Last month I had minor surgery on my hand for something called trigger finger. It's a fairly common (if weirdly named) condition marked by a sticking and popping sensation in the affected digit. At first the sticking and popping was interesting, and I played happily and contentedly with my own thumb day and night for many weeks. But then pain moved in, making it impossible to open doors, free dogs from harnesses and wrest wine corks from bottles. After a couple of short-lived cortisone shots, surgery was necessary.
I haven't had surgery since I was about 5 years old, and the main thing I recall from that time is howling on a gurney in a hospital hallway as a needle the size of a cucumber was forced into my teeny tiny vein, after which there were many presents. This time around, the needle was considerably smaller, I did not howl, and there was only one present at the end: a body-flattening cold.
Getting sick on top of having surgery seems not only unfair but like some kind of comic overkill. Like it wasn't enough to have one hand swaddled in a pingpong-paddle-size bandage the color of old women's shoes; I had to, using only my good hand, work to contain the giant soup of germs spewing from my face so as not to sicken the one person working to help me zip my jeans, cook and bring me meals and feed and walk the dogs. And, of course, open the wine.
It was all so exhausting, I fell into a deep, rheumy sleep, whereupon I dreamed I was living inside a diorama. There was a steep cliff to descend, followed by a raging river to fjord, all of which had to happen ahead of a giant storm that was blowing up, made more threatening by the fact that I'd just had my hair done.
A word to the wise, in case you've never lived inside a diorama inside a dream: It isn't easy in there. The elements are all braided together inside a very small space, which you somehow know is not a real world (the same way you know your trigger finger is not a real toy). You also know that the dream that contains the diorama is not real; nevertheless, you work hard to descend the cliff and keep ahead of the storm while also protecting your hair, feats of athletic and cosmetic prowess made all the more difficult by the fact that you only have one hand in the game. I was as exhausted upon waking as I was upon falling asleep.
Three weeks post-surgery, my hand is unswaddled and I am able to do everything I used to be able to do, painlessly. The events of the last month seem far away and dim, like college. I could almost believe they never happened, except that the bills keep rolling in.
Last week my mother called to see how I was faring. I told her I was back to showering without a grocery bag on my hand and cooking and dog-walking. We moved on to a discussion of her driveway, which has been undergoing repairs since the Cold War; a brief, if heated, discussion of her computer problems (in which she asserted that her inability to post a Facebook message is an Apple issue); and a wedding in the New York Times featuring a transsexual couple.
These conversations are, themselves, a kind of diorama inside a dream. There is dangerous territory to navigate, punctuated by absurdity, followed by the sense that if you remain too long in that tiny pseudo-world of errant driveways and octogenarian tech theories and transsexual weddings, you might just never emerge.
Eventually you do emerge, but only after you've gone over the specifics of the wedding (post sex-reassignment surgery, husband and wife woke not to a mundane cold, but to a brand new gender — still husband and wife, only reversed). My mother and I are intrigued by this mix of modern medicine and romance, but she is a realist. Musing on what the future holds for the wife-turned-husband, she said, "It's bad enough being an old woman. The last thing I'd want to be is an old man."
That my mother is not interested in transitioning comes as a big relief. Because if the last few weeks are any indication, surgery is nothing but a gateway to drama.
Dana Shavin is the author of a memoir, "The Body Tourist." Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is danashavin.com, and you can follow her on Facebook at Dana Shavin Writes.