Rhino Horn

When I woke up, it had been placed on my left foot – my glass slipper, the post-op shoe. The same shoes my mom wore at the first nursing home when the patent-leather Merrell sandals I got her went missing (never to be seen again). Underneath the shoe was a purple surgical bandage covered by an open-toed sock. Dr. A said it was one of the biggest bone spurs he had ever seen. Lorin and I nicknamed it “rhino horn.” I would have left the horn intact had it not started hurting and turning red a lot of the time—it had a temper. The horn has been chiseled away, and I’m promised a beautiful new foot after the stitches are removed.


In my experience, anesthesiologists are not a jolly lot, but this guy was. Dr. C was ginger-haired and freckled with a wide grin. He read through my chart.

“Erica, I love that name.”

I smile, “Like Erica Kane in the soap.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“Did she ever win an Emmy?”

“Yeah, they finally gave her one, I think. She was nominated like 100 times.”

“And you had jaundice at birth?” he says.


One of the nurses, Marta, applies the blood pressure cuff.

“Do you know what jaundice is caused by? It happens because the baby’s blood contains an excess of bilirubin, a yellow-colored pigment of red blood cells. It happens with preemies sometimes. Ever see the babies under lights in the NCU? They use special blue lights on babies whose levels are very high– phototherapy. The lights help break down bilirubin in the skin.”

“Really? Like in the greenhouse,” I say.


Another doctor walks in, Dr. X.

“I didn’t know you were a botanist,” Dr. X says to Dr. C.

Dr. C laughs.

Doctor X says to me, “Do you know the difference between xylem and phloem?”

“I learned that in elementary school,” I say.

“Which is which?” he says.

“Not sure.”

“Xylem carries water to the plant; phloem carries food. I learned it by phonetics – food, phloem.”

“Yes, that’s right. I used tricks like that in school too.”

“What’s the difference between stalagmites and stalactites?”

“Stalactites are the icicles in caves,” I say.

“So are stalagmites,” Dr. X says. “Stalagmites grow out from the cave floor and stalactites hang from the cave ceiling. I’m taking my kids to Howe Caverns next weekend, so I did some research.”

“My husband and I want to go there; we were thinking of getting married there,” I say.

The two doctors and the nurses, Marta and Marsha, smile.

Dr. C says, “I’ve got one for you. What’s the difference between an oral thermometer and a rectal thermometer?”

Marsha says, “I don’t know.”

Dr. C says with a devilish grin, “The taste.”

We all groan.

Marta says to me, “We’re ready for you in Room 1.”

I sit in a lazy boy type chair, first removing the shoe and sock from my left foot and the shoe from my right.

Marta places a foam tube covered in plastic under my knees and Marsha pulls a crimson rubber curtain over my knees so my the bottom half of my legs are no longer visible.

Marsha says, “Nice clean foot.”

“I took a shower this morning. I knew I wouldn’t be able to wash it for 12 days.”

“You’d be surprised what we see in here,” Marsha says.

Dr. C starts a line for the IV. “Does anyone ever tell you you remind them of an actress?”

“Ellen Barkin,” I say, “and one other person.”

“No, somebody else.”

A Stevie Wonder song pipes through the room.

“I love that song,” Dr. C says. “I think they used that song in the movie, The Pride of the Yankees, with Gary Cooper.”

“Really, I don’t think that song was written yet,” I say.

“This is a remake, I’m pretty sure.”

“Hmm. That was such a good movie, with Donna Reed playing his wife, or was it Teresa Wright.”

“Donna Reed was beautiful,” he says.

“Yes, and Teresa Wright too. Did you see the Alfred Hitchcock film, Shadow of a Doubt?”

“Sure, sure,” he says.

“One of my favorites.” I start feeling woozy.

“Are you okay?” Marsha says.

“Fine, sleepy,” I say. Then I mumble something.

When I wake up, the shoe is on. Marta and Marsha read me the post-op form and ask me to sign and date it, and make me a copy.

“We’ll be seeing you on the 25th at 8:30,” Marta says.

“Yes, to remove the sutures.”

“That’s right.”

“Thanks for everything. Have a good weekend,” I say.

“You too.”

Lorin was in the waiting room to take me home. Not bad for Friday the 13th.


My muse and part-time nurse, Samson

All photos by E. Herd

Do Not Fear the 13th

emperor pengins 2

Ian Duffy

Huddled like emperor penguins
at the bus stop
scarves muzzle faces,
yearning to breathe free
on Friday the 13th

A high, bright sun belies the raw
think of where you’d rather be–
a beach, an atoll, a mountain peak
on Friday the 13th

Snow twinkles like frosted cotton candy
but there’s no carnival
on the New Jersey Turnpike
on Friday the 13th

Our house is numbered 115
but should be 113–
fear of the 13th
my dearest pet was a black cat
fear of the black cat and number 13

No reason to fear
or black cats
or number 13
Instead, let us fear February–
the coldest, meanest month
that makes your hands crack and bleed
that makes commuting hell on earth
that makes more sense to me.