39 Inhale, Exhale

Emma Suleski

“What is your name and date of birth?” a voice asked me from a distance. As I struggled to lift my eyelids, I shuddered; bright white light flooded my eyes. I shook my head left to right, left to right, left to right. What was happening?

“I know,” the voice said, “but I need you to tell me, what is your name and date of birth?” I struggled to make the thoughts in my head into sentences. I had never been so keenly aware of every centimeter of my body. I had never had my senses flooded, not with pain, not like this. The word I expected to come out as “Emma” came out as a muffled groan.

“Okay,” the voice sighed, “can you feel this?” A finger traveled down my big toe, towards the back of my heel. Every time I had been asked that question, the answer was always yes. Every time I said yes, I felt lucky. I had numerous back problems since the age of thirteen and there was no saying when a disc in my back might give, causing nerve damage or even paralysis. Every step I took, seat I sat in, bump I drove over, I was in danger. Safety just wasn’t a part of my everyday life. I nodded and I felt the movement migrate from my neck to my feet. I made myself a mental note: don’t move.

“One more time, what is your name and date of birth?” I squeezed my eyes shut and used whatever strength was left in me to force out, “Emma Suleski, six-three-ninety-six.”

“Good!” the voice called back to me. “Now, can you tell me, on a scale of one to ten, what is your pain?” I struggled to open my eyes a second time, only seeing blurry figures traveling around me; everything and everyone was drenched in white. In the background I heard the hum of machines, a steady bee-beep, and the shuffle of feet following familiar paths. I squeezed my eyes shut again. I wanted to go back to sleep.

“Come on, Emma, stay with me. One to ten, how are you?” I shook my head back and forth, back and forth again. Tears flooded my eyes. The thing they don’t tell you about spinal fusion surgery is that to check for paralysis, they have to bring you out of anesthesia without any painkillers. So, in essence, they cut you open, drill into your spine for a few hours, sew you back up and let your body be its own rude alarm clock. “Ten” I choked out.

There was a scurrying of feet and I felt a pull on the IV in my left wrist. Broken conversations followed.

“Am I touching your right foot or left?”

“Right,” I said aloud as I wondered, “Was this worth it?”

“We’re going to scrape the bottom of your foot.”

I mumbled, “okay,” while thinking to myself, “Yes. You didn’t want permanent damage, did you?”

“I’m going to turn you and check your incisions.”

Hands gripped my shoulder and hip, pulling me onto my side. Inhale, exhale, throbbing pain. I winced as the IV in my left wrist began to move again and the beeping began to fade. I felt myself drifting, wondering, “Am I going to come out of this?”

My eyes shot open and my heartbeat raced. To my left my mom was sprawled out in a chair, snoring softly. “Mom?” I asked, “am I okay?” She lifted her head up and quickly rushed over to me. She squeezed my hand.

“The doctors said you had a rough time in the recovery room. You’ve turned a corner Em; you’re safe now.”

Discussion Questions

  • Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
  • Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
  • How well does the author support the intention of the piece? Cite specific details that support or take away from the author’s intention.
  • Is there information missing from this piece that would make its intention clearer? What else would you like to know?
  • Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
  • Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
  • How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
  • Are there particular passages with engaging language/description that stood out to you? Describe the appeal of these passages.
  • Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Teaching Autoethnography Copyright © by Emma Suleski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book