This is the 6th chapter of a story I am translating titled “House Ephemera” (蜉蝣の家) by Hatasu Shikishima (識島果).
Thanks to Sherayuki for helping proofread this chapter.
You can read the full Japanese text of this chapter here.
See this page which contains a brief synopsis and links to other chapters (as they are posted).
As usual, whether I continue translating this will depend on feedback/views from various sources. If you like it, please consider leaving a comment here or vote for it on this survey of things I should translate.
Chapter 6: Not feeling well
“It’s Kabayaki Sauce.”
Keita Aoyama suddenly blurted this out as he watched the monitor beside me, his voice muffled by a surgical mask. I glanced at him, confused by the unintelligible remark.
“It’s like Kabayaki Sauce. The iodine, I mean.”
“I’ve always thought the same thing. They’re practically identical, even how you paint it on.”
Ryoki Shindo concurred. Longish bangs jutted out here and there from beneath his mask, probably due to his less than skillful attempt at putting it on. The students’ attention was directed at the patient lying down. Antiseptic povidone-iodine had just been applied thoroughly to the body from the upper chest to the thighs. Apparently Ryoki was saying that this liquid had just the right dark brown color such that the act of painting it on with a brush strongly resembled the process of making grilled eel. I frowned and stared down at Dr. Sato’s hands gripping the brush.
“Come on, it’s not like I said anything inappropriate. You guys can’t take a joke. Hey Mamiya, am I wrong?”
Akiko Mamiya smiled awkwardly when the conversation suddenly turned to her. Our team of four–Aoyama, Shindo, Mamiya, and myself–made the rounds of this Polyclinic together. The term Polyclinic refers to the in-hospital clinical training undergone by 5th-year medical students, originating from the German word Poliklinik meaning “General Hospital”. We had come today to observe a cardiovascular surgery at T college’s affiliated hospital.
“Isn’t using names of food in medical terminology standard practice? Strawberry hemangioma, chocolate cyst, port wine stain…”
We turned around when Dr. Sato called to us after finishing disinfecting the patient. Aoyama went quiet.
“I don’t care who, but somebody go wash your hands. Let’s get this operation started.”
I was the first to answer and avoided contact with the others as I left the operating room on my way to the handwashing station. I got the feeling Shindo tried to say something to me, but there was no need to be concerned with him. We weren’t here because we wanted to be. Nobody on my team wanted to be a surgeon, and we should have been thankful that today was an especially long triple-bypass surgery. I grabbed two brushes and cleaned myself thoroughly down to the elbows. My reflection in the mirror simply stared back, as if mocking me.
“Yes,” the nurse next to me held out the forceps while I bent backwards to get out of the way. The assistant doctor glanced at me disapprovingly.
“Student, put your hands upon the patient. Crossing your arms during an operation is not appropriate.”
I took my arms that I’d folded to avoid contamination and rested them on the cover draped over the patient. I quivered slightly; I could feel the warmth and soft texture of the patient’s chest through my thin gloves and the blood-stained cover.
The patient was a 69 year old woman. She had a daughter and a grandchild. A lover of tennis, her mind and body were still young, and until three months ago she had run freely about on the tennis court gripping a racquet. She had been the perfect picture of health. Now she was struggling just to survive, wearing a rib spreader on her chest like a tuna laid out before being cut and cleaned.
The nurse scraped carbon off the electric scalpel’s tip and passed it to Dr. Sato. The sound of fat being ripped open was accompanied by the smell of soft tissue burning. There was a certain odor emitted when the electrical scalpel singed the human body. Mixed in with a typical burnt smell was a difficult-to-describe raw, organic odor. Whenever I was in the operation room, that terrible smell would easily penetrate my mask, find its way into my nose, and make breathing difficult.
I unconsciously turned away from the operating table and eyed the monitor. The patient’s blood pressure was on the rise. The anesthesiologist stood up slowly from his chair and filled a syringe with the contents of a fresh ampoule.
