sure the cancer stays gone."
"Cool." Clive said.
"It is, isn't it," she smiled.
He might have died. It must be nice when people don't die on the table. He thought how much less messy that must be.
"Super cool," Clive said passively.
He shut his eyes.
A warm darkness greeted him. A thought about work bloomed into a boring little dream about a customer not talking to him. It turned into something about a Burger King bathroom. His brother was there too. They both laughed about nothing. It was all very pleasant. he felt he must be forgetting something.
Clive awoke, half gasping, half sobbing. "What?"
His nap had lasted all of four minutes.
On a table the tumor sat in a metal tray with some blood for garnish. It looked like a discolored meatball. Next to the piece of rebellious brain lay a clipboard with a typed line underlined in red. He knew it said to keep the tumor, to preserve it picked in a sample jar. It couldn't have been more than six feet away from him.
That odd little piece of misfit flesh waited on the tray, as if staring back at its parent. The thing was a part of him. Clive tried to raise a hand and found it difficult. Around him people were cleaning up. Any moment now they'd wheel him to some bed to wait in immobile misery for the gaps in his skull to close. They might even decide to throw in therapy. He'd be a specimen. None of that would be too bad, maybe, but why wasn't anyone putting the tumor in a jar?
"Excuse me?" Clive tried to say. He realized it might not have been said aloud. Was he drugged?
Two guys in scrubs were chatting on the other end of the room. One just wadded up surgical tubing, the other kept shaking around one of those red plastic bins for used needles.
"No fucking way," said one.
"Way" said the one Clive took not to be.
"She did not, dude."
"Hand to God, dude, she fuckin did."
"In front of the neighbors?"
"In front of the neighbors and the kids."
"That's nuts. She's nuts."
"They got no respect these days."
"I would not take that from her. No way, man."
"What could I do? In front of everybody like that."
"The kids might learn something."
"The neighbors might not learn it that way, bro."
"It's not their business though."
"Sure, but neighbors aren't always so understanding."
"Mine never care. You told her off though, right?"
"I told her we'd talk about it later."
Clive tried again to move his hands. His mouth felt dry. He could move his eyes. He tried to blink at them.
"What did she say," maybe the guy was Spanish American?
"She just said she had to go out and get some stuff."
"What? Like it don't even matter?"
"Like she wasn't even fucking listening," A Canadian perhaps.
"The attitude on that woman."
"I know. And all because she's got that fancy job. Like I don't make good money for her."
"She's an accountant?"
"An actuary." he said mocking.
"What the hell is that anyway?"
"I don't know. Something in an office. She's got an office."
One started to clear thing off the table the tumor was on. The guy kept looking at the other one though. Clive groaned.
"Does she make more than you?"
"Yeah. She's got dental and shit."
"Maybe you better back off from her."
"What the? What are you trying to say, dude?"
"Well if you two split she'll get the kids for sure."
"What? No way. First off, she doesn't have the stones to leave me. Second if she did, divorce means equal assets."
"She can get a better lawyer than you, dude."
Clive tried like hell to move. His fingers twitched some. His ass was asleep. His toes moved just a little. He kept trying to yell but it only came out as a wheeze.
"She wouldn't get a lawyer."
"Doesn't she work in a law office?"
"We'd never split up, bro. And listen up, I'm the king of my castle, not her. If she leaves she leaves by herself."
"If she leaves you gotta pay child support."
"You don't know about it."
"I know, man. My cousin had that shit happen to him."
"I thought your cousin got arrested for pills."
"I never got arrested," the guy picked up the tray with the tumor on it. "She can't get me. Your cousin was a pill head that's why that stuff happened."
They both laughed. The guy tilted the tray and dumped the tumor into a bin marked "medical waste."
"No!" Clive squeaked. One knee jerked.
"Fuck it," one scrub said. "Let's cut out early and get a beer."
"Okay, just don't let Laraby see us."
