Ockette (ockette) wrote,

"The Knife," by Richard Selzer. Part 4 and 5.

And what of that other, the patient, you, who are brought to the operating room on a stretcher, having been washed and purged and dressed in a white gown?  Fluid drips from a bottle into your arm, diluting you, leaching your body of its personal brine.  As you wait in the corridor, you hear from behind the closed door the angry clang of steel upon steel, as though a battle were being waged. There is the odor of antiseptic and ether, and masked women hurry up and down the halls, in and out of rooms.  There is the watery sound of strange machinery, the tinny beeping that is the transmitted heartbeat of yet another human being.  And all the while the dreadful knowledge that soon you will be taken, laid beneath the great lamps that will reveal the secret linings of your body.  In the very act of lying down, you have made a declaration of surrender.  One lies down gladly for sleep of for love.  But to give over one's body and will for surgery, to lie down for it, is a yielding of more than we can bear.

Soon a man will stand over you, gowned and hooded.  In time, the man will take up a knife and crack open your flesh like a ripe melon.  Fingers will rummage among your viscera.  Parts of you will be cut out.  Blood will run free.   Your blood.  All the night before you have turned with the presentiment of death upon you.  You have attended your funeral, wept with your mourners.  You think, "I should never have had surgery in the springtime."  It is too cruel.  Or on a Thursday.  It is an unlucky day.

Now it is time.  You are wheeled in and moved to the table.  An injection is given.  "Let yourself go," I say.  "It's a pleasant sensation," I say.  "Give in," I say.

Let go?  Give in?  When you know you are being tricked into the hereafter, that you will end when consciousness ends?  As the monstrous silence of anesthesia falls discourteously across your brain, you watch your soul drift off.

Later, in the recovery room, you awaken and gaze through the thickness of drugs at the world returning, and you guess, at first dimly, then surely, that you have not died.  In pain and nausea you will know the exultation of death averted, of life restored.


What is it, this thing, the knife, whose shape is virtually the same as it was three thousand years ago, but now with its head grown detachable?  Before steel, it was bronze.  Before bronze, stone - then back into unremembered time.  Did man invent it or did the knife preceed him here, hidden under ages of vegetation and footprints, lying in wait to be discovered, picked up, used?

The scalpel is in two parts, the handle and the blade.  Joined, it is six inches from tip to tip.  At one end of the handle is a narrow notched prong onto which the blade is slid, then snapped into place.  Without the blade, the handle has a blind, decapitated look.  It is helpless as a trussed maniac.  But slide on the blade, click it home, and the knife springs instantly to life.  It is headed now, leaping to mount the fingers for the gallop to its feast.

Now is the moment from which you have turned aside, from which you have averted your gaze, yet toward which you have been hastened.  Now the scalpel sings along the flesh again, its brute run unimpeded by germs or other frictions.  It is a slick slide home, a barracuda spurt, a rip of embedded talon.  One listens, and almost hears the whine - nasal, high, delivered through that gleaming metallic snout.  the flesh splits with its own kind of moan.  it is like the penetration of rape.

The breasts of women are cut off, arms and legs sliced to the bone to make ready for the saw, eyes freed from sockets, intestines lopped.  The hand of the surgeon rebels.  Tension boils through his pores, like sweat.  The flesh of the patient retaliates with hemorrhage, and the blood chases the knife wherever it is withdrawn.

Within the belly a tumor squats, toadish, fungoid.  A gray mother and her brood.  The only thing it does not do is croak.  It too is hacked from its bed as the carnivore knife lips the blood, turning in it in a kind of ecstasy of plenty, a gluttony after the long fast.  It is just for this that the knife was created, tempered, heated, its violence beaten into paper-thin force.

At least a little thread is passed into the wound and tied.  The monstrous booming fury is stilled by a tiny thread.  The tempest is silenced.  The operation is over.  On the table, the knife lies spent; on its side, the bloody meal smear-dried upon its flanks.  The knife rests.

And waits.
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