Grateful | Maria McLeod

After surgery, I woke with a welt
on my left earlobe, a deep purple
pool of blood that stayed for a week
until it began to dissipate
and my body did its good work
of calling it back.
I assume that’s where the ventilator strap
had cut across my ear, an accidental interruption
of my body’s normal ebb and flow.
My thighs and crotch were stained orange,
having been doused with an antiseptic
wash, like I was wearing see-through
cycling shorts. I was missing my first inch of pubic hair
by way of a tidy, horizontal shave. Who did that,
I wondered? Grateful. I’d been fixed,
spayed, neutered, saved.
My throat hurt from breathing
through a tube. My diaphragm was sore,
from forcing such deep breaths against
the effort to expand my insides, to form
an internal operating theatre, a cavern
where once was a womb. Water, I drank so much
water, for two weeks straight,
and coughed and coughed mucus
that I thought may never abate.
My belly was bruised by one of the surgical team
who’d taken hold of my fat and pulled
while another filled my abdomen
with gas to create a cavity
where they’d insert the tools — the camera
and all the slicing and dicing devices.
And what was found there? Blood —
old, brown blood, extra thick and sticky
procreative blood that had fastened my uterus
and tubes and ovaries to the back wall
of my body cavity above my sacrum, blood
acting as an adhesive akin to superglue
my surgeon said. And this is why
after years of trying, and even after
taking a concoction of fertility drugs
that made me weird and weepy,
I could never conceive.
Such menacing blood
isn’t meant to enter the abdomen
where it can wreak no end of havoc.
Instead, it’s intended to coat
the inner uterine walls, shed
and spread anew each month,
so that an egg could attach. Yet,
all those menstruating years, I endured the pain
doctors dismissed, when, had one cared
to take a closer look, I might have been cured.
But, yes, I am grateful
to finally have this medical mystery
solved, post-menopause, age 56.
The ovary that had been my doc’s main cancer concern
had shriveled up, a brown knot.
A week post hysterectomy, I learned I did not
have ovarian cancer, no cancer
detected anywhere in or near my defunct
reproductive parts. Sweet relief.
Twelve months earlier,
a surgeon had cut cancer
out of my breast. I’d been radiated
and prescribed a difficult drug. I’d gone
on a special diet and I’d taken up running.
I found I could go faster and farther
if I thought about things that made me mad,
angry. Now, I swim laps and cycle. I do crunches
and planks. I use the rowing machine
and the assault bike in an attempt to sweat
the awfulness out of me.
I do squats and lift weights and
run around and around the lake, the track, out
my front door, uphill and down.
Just look out your window
as you’re driving down the street,
or the next time you enter a gym,
that woman, in the midst of such fury,
she’s me, being grateful.

Maria McLeod is the author of “Mother Want,” winner of WaterSedge Chapbook Contest 2021 and, “Skin. Hair. Bones.,” published by Finishing Line Press in 2022. She’s been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and has won the Indiana Review Poetry Prize and the Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Prize. Her writing has been featured in several leading literary journals as well as part of Painted Bride Quarterly’s Slush Pile Podcast. Find her on Instagram @mariapoempics and on Twitter/X @maria_mcleod

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