“If I’d known how heavenly anesthesia can be, I wouldn’t have put off the wisdom tooth debacle,” Sylvia remarked to friends as they laid out donations of soft foods on her kitchen counter. Asparagus soup, apple sauce, pots de crème.
She looked at the food. “You shouldn’t have,” she added, not meaning a word of it. She had sent out a group e-mail announcing the schedule for her oral surgery—a transparent plea for attention of any kind—but she didn’t share the worst part since she was taken by surprise.
* * *
The oral surgeon’s secretary jabbed at the file in front of her. “I see here you frequent that pharmacy famous for robbing people blind,” she said. “The antibiotics and painkillers are really pricey, but you’ll pay a lot less at Walmart. Want me to phone them in?”
This was a tough question. Sylvia did everything humanly possible to avoid Walmart, but she was groggy after the surgery and not thinking clearly. Gradually regaining consciousness in the comfortable recliner hadn’t been an option due to patient back-up. She’d nap at home and then, refreshed, brave the dreaded superstore in the afternoon.
How painful could it be
“Fine,” she said, her mouth packed with gauze. “Call Walmart.”
The surgeon had been specific about the medication regimen (“Start today”) and proper use of an intimidating jumbo syringe to “flush out the sockets.” The grogginess remained after the nap, and a frozen banana smoothie gave Sylvia an instant headache. Why didn’t I send Ursula, the bearer of Jell-O salad with mini-marshmallows, to collect my prescriptions
? She shuddered as she poured the disgusting concoction down the garbage disposal. Ursula would do anything for me. She’d go anywhere, anytime
* * *
The one available parking space in the Walmart lot was next to a truck with an I WAS ABDUCTED BY ALIENS bumper sticker. Inside the store was an alarmingly long snaking line at the pharmacy counter. When Sylvia finally made it to the front, she received bad news from someone wearing an enormous plastic nametag. Chrystelle.
“Twenty-minute wait,” Chrystelle said. “Maybe half an hour.”
“But the surgeon’s office called this morning. And there aren’t any chairs.” Sylvia looked around as if a cozy waiting room might be hiding somewhere behind the vitamins and reading glasses and hearing aid batteries.
“Shop. Or grab a taco.”
So that was the sickening smell wafting through the store. Sylvia froze in place. She literally couldn’t decide how to survive, trapped in Walmart for that length of time.
“Next!” Chrystelle barked into her microphone, and, given their amazing resemblance to each other, a multi-generational family crowded into what Sylvia considered her personal space.
She fled to fetch a cart. Sadly, there was only one left, and its handle was sticky with a substance Sylvia could only imagine was radioactive at best. Whole Foods provided anti-bacterial wipes for emergencies such as this. Here, she was on her own.
“Dear God,” Sylvia muttered under her breath. She spotted an employee wearing yellow rubber gloves and carrying a Windex bottle. On closer inspection, it wasn’t really Windex but an inferior generic substitute.
“Excuse me. my mouth is an open wound and I’m vulnerable to germs--”
“Do you need an ambulance?” the woman asked, her voice flat, her face a blank page.
“No, I need you to spray some cleaner on the handle here. Would you mind?”
The woman’s lips became a thin straight line as she soaked the handle, Sylvia’s hand and her designer purse with the blue liquid, then swiped briefly with a dirty rag before turning on her heel. The odor of the liquid combined with the tacos came close to overpowering Sylvia. Only hours before, four teeth had been jerked out of her head with pliers. The taste in her mouth was like old pennies. The wonder of general anesthesia was only a memory. She attempted to brace herself on the slippery handle of the cart beside a wall of Cheez Doodles as she breathed the way she’d learned in yoga class. She longed for a chair in the expensive pharmacy.
Walking seemed a healthier option than standing still under the harsh fluorescence. It could have been the middle of the night for all anyone knew. As an elevator version of “You Light Up My Life” wailed in the background, Sylvia became aware of the amount of glitter surrounding her. Glittery t-shirts to the left, glittery school supplies to the right. T-shirts and school supplies weren’t glittery in Sylvia’s day. When had that trend started, and when would it end? She bumped the cart into a giant cardboard box loaded with plastic pumpkins and paused to massage her temples.
"Get hold of yourself," she said under her breath. Ursula would have breezed through this purgatory, using the opportunity to stock up on cat food and potting soil and miniature marshmallows. I should buy more gauze in case I start hemorrhaging
, Sylvia thought as she passed the detergent aisle and then, unbelievably, a grocery section.
The only gauze product available was packed into a bag the size of a king-sized pillow. “Overkill,” she announced to a person teetering on a rolling ladder nearby.
“I don’t work here,” he said, piling boxes of antacids onto a shelf above Sylvia’s head.
“My bleeding sockets won’t require all this.” She held up the bag.
“I broke my back snowboarding. I have hardware in my neck.”
He looked okay to Sylvia. She stuffed the bag back with the others on the bottom shelf. “What I really need right now is heavy-duty painkillers.”
“Same here,” the man said with a snort. “Good luck with that.”
The expensive pharmacy has chairs
, Sylvia thought again as she crashed her cart into another one at the end of the aisle. She had ceased to care. The woman driving the other cart seemed to be waiting for her to say something.
At last the woman said, “Excuse me.” She didn’t move, and stared a hole into Sylvia.
“I don’t normally shop here,” Sylvia offered as an explanation.
“Then take my advice. Keep your expectations low. That’s what I do.”
The woman yanked her cart away, glaring back at poor Sylvia, who abandoned her empty cart and lurched in the direction of the pharmacy.
She stood in line for twenty more minutes before learning her prescriptions wouldn’t be ready until the following day.
Ursula wasn’t available to pick them up.