Journal of the Plague Years 2021: I Will Be the Thin White Duke

So, I got the surgery.

It’s a long recovery. The nipple grafts, in particular, require a lot of upkeep. I reliably kill houseplants, so I’m concerned about my ability to keep my trimmed and repositioned pair appropriately moist. It’s like someone gave me a random draw of exotic pets — say, a ferret and two hissing cockroaches — and I’m forced to adapt to their needs and whims.

I’m reminded of a few facts about myself and surgery. I’ve had a few emergency procedures and a lot of ECT, and I’d forgotten that I come out from general anesthesia a better engineer and human being than I am most weekdays: calm, lucid, good color, strong vitals.

I have a knack for tolerating the pain, discomfort and squalor associated with an invasive medical procedure. When a nurse has to try multiple times to start an IV, I work to make her laugh. Yesterday after my first follow-up appointment, I strolled around a high-end mall with Kelly for a few hours, though a pair of drains were jostling under my tasteful cotton man-sweater like the lowest and fullest bosom I never had. I felt a twinge of self-consciousness, then treated them with the lordly indifference they deserve.

Heavy painkillers make me vilely ill in five days — no more, no less — forcing me to stop them abruptly and swear that I’ll always just take Ibuprofen. Right about the time my bowels surged into violent activity, I got a nasty rash — probably an allergic reaction to the surgical glue, according to the artist himself, Dr. Ethan Larson. I shrugged off the cramping and itching, and helped Kelly figure out how to set up a Zoom account for her home practice.

In real life, I fret constantly about shit that matters little or not at all. Put me under and remove or repair and organ, and I’m reliably cheerful. Go figure.

And it’s not just that I’m tolerating my recovery. There have been wonderful moments. At the mall I found a silk scarf with an image of a nightingale, which allowed me to wax tedious about Procne, Tereus and Philomela. Kelly sat rapt while I read her the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses; then we went and sorted through her wardrobe, throwing out anything worn or tired, and roundly condemning skinny pants as a universally unflattering look.

Dr. Larson is funny and abrupt, and did a great job. When we removed the bandages, he pointed out with pride that he’d fixed a sunken spot in my chest that prompted my first GP to ask, “Were you born that way, or did you have an accident?” He was absurdly proud of his ingenuity and, indeed, I applaud his thrift and artistry.

And that’s the best thing of all. Dr. Larson came highly recommended, but I didn’t expect much beyond tit-absence. I dutifully provided pictures of David Bowie as the Thin White Duke and Iggy Pop as an achievable ideal. Dr. Larson analyzed my chest with paralyzing candor, glanced over the photos, remarked casually that I seem to be drawn to small nipples, then vanished from my life until game day.

When I first took off the compression vest to shower, there was a lot of noise in the image: Drains, bruising, sutures, and the traces of his quick pen-strokes from Monday. The nipples look like chewed hamburger.

As I’m showering and bandaging and stripping the drains I can see the shape and contour, though.

Iggy Pop clutching a microphone stand. The stark loveliness of the Man Who Fell to Earth. Otherworldly, spare, cool.

I think of the opening lines of the Metamorphoses:

“My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind.”

Caenis to Caneus. Philomela to a nightingale. Procne to a swallow. A child into a banquet; a father into a bird.

The gods are responsible for these changes, as for all else.

I will be the Thin White Duke.

Total Covid-19 cases in Arizona: 793,532

Current hospitalizations: 2,396

Deaths: 14,834

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