DON’T PUT YOUR FINGER IN YOUR MOUTH

There’s some serious funk going around, and it seems I’ve caught it. For the past few days, I’ve been battling a scratchy throat, congestion, sinus pressure…and worst of all, low energy. That feeling, the sense that I’m on the verge of passing out, was the way I felt every day during chemo. I dread that scary lack of control over my body, the inability to keep myself upright.

In a way, I suppose it’s a good thing that this has happened, as I’ve been on the go, go, go for a while now. I sent a revised draft of my novel to my agent a little while ago, I’ve been traveling, my sister has been staying with us (and is still here, now suffering from the same symptoms I’ve had), and we’re still in the midst of kitchen renovations…I think this is just my body’s way of telling me to SLOW DOWN.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have time to tell you a story.

When I was seven, I had to have my tonsils out. I don’t remember much about the surgery, except that I had to stay over at the hospital, and when I woke up from the procedure, I was woozy and my throat was sore. Eventually, a nurse’s head appeared over me.

“Don’t talk,” she said. “Would you like some water?”

I nodded.

“I’ll be right back,” she said. “But while I’m gone, whatever you do, DON’T PUT YOUR FINGER IN YOUR MOUTH.”

She then disappeared. Thinking about it now, I can’t imagine a stupider thing to say to a seven-year-old before she’s left to her own devices. Especially when that seven-year-old was me, who questioned everything, and didn’t like being told what to do.

I looked up at the ceiling tiles in the recovery room and swallowed. My throat was dry, and it felt weird, like something was stuck in it. I expected the nurse to return at any moment with my water, but she didn’t.

I mulled over her parting words.

DON’T PUT YOUR FINGER IN YOUR MOUTH.

Before she’d mentioned it, I’d had no inclination to put my finger anywhere near my mouth. Now, it was all I could think about.

A few more minutes passed. Still no water.

And still, I pondered. DON’T PUT YOUR FINGER IN YOUR MOUTH. Why did she assume that’s what I was planning?

I imagined lots of other, more obvious warnings she could have issued.

DON’T TRY TO GET UP.

DON’T PULL THAT TUBE OUT OF YOUR ARM.

DON’T HIT THE “PAGE NURSE” BUTTON UNLESS YOU MEAN IT.

But she hadn’t said any of that. She’d said DON’T PUT YOUR FINGER IN YOUR MOUTH. Why would she mention this one thing so specifically?

I had many questions, and no answers, and the nurse was nowhere in sight. But there was my finger, and there was my mouth. My seven-year-old curiosity was piqued. Plus, I had nothing better to do.

Slowly, my finger met my lips. My mouth opened.

What happened next was pretty simultaneous:

1. The nurse finally arrived with my cup of water.

2. I vomited all over myself.

The moral of this story? Don’t ever tell me not to do something, unless you can back it up with a sensible explanation.

Also? When recovering from a tonsillectomy, DON’T PUT YOUR FINGER IN YOUR MOUTH. As I eventually learned, your throat will be pretty raw and swollen from the surgery, so your gag reflex will be ultra-sensitive.