Copyright 2018

The Eyes of a Stranger

Sarah Bigham

My back is cold. The wintry metallic ambiance of the operating room sinks into my bones. I try
to remember, but can never quite pinpoint the moment between hypervigilance and
unconsciousness. I hear that the space of nothingness, the relief of being untethered, the
blankness--is what some addicts chase. I will admit to wanting the agony to end. My chronic
pain sisters and brothers share this secret anticipation of surgical anesthesia. We yearn for a
timeout, however brief, from the never-ending, torturous, screaming nerve or muscle or fascial or
bone pain. A break. To let the body rest. To let the mind stop processing errant pain signals. I
know I will awake, in more pain, after being cut or prodded or sewn. I hope I will return. Or do
I? I have donned the gown and the blue hairnet and the special, sticky hospital-issued socks. The
IV is (finally) in. I have been wheeled down the hallway, smiling at those I pass, seeing their
terror and reassuring them with a kind lie. We have entered a room that smells unabashedly of
antiseptics, where everything gleams, burning my eyes. The doctor is making golf course small
talk. His intern, too green to have grasped patient interaction skills, clings to a clipboard with
wide eyes. The surgical tech spreads a heated blanket on top of me, but my body shivers from the
icy table, and the thin gown with the never-closing flap. This roomful of strangers will soon
perform an invasive procedure few others can imagine. I choke back a sob. Then I lock eyes with
the quiet anesthesiologist, gently propping up my head. This soft-spoken doctor has seen my
fear, hidden behind the forced cheer I used in a vain attempt to soothe my racing heart. I then
hear, I will be with you, I will watch over you, you are doing so well, as the eyes of a stranger lull
me to sleep.

Sarah Bigham teaches, writes, and paints in Maryland where she lives with her kind chemist wife, three independent cats, an unwieldy herb garden, several chronic pain conditions, and near-constant outrage at the general state of the world tempered with love for those doing their best to make a difference. A Pushcart nominee, Sarah’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of great places for readers, writers, and listeners. Find her at