They left the room. Clive kept trying to speak. Someone came and rolled him back out of the room. He kept watching the bucket with that little piece of him in it. They rounded a corner and it left his sight. He kept track of where he was, watched the room numbers. It all fell away and he was soon back in a hospital bed. Someone put a fresh IV in him and gave him a drink.
Clive coughed a little "Fuck."
"You feeling alright?" the male nurse asked.
"I've been better."
"Should I get somebody?"
"No. Just tell me what they do with medical waste."
"I better get a doctor."
"Fuck, dude, just tell me, okay? I'm just curious. I'm not... nuts."
"A cart comes around and collects the shit from the operating room."
"Okay. Where does the cart take it?"
"You really curious about this?" The man had a small mustache that twisted when he asked Clive these questions.
"Yes!" Clive managed to raise his voice. "Please tell me!"
"Okay, okay. Don't shout."
The carts all got on the elevator and went to a dumpster on basement level, near a loading dock. A company picked the shit up and burned it some other place. The cart made rounds of the operating rooms several time a day.
Clive demanded a wheelchair.
He ate the meal they brought in hopes he'd get strong enough to move. The nurse kept insisting that he rest. Rest was all a person was supposed to do after cranial surgery. He conned them into putting him in the chair "I won't strain myself."
"Just don't go far." the nurse said.
"I'll stay near the room," Clive said. "I'll probably just visit the shitter and make a round trip."
"Make sure to let someone know if you have a problem."
"I will, I will," Clive faked a smile. "Don't worry about it."
As soon as he knew the nurse was preoccupied he wheeled out towards the operating rooms. Enough strength returned to get him going a fair speed. He really did feel tired. Sleep felt like a great idea but his desperation won out.
The operating room came up. Clive rolled inside, ignoring a janitor. He went to the medical waste bin. It was empty.
"Can I help you?" the janitor asked.
Clive shook the waste bin. "Medical waste. You picked it up?"
"No, the cart came round for it five minutes ago. Why?"
"It's got something of mine in it." he rolled back out of the room leaving the janitor confused.
By chance he passed a cart with empty glass beakers on it
Desperate Felton grabbed one and held in between his legs. he passed another man in scrubs.
He asked: "The waste cart, where is it?"
"Uh," the guy said, probably staring at Clive's bandaged head. "I think it finished up here."
"Thanks," Clive rolled on. Where was that damned cart? And what unholy wastes were getting dumped into it?
His scalp was bugging him. He was starting to feel where the hole was. It itched a little too. He twisted up his face and fought down the urge to try and scratch. That damned cart was likely gone. The only thing to do was to find an elevator. The feeling started coming back into his legs. Clive had a passing fear that the surgeon knicked a nerve and crippled him. The head still itched.
A corner room with benches and vending machines had two open elevators. Clive wheeled his chair into one that look unoccupied. Once he got in he found a weepy couple and the button for the morgue lit up. They were heading his way. The doors shut.
The woman sobbed behind Clive. Neither of them looked their best.
"I can't believe it," she said.
"The doctors said she didn't feel a thing." the man said.
"I just can't believe it."
Clive rolled his eyes and stared at the numbers counting down. The back of his head was really starting to smart.
"But she's gone, Tim" she sobbed more.
"It's okay." he was not good at this. He reminded Clive of Billy Crudup in Big Fish: inadequate.
The doors opened. A helpful sign reading "Morgue" marked the wall opposite the elevator. Clive rolled out.
Behind him he heard the man say "Oh great, we're on the wrong floor."
The wheel chair rolled past the morgue entrance towards the concrete maintenance area complete with piped ceiling, fluorescent lights and stacks of unused gurneys. The door marked long dock lay ajar. Until that moment Clive didn't appreciate the difficulty of opening a door from a wheelchair. He cursed a streak, squeezing himself through, the closer constantly trying to pinch the chair. He rolled on.
Three long open topped dumpsters lay ahead. The dock doors lay sealed, keeping it dim in there. One of the dumpsters had a biohazard sticker on it and was chain linked off from the other two. This must be the spot, he thought.
A problem presented in that the walls rose 6 feet high so that Clive could not see the contents. It didn't smell from where he sat so it must be sealed somehow. He rolled close to the metal exterior looking for some kind of release, a lever, something.
