I was sandwiched between two people on a crowded subway trolley a couple of weeks ago when I smelled it. Instantly, my stomach tightened with rolls of nausea. I grabbed the silver pole next to me with whitened knuckles. Do not throw up. And in a matter of seconds, I wasn’t an adult on my way to work, I was a little kid on a cold November morning about to have the warm blanket placed over my legs in the operating room.
The woman who sat down next to me smelled just like anesthesia. I don’t know how to describe the smell accurately, but it is somewhat sweet and plastic-y at the same time. It is a very particular smell, and it gags me (obviously). Usually I am more prone to hear songs and associate them with a time or place than I am to associate smells, and I’ve never had a more visceral reaction to a smell than I did that day on the train.
It was fitting that this occurred on a cold, sunny November day. You see, when I was little and needed surgeries to drain infections from my head, ears, sinuses, etc, they tended to cluster around the holidays, the peak infection season for me. Also, we tried to plan surgeries for when I had a day or two off from school anyway so as to build in some extra recovery time. Accordingly, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving week were prime candidates, and in some particularly acute circumstances, Christmas Eve day also became a go-to surgery day. The sharpest details from these accumulated late fall surgeries are being asked to count backwards from 10 to one as the anesthesia mask was placed over my face, and the wrenching nausea that gripped me in the recovery room (I’ve since learned to ask for Zofran)—and that particular smell brings me right back to those moments.
So where am I going with the charming tale of anesthesia memories? Well, it’s two days before Thanksgiving and our house is starting to fill with much better smells: cornbread baking, sausage sautéing, cider mulling. These are the smells that should accompany November, and I’m happy to replace the surgery smells of my childhood and the inpatient smells of many lung-related holiday hospitalizations as an adult with them.
And so the traditional Thanksgiving post is tinged with special appreciation for where I am in this moment, and the people and circumstances who are part of that:
My family, who was there for me during all those surgeries and is there for me in so many ways today.
My husband, who is seriously amazing (and fairly obsessed with making Thanksgiving perfect).
My friends, who are funny, smart, caring and patient.
My readers, those who buy the book, show up at readings, or get in touch with me to share their feedback, and those who take the time to read this blog—without you, all this would exist in a vacuum.
My favorite reads and the wonderful writers, scholars, and bloggers who always give me something to think about.
My fabulous physical therapist, who gets up at 5am every day and fights gridlock traffic to show up at my house with a smile and deliver superb chest physical therapy.
My doctors, who actually communicate with each other and aren’t deterred by the lack of easy or obvious answers when it comes to this body.
My job and my husband’s job, because at the end of the day if we both still have them and have health insurance, we are fortunate.
And lastly, the fact that despite their many health problems, everyone I love is healthy enough to sit at the table this year.