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The Spider - Juliana Staveley-O’Carroll

I spotted a spider in the waiting-room. A hospital spider. Look away and it’s gone. A ghost, maybe, haunting this place of hurting, guarding the gateway to dying and pain. If you’re very lucky, killjoy bureaucrats might dole out some pain meds (when you’re already too far gone, of course, lost to bone-shattering spine-tingling pain), but mostly they’ll deny them, won’t even get the message at all. Prescriptions have a way of flitting off like vapor; they’re made of insubstantial stuff, really, when you can’t ever reach a doctor or nurse or anyone who answers a phone or reads your desperate little missives. Hell, the system’s probably designed that way. Prescriptions swatted away like the nuisance they are. This is America, after all. If you’re in pain, take a number. No one cares. No one’s here to heal you — but rest assured they’ll mire you in debt for the trying.

This is the price of getting old (which is a privilege) and getting a new joint (another privilege). A brand-spanking-new titanium knee. You’ve made a deal with the devil, and it’s too late to go back now. Remember when you arrived at your pre-op appointment a month before surgery all eager, ready to take notes and learn what you were in for (you didn’t, of course), only to discover you must quit smoking today. Not tomorrow, today. Surprises like that were just the beginning. Small survivable things. You’ve come to miss those days.

God willing surgery goes without incident. After that, the best you can hope for is that the powers that be keep you in pain meds. You may as well pray. Don’t you know there’s an opioid epidemic? Which means that if your knee was replaced on Thursday, your pain meds will run out by Tuesday, and there’ll be no refill. The pharmacist will even tell you: refills are illegal. So on Monday when you notice you’re running low and the minion you reach — because doctors are unreachable — assures you that a fresh prescription has been called in, understand that it hasn’t, that the pain med gods, like most gods, are not only unreachable but probably laughing at you. You who have suffered, stuck in that dark valley even now, armed only with numbers to call that go unanswered, missives that go unread, your pain-strangled voice pleading to deaf ears.

It’s not like the pain meds you’ve been taking even cover the pain in the first place, so recognize that perhaps it’s not incompetents you’ve been dealing with so much as sadists (like most gods). In fact, after many fruitless phone calls your prescription will be sent to the wrong pharmacy, a pharmacy you’d happily use except that pharmacy won’t have said meds in stock til maybe Friday night. Don’t even think about transferring that prescription to another pharmacy: that, too, is impossible. Have pain? Get used to it. Here’s some hoop-jumping for good measure. Emotional distress just because.

So on top of the various exercises you endure, besides the baseline hurdles of just trying to function, attempting to sleep and eat and hobble around with your trusty walker, you’re denied basic pain relief. So in the next few hours, as the last of your pain pills wears off, the pain and anxiety mounting, your wits having jumped off whatever crumbling ledge was left, when your prescription IS actually, finally called into the correct pharmacy — a pharmacy with pain meds, even — when your caretaker-child rushes them to your side, it’s nothing short of a miracle. A miracle in these unsteady days. A windfall in bleak times, that is, maintaining the status quo (even if said status quo doesn’t actually cover the pain). A rollercoaster to be repeated again and again in the coming weeks.

But consider the little spider, scampering across great vinyl rectangles under an unblinking fluorescent sun. A spider at pain’s gate. Companion for a moment before you entered that pain world that sits right beside our own upright carefree world, its cries muted, because we’d rather not hear. Of course he must be a ghost — because what can survive here? Perhaps he wasn’t guarding that threshold at all, was only another soul lost under fluorescent lights. Cling to your faith that one day — months from now — your pain will dissipate. Unlike so many, you will escape. Back to the careless able-bodied pain-free world. The world of forgetting and romance, the world of pleasure. The world that crushes a spider on sight, no questions asked.


Juliana Staveley-O’Carroll has finally gotten used to her long-winded last name, which was bequeathed to her by her grandparents and has taught her patience, or at least that’s what she’ll tell you. She writes songs and other things, mostly essays, sometimes poetry, sometimes even fiction. She has worked in the healing arts as a licensed massage therapist and reiki practitioner, as well as in the art world, politics, even real estate, but she would like to stay home with her cat and write all day. Genre of this submission: nonfiction

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