Heartbeats rose tormenting his wounded head. He knew better and better than he should be lying in bed resting. Clive tried to reassure himself that he could live without the tumor or by the opposite token that it'd grow back with time. No, he'd come too far to turn back. The mad course of this stretch of his life must reach its climax. For numerous crazy reasons he needed that foul little piece of brain back.
A crank stuck in the short side of the biohazard dumpster. He tried it without success. It might have just been his poor strength, of the fact that it had a pin holding it in place. This thing attached to a chain and was a little bigger than a wood nail. Clive pulled it easily. He turned the crank again. A series of gears came to life and the lit parted. It felt a long time for it to open all the way.
Now came the real hard part. A ladder formed part of the bin's side; a ladder, not a wheelchair ramp. Clive planted both hands on the armrests and lifted himself. He fell back into the chair. God knows how many drugs still coursed through him and how much blood he lost. Plus that hospital meal did not sit well. Clive groaned, trying a second time. His knees seemed to be working. This was almost as hard as doing pull-ups in gym class. One foot reached the concrete.
Clive half stood, one hand off the handle. The chair rolled back from him and he fell against the side of the dumpster.
"Fuck, oh fuck," he held onto it, not slumping to the floor. "Why can't shit go my way?"
It took a full minute to get both his feet planted right just to try to stand. He never felt so much like quitting in his life. The knees and ankles cooperated with reluctance. He shuffled himself over to the ladder and grabbed a run. Lifting a foot to climb proved difficult. He had to lift the foot with his other hand. The climb went slow and each deep breath brought the smell of the medical waste. It smelled a little like skin that's been under a band aid too long, and like... well, worse. This did not deter him.
Weak Clive Felton crested the side of the biohazard dumpster after several hard minutes. He looked down at a shallow puddle of blood, skin, discarded organs and other spare parts. In spite of the horrid smell some of it reminded a little of food. Clive supposed he was what he ate. Surveying the sea of gore he did not immediately recognize his tumor. He would have to go down and look for it.
The inside had a ladder too, but Clive missed it trying to pull his legs over and simply fell into the soup. The stuff only rose eight inches above the floor, so it didn't break his fall so much as it just splattered him. Almost without realizing it he began to heave. The aroma was unique, but Clive guessed the trauma of his surgery likely caused this. he didn't puke but spat a little. The tumor waited somewhere.
When Clive was 9 his mother told him she'd throw out his favorite teddy bear to punish him after catching him in a lie. He ran out to the dumpster of their housing complex and dug in it for 20 minutes crying before his disturbed mother admitted she hadn't thrown the bear away at all, she just wanted to illustrate that lies hurt. For his trouble he got a bath and a tetanus shot.
Now Clive ran his bare hands through skin and bits of livers. There were shards of bones and unidentifiable substances. The smell, Clive thought to himself, was best described as putrid. He gagged several times digging through that mess. It soaked his hospital clothing and probably got into his bandages too. He knew how bad an idea this was and said as much. He talked to himself through, his rambling echoed on the metal walls.
"Gotta find it... fuck... smells like a sewer... I'm missing out on the... shit, what was this?"
He found other tumors. None shaped quite like Clive's though. He began to worry it if had broken apart in transit. Filthy blood covered patient Felton crawled on his knees along the twenty foot length of the dumpster floor. He grabbed and inspected handfuls of used flesh and discarded them like a prospector panning for gold. He scraped the bottom with his fingernails. He inspected cavities in various decimated organs. He did not find his tumor.
Clive was ready to break, to weep, to quit. Then he heard the sound of steps and four wheels on concrete. He kept himself still.
Someone in the loading dock, singing to himself, worked something mechanical on the end of the bins. A panel flipped open high on the inside wall. A red and pink wave of medical waste dumped down over Clive. He grimaced and shut his eyes. He heard the man moving along, the panel shut again.
When Clive opened his eyes he found his brain tumor floating right in front of him. He snatched it up and climbed back out.