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Thursday, September 14, 2006

No food or drink after midnight

From Los Angeles International we would fly non-stop to Miami International, an overnighter. Chasing away from the setting sun at over five hundred miles an hour, we'd be arriving at sunrise after a very short night. The plane lifted off to seaward, turning over the Pacific Ocean, the city and harbor lights strung like an amber necklace around the moonlit water.

We settled down to a fitful sleep, packed into the claustrophobic cabin, three by three along the long tight corridor of the 757.

Hydrating was a big issue for us last time we made this trip, although we had watter bottles. This time, under Code Orange, water bottles would not be allowed. I brought along apples and tomatoes from our garden, and found that these would do the job. Even baby carrots, which one might not think of as a source of water, were a help.

Beloved tells me I slept well, a sign that she didn't. I woke in time to see the dawn, filled with the tall pink clouds of the East Coast. We were in aisle seats, but I could see, as the plane executed a leisurely turn, that we were somewhere over the Everglades.

At the terminal, we had only to collect our bags, which thanks be had stayed with us for once, and settle down to a routine of taking turns to find the ladies' room and the drinking fountain. We were not due at the hotel for hours, and we'd made up our minds to do without the car rental.

I had vaguely remembered that the city buses serve Miami International, and had looked up the routes and times. The J bus comes to the airport every half hour each way, and goes out to Miami Beach, turning back at Collins and 71st. There we could pick up the G bus and it would deposit us on our very own block on Bay Harbor Islands.

The bus journey was, like bus journeys everywhere, an opportunity to watch vignettes of of the dignity and indignity of human life -- retired men, harrassed mothers, bright children, and madwomen. I found myself addressed, whenever I smiled at anyone, only in Spanish, and my halting replies, mingling and mangling a few bits of Spanish with Italian, were enthusiastically received.

Though we pulled the rope before the bridge from Bal Harbour, the first stop on 96th was right in front of the clinic, a block past the hotel. So we pulled up the handles of our black bags and trundled them behind us over the brick cobbles -- tunkitty bunkitty -- around the corner to the lobby entrance.

We were recognized and welcomed, and within half an hour, well before the stated time, shown to room 208, which turned out to be a bridal suite. Two rooms, two baths, two televisions, lots and lots of drawers, and a view of the clinic building to the west. Overkill. I hung my three dresses in the enormous closet, shook out my wig, and let down my hair. We went straight to bed.

Late in the afternoon, with Beloved still out cold, I felt the need for a meal. Dressing quietly and taking my string bag, a room key, and some cash, I stepped out into dramatic weather. Though it was hot and muggy, there were storm clouds everywhere, a smell of lightning, and uncertain winds tugging at the trees in different directions.

I remembered a small corner grocery in the next block and made for it. Some rain fell just as I reached the entryway. But in the door was a sign, "Closed for four months." I had seen several such signs on the way over. Is this a ghost town in the summer?

Since I was only a half-block from the clinic, I thought I might as well say hi, though my pre-surgery appointment would not be until the next afternoon. I punched the UP button on the outside elevator, and then the THREE, as I had done in March, when my whole life had changed.

Someone I hadn't met was staffing the desk. This was a beautiful black woman, in nurse's uniform, with her hair swept up in a bun, whom I could see was very tall, even sitting down.

"Hi, I'm Risa Bear, and I'll be having surgery on Friday ... "

"Do you have an appointment today?"

"No, it's tomorrow, but I thought I'd drop in and maybe say hi, to let them know we're here and ask if there's anything we should do between now and Friday?"

"Right; I'll let him know."

Dr. Reed popped out, his white jacket billowing out behing him on both sides, like the Little Prince's cloak. He always looks like he's just blown in from a thousand miles away in order to listen intently to whatever you have for him.

"Hello, darling. You're early!"

"I, umm, just ..."

"Come on in. Come on in. Let's talk a little bit."

I sat across from him at his desk, and he asked a few general questions about my health. "Annie!" I wondered if he might be calling the redoubtable Anne, but the tall nurse reappeared. "Let's have Risa's records, if you please." To me he saidd, as she brought him the folder, "You want to go across the hall? Look everything over today?"

"Umm ..."

"Sure you do. Gives us more time if we have anything to address."

Annie led me to the exam room, helped me off with my shift and things, and into a robe and onto the table. I apologized for not having showered, but she assured me I was fine.

Dr. Reed came in, pulling on exam gloves, and probed about a bit, asking more questions. I was wondering if I should ask if Anne works here anymore, when he called out the door, "Anne! Would you come here, please."

She came in, all smiles.

"Hello, Risa!"


"Did your Beloved come with you?"

"Yes, she's sleeping."

We'll see her tomorrow, I expect."


They busied themselves consulting on the best way to proceed, took notes, and said to come back Friday at ten A.M. sharp.

Anne let me out into the waiting room. "And remember, no food or drink after midnight, and wear your surgical stockings."

--risa b


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