My Arm Is an Alien

There is an alien clamped on to my right shoulder, bonelessly flowing down to my fingertips. It’s heavy like lead and limp. I poke and prod and feel nothing but gelatinous flesh over toneless muscle, skin strangely warm. Poke and prod and there’s no sensation, just the vague, uncomfortable notion that it should feel like something but it belongs to someone else. When I stand, my arm swings in its sling like a dead weight dangling from a crane. It bounces off the edge of a sink, a dull thud the only indication anything has happened.

I stare at my half curled fingers and tell them to move. Sometimes there’s a vague twitch, sometimes nothing, and every now and then a movement, a real movement masked with the feeling of pins and needles.

This is what a nerve block feels like.


My skin is sketched with purple marker lines and stained with betadine. I thought it was dried blood, collected on the back of my shoulder and in my armpit, but when Mike wiped it away the paper towel turned the color of orange crush.


I have pictures of the inside of my shoulder now. They are an alien landscape, clean and very pale. We have a strange notion that the inside of our bodies should be slick and red, too much TV I suppose. When we haven’t been cut or perforated, our blood stays neatly hidden away.

My bicep tendon is pristine, smooth and the color of a hard boiled egg in the pictures. This is a relief; the doctor had been worried, thought he might have to trim it or cut it entirely, though counter to intuition he told me such an eventuality would not interfere with the functioning of my arm.

The pictures of my AC joint are the only thing not pristine. The surface looks like road rash has snuck inside my body, red and ragged. I look at the picture and think, this is what pain looks like. Since November there has been grinding, popping, crunching, like my joint is a breakfast cereal instead of bone with an important function.

When the anesthesiologist, a  cheerful man named Kevin who joked about getting me stoned for 4/20, poked my shoulder, he felt the crackle of that damage. Caught between revulsion and fascination, he poked it again. He’d already put drugs in my IV. I didn’t care.


I was drunk and giggling when they wheeled me into the OR. They had to strap my arm down as I flopped it around with giggling abandon, still not fully in the grips of the nerve block.

I woke up in panic after the surgery. I cried and hyperventilated, shaking and shivering uncontrollably.  They asked me what was wrong and I couldn’t articulate anything beyond more gasps. I didn’t know what was wrong, only that my chest was tight with panic.

The anesthesiologist, not nearly as cheerful, ordered demerol and versed. I went back to sleep in the large, open recovery room.


I’m typing this, one pecked letter at a time with my left hand, sitting on my couch, Mac airbook across my lap.

Even slow and frustrating, I can’t manage to not write.


The second time I woke up, it was like coming out of a pleasant nap. I wanted to sleep more but was too warm. I kicked off the blankets, making a tangled mess like a toddler. The nurse gave me a cup of water. When I drank it down and asked for more, she gave me a choice for more. Apple juice, apple sauce, graham crackers, to continue the theme.

After they let me out, I had tacos at Jack-n-Grill. You can eat those one handed.


I don’t get to take a shower for three days, when I’m allowed to change my dressing. I wonder if I will be desperate enough to ask Mike to wash my hair in the sink.

For now my head is surprisingly clear. The painkillers are supposed to wait until the nerve block wears off. Until then, they would be wasted. I’m to start taking them as the numbness begins to fade, so I won’t just be hit with pain like a truck.

I don’t want to be in pain. But I’m almost looking forward to it because my arm will belong to me again.

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