I Could Have Sworn I Grew Ten Inches

When I was 11, I had surgery on my right hand for a pyogenic granuloma.

For months, this nodule that had grown palm-side between my thumb and index finger had been giving me trouble. It started as a small, red bump, and I thought that maybe I'd had a sliver or pinched it somehow. Over the next few months, though, the bump kept growing until I could feel the painful, constant pressure of it in my hand. It registered its own strong pulse that I counted at night &mdash lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub — until I fell asleep.

I woke up one morning to see a ring of yellowish white pus growing around it, and the bump now radiated an ache deep into my palm. My mother drove me to the mediclinic where a couple of doctors and several nurses puzzled over it. Eventually, they applied a topical freezing agent, lanced it open, and we all marvelled at how much blood was dripping onto the floor. The blood looked thick and black to me, like dark syrup, as it made tiny puddles on the linoleum, but I didn't care, even as I felt myself blanche and twist sideways in my chair. The terrible pressure was gone. They cauterized the wound and sent me home.

The nodule grew back larger. It was insistent and irritable. The doctors lanced my hand a few more times over the next couple of months, but when the recurring infection that ringed the bump stopped responding to antibiotics, the doctors at the mediclinic revealed that they had no idea what was wrong with me. I had already figured that out when they appeared to be as fascinated as I was with the gore every time they lanced it. It bled so profusely that the thing appeared to be growing its own pulmonary system.

I was sent to see a specialist. I still remember his name, Dr. Zealandia, because Zealandia sounded like a country on a planet that roughly mirrored earth in a fantasy novel. Also, he had the high status of being a plastic surgeon. In the conservative climate of early 1980s Saskatchewan, plastic surgery made me think of the very rich and movie stars. I felt posh sitting in his office decorated with real potted plants and furniture with shiny, silver legs.

Dr. Zealandia knew what my bump was right away. "It's a pyogenic granuloma," he said, and he wrote it out for me on a scrap of paper. I couldn't tell if he was bored to death or just a really relaxed person, but I was impressed with how slowly he could drag out his words. He scheduled a surgery date for me to have the thing removed.

The surgery was a simple outpatient procedure. When I arrived at the hospital, I was taken into a room after a short wait, told to hop up on a chair, and then asked to look away. I didn't look away, of course, although I wish I had. I turned back just in time to watch a needle larger than any I'd ever seen being inserted into my hand. Having a massive needle jabbed into the webbing between my thumb and index finger made it feel as though all of the muscles in my hand were contracting to a shockingly painful point. I felt myself blanche and twist sideways again. When I tried to fight my way off the chair, because no way in hell was I going any further with this torture, a nurse held me down, and I involuntarily yelled out, "Oh, grody!" The nurses laughed.

I convinced them that I wanted to watch the surgery, and with a some cajoling, they allowed it. It was fascinating at first, but then the student surgeon said "Oops," and "I think I did that wrong," and I was suddenly terribly woozy again. I decided that watching was cool as long as I trusted the surgeon, but watching was was not so cool if I was holding my breath and waiting for a student to accidentally cut off the blood flow to half my hand or lop off a finger. I spent the rest of the surgery reading George Orwell's 1984 to keep myself occupied. This also amused the nurses. One of them laughed and said, "I expected a Sweet Vally High book when you asked if you could read," and, although I respectfully said nothing, I was insulted. I was eleven and had just discovered how terribly deep and intellectual I was, so I was not going to let their superficial expectations ruin my enjoyment of dystopian literature. No way.

My mother had asked that I meet her by the hospital cafeteria afterward, so, stitched up and bandaged, I walked through the surgery's waiting room, past the reception desk, and out the doors unescorted and proud. When the receptionist offered me a sucker, I waved it away as I strode past her desk, spine stretched tall and book held to my chest. Bendable rings with plastic jewels and other baubles were for children. That afternoon, my 4-feet-7-inches felt like five-and-a-half feet walking through those sliding doors. I had my first set of stitches, a grownup novel, and a woman to meet for lunch.