Dec. 30, 2016 – Hospital visit

    “You need to get a surgery as soon as possible,” the doctor said.

    “I’m going back to school in three days,” I replied.

    “Should she postpone going back to school?” my mom asked.

    “Either that or she should get a surgery in the U.S.,” the doctor answered indifferently.

    My mom and I exchanged a brief, forlorn look.

    “I’ll postpone the flight,” my mom said finally.

    That day, three days before my scheduled flight from Korea back to Chicago, my parents and I decided I should take a leave from school for a quarter. The finger I accidentally cut in October while cooking continued to not curl or straighten properly, so I visited a hospital to get it checked out. Neither my mom nor I expected anything serious. Unfortunately, the injury was much more severe than I anticipated. My tendon was cut, and because two months had already passed by, I had to get a surgery immediately or my finger would permanently stay rigid.

    Honestly, among all the days I spent in and out of hospital afterward, I think this day was the most emotionally exhausting. I had an apartment that I needed to pay rent for the following quarter, classes that I really wanted and needed to take and even a tutoring program that I had committed to. On top of the fact that all of my plans were ruined, however, was the devastating thought that I may not ever be able to use my finger properly. Lost and frustrated, around midnight, I began typing emails to request a leave of absence.

    Dec. 31, 2016 – The day of surgery

    Thanks to the doctor who tried to find the earliest surgery date, I was able to get the surgery the next day. My parents drove me early in the morning for me to get MRI and other pre-surgery tests. Around 10 a.m., I changed to the hospital apparel that had an open left sleeve. I remember thinking to myself that it seemed so unnecessary to open the entire sleeve when all I hurt was part of a left pinky. Only after surgery did I realize the significance of the open sleeve.

    Sometime between 10 and 11 a.m., the nurse took me to a room that prepared me for the operation. My parents smiled and waved at me to wish me luck, and I smiled back without much apprehension. As I entered the operating room and lay down on a bed, the chill of the room, both literally and emotionally, suddenly overwhelmed me. Until then, it didn’t really hit me that I was getting a surgery. Right then, however, lying down and staring at the white walls surrounding me, I felt dreadfully cold and alone. I began shaking uncontrollably. In retrospect it feels a bit silly that I panicked so much, but at the moment I couldn’t handle it.

    A group of doctors – I assume interns or nurses – injected anesthetic drugs into my left arm. In 30 seconds, my entire arm began to feel slightly numb, as if something were pressing it strongly and the blood wasn’t circulating. Soon enough, I could barely make my left fingers flinch, and I couldn’t feel the doctor pinching my arm. By then, I was ready for the surgery, and I was taken to another room.

    In the actual operation room, which was equally cold but much whiter and brighter overall, I lay down with my left arm lying flatly. The doctors covered my vision by putting up a divider, and the surgery began. Unlike my arm, my mind was acute and alert to every surrounding stimulus. I could hear noises that a scissor made when it cut something; I could hear a ssssss sound as if a flat object was rubbing on some other flat object; I could hear the camera flashing; I could hear the doctors quietly talking to each other, such as “This is completely snapped” or “All we can do now is pray.” Meanwhile, I couldn’t feel anything in my arm. All I could do was calm myself down and stay still, which was challenging at first. Fortunately, after tearing up a little, I fell asleep, and woke up a little before the surgery ended.

    The first thing I noticed when the divider was taken away was the fact that my entire left arm was orange with a slight splatter of red (I later learned that the orange was disinfectant). Around half of my arm, my palm, and all five of my fingers were bandaged. I still couldn’t feel my arm, so the doctors made me hold up my left arm with my right arm. My left arm was heavy and didn’t feel like my own. I started shaking again. The doctors rapidly helped me come down the operation bed and put me in a wheelchair. Exiting the operation room, a nurse called out my name, and my mom ran and hugged me.

    Jan. 1, 2017 – Happy New Year!

    Throughout the night of the surgery, as the effects of anesthetic wore off, my hand began to ache a lot. The nurse came by regularly to give me painkilling shots and antibiotic. By the morning of the first day of 2017, it began to hurt less. My mom slept over on my first night at the hospital, but my dad went home and came back in the morning with my brother and my grandparents. My grandparents told me, “Maybe you spent all the bad luck of the year already, so you’ll only have good luck in new year.” My brother, in attempt to cheer me up and uplift the mood, took over half of my bed and excitedly turned on the TV. Instead of the assigned hospital food, we ate McDonald’s. Even though we were at a hospital, family could really make it feel as if we were home, celebrating the new year.

    . . .

    January 20, 2017 – As I write

    After five days of hospitalization, I was able to return home. I still had a cast on my left arm and bags of medicines to take, but it was nice to come back home. Since then, I had to type a lot of emails, sadly with one hand, to make sure I cancelled my enrollment for the quarter. I also contacted a lot of people who were concerned about me. At one point I caught a cold, and at one point I threw up due to the strong antibiotic medicine. Slowly but surely, however, things got better, and I was even able to get my stitches out. Now I have a detachable cast, and I can type with two hands (but nine fingers). Now I know to be more cautious when I cook, and now I know that surgery takes more energy than I first expected naively. Now I can really process that I don’t have to go to school for the next two months, and I can take my time to do whatever I’ve always wanted to do – from reading, writing, to spending time with my family. As my parents told me, this may have been a really needed break in my life.


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