To me, the right to eat oatmeal is a common courtesy that our society takes for granted. It’s the eleventh commandment carved into Moses’ stone tablet; the fourth unalienable right penned in the Declaration of Independence. As such anecdotes are wont to unfold, I never realized what an important liberty it was until it was denied.
It was six days after I’d had a troublesome coil of intestine removed. I was able to have my appendix removed at the same time: a 2-for-1 Blue Light Special on problematic organ removal. All I had to show for it were 2 laparoscopic incisions covered in a healthy coat of gauze. By that sixth day, I barely even used the button that sent morphine troops to reinforce the battleground of my wounds. If anything hurt, it wasn’t the sutures; it was my eyes, which had been enervated by switching between facebook and worldofsolitaire.com for a week.
Just that morning, I’d had the obnoxious tube removed from my esophagus, freeing it up for things like food. Intravenous nourishment was convenient, but it felt like using a cheat code in a video game that automatically destroys enemies. You win the game, but the victory is hollow, and you find yourself questioning whether anything has intrinsic meaning aside from the arbitrary value assigned by other people. I was on a clear diet, defined by the pediatric nurse as “anything you can see through”. By this definition, I could have lollipops, Jell-o, broth, or shards of broken glass.
I didn’t have the broth on the principle that lukewarm liquid salt isn’t my favorite. The lollipops were okay, but the choke-resistant looped design of the Safety Pop stick felt overwhelmingly patronizing. All I had been eating was Jell-O. I’m sure that when I was nine or ten, an all-Jell-O diet sounded totally awesome. It didn’t anymore. As hungry as I was, I didn’t want to ask for a meal tray because all I would find would be an amalgam of sugar and food coloring whose consistency transcended the delineations between liquid and solid.
I was passive-aggressively posting disparaging facebook messages criticizing the hospital’s color scheme when I heard the mechanic whirr of the automatic hand sanitizer outside the room, a sound that had become my Reveille. One of the multitude of nameless nurses entered the room. They all looked vaguely similar, and I didn’t bother myself with distinguishing them. They could have sent in Calvin Coolidge with a saccharine smile and cartoon-character scrubs and I would have been none the wiser. I instinctively put aside my keyboard under the assumption that she was going to check my pulse or heartbeat again. Instead, she stood at the door with her clipboard in both hands.
“Good news! So, actually, Audrey is going to be allowed to transition to a solid foods diet now. Can I get something?”
My mother and I shared a look that clearly communicated both “Hooray! We’re making progress!” and “About damn time.”
“What do you have?” asked Mom.
The anonymous nurse put her clipboard under her arm and started counting off on her fingers. “Let’s see… we have oatmeal—“
I’m sure she continued listing a few more options, but that first item had wrestled my attention span to the ground and had overtaken my faculty of choice. At that moment, absolutely nothing sounded better. After a few minutes of suspenseful anticipation, another nurse brought in a Styrofoam bowl and a plate of sugar packets. It was the perfect contradistinction from the cold, slippery manifestation of red dye #40. It wasn’t particularly good, but since it shared no empirical qualities with Jell-O, I mentally labeled it as “great” by default.
A few hours later, the surgeon entered the room to ask how we were doing before rushing off to remove a kidney or something.
“I ate oatmeal!” I exclaimed in the excited tone of a fourth grader who finally learned to tie her shoes, after years of discreetly wearing only Velcro sneakers.
“What? No, that’s not right. You’re still supposed to be on a clear diet. I’ll let the nurse know. See you!”
After he shut the door, something in my morphine-warped mind snapped. The unfortunate combination of long-term confinement, sleep deprivation, and misanthropy which had been left out to fester rather than set to chill in the refrigerator of moderation flipped a lever in my head that channeled my usually apportioned lethargic energy into a pseudopolitical rant. Was it really within the hands of this surgeon to revoke my right to eat oatmeal, and was he legal in retroactively repealing that right after I had reaped its benefits? Was the brevity of this exchange an indicator of its integrity or lack thereof? Could he be impeached, or was I not allowed to eat fruit yet?
My mom observed, “You’re a lot more talkative since they removed that tube.”
I am, aren’t I? I smiled yet felt incensed. I knew she wasn’t taking this seriously, but, I realized, neither was I. I was simultaneously the outraged politician and the Jon Stewart mocking him: an existential dichotomy.
It was in this conflicted state of mind that I quickly fell asleep, dreaming of sugar packets, syringes, and online solitaire.