The rhythmic pulses of the scalpel modulated in volume–loud, soft, then loud again–as they vibrated my eardrums, their energy dispersing into my temples. The heart-lung machine was soon attached to the patient whose heart had stopped functioning. The heart ceased all movement; yet the patient still lived. The heart, normally required for survival, had to be stopped for the very same reason.
Aoyama, Shindo, and Mamiya turned their backs to me and crowded together to gaze at the patient’s still heart displayed on the monitor.
I took a shallow breath. The bright red of blood burned into my retina,
its after-image drowned out by the green of the cover.
I realized the scissors were lying near my hands so I picked them up. My left hand continued to absorb the patient’s body heat as my right hand tightly gripped the cold metal of the surgical scissors.
It suddenly dawned on me that a violent downward stab of these scissors would easily end this woman’s life. This thought was terribly depraved, even inhuman, but at the same time bore a hint of sweetness. I froze. In that instant, in a very real sense I straddled the worlds of life and death, gazing into that motionless heart.
Dr. Sato looked at me doubtfully from behind his thick glasses.
Hearing his voice, I snapped back to reality. I relaxed my stiff fingers awkwardly and passed the scissors to the doctor.
“If you aren’t feeling well, just say so.”
At the edge my vision I saw Mamiya turn to face me. Once Dr. Sato had finished with the scissors, he went back to the electric scalpel and began to cauterize living tissue. Once again, there was that peculiar smell.
“You better tell me right away. I can’t have you passing out during surgery.”
The burnt tissue shriveled, releasing tendrils of smoke. I couldn’t take my eyes off the scissors. Dr. Sato wiped off the end of the electric scalpel and mumbled something. Judging from his voice, I couldn’t tell if he was serious or joking.
“But you know, this smell really makes me hungry for BBQ.”
The assistant forced a smile. Ha ha, yeah I guess so. The instant I heard that laugh, a terrible wave of nausea washed over me.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“What is it?”
Both doctors looked at me simultaneously.
“Actually, I am not feeling well. Can I withdraw my hands?”
“So where are we doing it today?” Aoyama asked Shindo as he tossed his operating gown into the bin.
“Going out drinking. The bar.”
“Oh, I guess we haven’t decided yet.”
Having been crumpled into a ball, Aoyama’s white coat was all wrinkled up. I hated when that happened to my coat which is why I always neatly folded it before putting it away.
“It’s just the three of us, so I doubt we need reservations,” said Aoyama, staring at me as I got dressed in silence.
“Looks like Sasayama isn’t coming.”
“He said he wasn’t feeling well earlier anyway.”
Shindo chimed in as he changed his shoes, his comment directed at me.
“Hey, we’ll catch you next time.”
I nodded. But I got the feeling I wouldn’t want to go with them next time, or the time after that. Or ever, for that matter.
When I left the dressing room, I came across Mamiya standing in the hallway, already done changing. For a girl, Mamiya was able to get dressed pretty quick. Come to think of it, in a hospital both sexes wear the same attire, so perhaps in a sense men don’t have any special advantage when it comes to clothing.
“Sorry, did you wait long?”
“No, I just got here myself.”
She shook her head. We passed through the doors labelled No Unauthorized Personnel and started descending the stairs. I lagged behind Mamiya, but she slowed her pace to match mine.
“Are you alright?”
When I cocked my head to the side, she added, “You just slipped out during the operation.”
“I just felt a little nauseous for a minute there. Don’t worry about it.”
There was a short hesitant pause.
“Next time we go out drinking, you should come with us. I wanted to take a picture with the whole group anyway.”
Mamiya went quiet for a moment.
“Sasayama, I get the feeling that you prefer being alone.”
Mamiya hurried ahead to catch up with the other two and joined their conversation. She didn’t look back. I walked slowly, trailing behind them, until we came to the student locker rooms.