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The Touch God Gives Only to Mothers

Charity, by Bouguereau, 1878

Charity, by Bouguereau, 1878

I, Fanny McElroy, ruptured my spleen last week. I did a belly-flop off Sister Alma Rose’s porch railing, which she has warned me not to do many, many times, at least a thousand.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

When she saw me hit the ground — splat! — Sister Alma Rose started spewing prayers like a one-woman revival meeting, between calling an ambulance and calling my mama and calling Dr. Dierdre Barstow. “Sweet Jesus,” she hollered, “heal this foolish girl right now, even though Sister Alma Rose did tell her a thousand times not to climb on the porch railing.”

Here, for your elucidation, is a small description of the spleen:

In humans, the spleen is located in the abdomen of the body, where it has three primary functions: 1) Removal and destruction of old, aged red blood cells, 2) Synthesis of antibodies in the white pulp, and 3) Removal of antibody-coated bacteria and antibody-coated blood cells from the circulation. It is one of the centers of activity of the reticuloendothelial system (part of the immune system). Its absence leads to a predisposition to certain infections. —Wikipedia

The human spleen; click on image for source The human spleen; click on image for source

The ambulance rushed me to the hospital, which is, like, three feet from Sister Alma Rose’s farmhouse, and Dr. Deirdre Barstow proceeded to knock me out (actually, the anesthesiologist did that), cut me open, remove the spleen, and sew me back up.

Mineral water (photo by Walter J. Pilsak)

Mineral water (photo by Walter J. Pilsak)

I was never afraid. Sister Alma Rose has a Special Relationship with God, and her prayers are solid gold. Plus my mom was there, and, just as they were wheeling me into surgery, my dad arrived, wiping sweat and dirt from his face with his bandana.

After the operation, I had to swallow a tube through my nose! Right now there are tubes draining blood out of my abdominal cavity and transfusing new blood into my veins and feeding me — I cannot eat anything, I can’t even drink water! I am so thirsty! But I get to stay in bed and read for two weeks after I go home from the hospital.

“Anonymous” wrote the following sexist axiom:

God made mothers because he loves us and he wants us to be happy.
God made fathers because he wants us to be just a little bit afraid.

To be perfectly honest, I am more afraid of my mom than I am of my dad, and I’m more afraid of Sister Alma Rose than of my mom and dad together. I’m supposed to be at an age when I begin “distancing myself” from my mother. Some of my friends act like their moms are subhuman life forms from the planet Zongo.

But my mom is okay; she’s semi-with it but doesn’t try to be. Anyway, there was nobody I wanted when I woke up from surgery more than Mama. This is a poem I wrote for her today, because I am getting a little bored and I AM DEFINITELY READY TO GO HOME….

At first there were only a lemony glow
and a few pale shadows murmuring, and
then I remembered, because of the tube
in my nose, a suggestion of roses, and
something besides: eau de hospital
disinfectant, I guess. I felt wretched, and
that wretchedness was somehow
reassuring. I felt; ergo, I lived… had
emerged from that netherland
entered when someone had
covered my face with a cloth and
said, “Take a deep breath.”

rosebud_pink_gorgeousShe had betrayed me — the
nurse with the red, jolly face;
she had read to me kindly and
led me to death — not a final,
forever extinction, but
nightmarish darkness and sinking
in cold, nauseous, suffocating fog.

And then there were sunlight and
someone in white, and I wondered
if I were in heaven. Impossible, not
without Mama and Daddy, my
brothers, and Sister Alma Rose,
and lemonade, please God,


Then a hand, small and delicate, but strong —
I know that hand — slipped a
tidbit of ice throgh my dry,
burning lips; then the hand
stroked my hair. On account of
the tube in my wrist, I was
forced to lie still, or of course
I’d have reached for it.

But I knew it was you
by the touch God gives only
to mothers; for each of your
fingers, so slender, so soft, gave
its own benediction; tender and
eloquent, telling of longing and
love, reassurance and gratitude,
anxious solicitousness, and
fatigue; most of all, “All is well;
you are safe,” said your hands —
and your face, when the shadows
resolved, held a smile only
slightly uncertain and tremulous.

Is that how it was on the day I
was born years ago at a quarter
to noon? Yet again I am born
unto you in a hospital room,
with my person invaded by tubes and incisions,
delivered from death by invisible
arms with a power that surgeons
might only wish for.


Then I drifted away again, lulled
by those strange, misty voices,
some soft and some deep. Gliding
smoothly to sleep, I heard you
and the angel of mercy beside
you, in white with her aura of
unearthly light.


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    3 thoughts on “Splenectomy

    1. Delivery Delayed (Stan Rogers)

      How early is “Beginning”? From when is there a soul?
      Do we discover living, or, somehow, are we told?
      In sudden pain, in empty cold, in blinding light of day
      We’re given breath, and it takes our breath away.

      How cruel to be unformed fancy, the way in which we come –
      Over-whelmed by feeling and sudden loss of love
      And what price dark confining pain, (the hardest to forgive)
      When all at once, we’re called upon to live.

      By a giant hand we’re taken from the shelter of the womb
      That dreaded first horizon, the endless empty room
      Where communion is lost forever, when a heart first beats alone
      Still, it remembers, no matter how its grown.

      We grow, but grow apart –
      We live, but more alone –
      The more to see, the more to see,
      To cry aloud that we are free
      To hide our ancient fear of being alone.

      And how we live in darkness, embracing spiteful cold
      Refusing any answers, for no man can be told
      That delivery is delayed until at last we’re made aware
      And first reach for love, to find ’twas always there.


      • Xiousgeonz — What a stunning poem. I especially love the line, “Still, it remembers, no matter how it’s grown.” And “From when is there a soul?” Think of the conflict and agony that would be avoided if that question were answered unequivocally. ** I ** would say that there is a soul from the moment of conception — how could there NOT be? It’s not something that gets added on at the end, as an afterthought, like eyelashes…. Thanks for sharing this poem. I love it! –Mary


      • Xiousgeonz — Rereading your amazing poem, another comment or two: Rhymed couplets can be tedious, or trite, or singsong-y, but yours are not, nor are the rhymes contrived. The penultimate five-line stanza, deviating from the conventions of the rest of the poem, is very effective, especially since you poetically and metaphorically return, in the final stanza, (a) to the rhyme and meter of the rest of the poem, and (b) to love, which was “always there.”

        But why weren’t we told? The love was “always there,” but why does the sadistic “giant hand” obscure the love until we are at last “made aware” [how? by whom? and why then?] after agonies of aloneness, which the giant hand imposes, when we’re “given breath, and it takes our breath away” (marvelous line)?

        In my experience, love has always been in full view, like the sun, and I have often turned my back on it, more comfortable in the shadows it casts…. Mary


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