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The Next Time You’ll Be Told to Take Nothing by Mouth

until doctors determine whether you’ll need more surgery, you’re going to crave big hunks of bread with butter, going to want to rip sticky meat from ribs, even though you haven’t eaten gluten or meat in years; you’re going to want to get taffy stuck between your teeth, get corn on the cob stuck between your teeth, your teeth that will feel so empty even though they’ll be coated, like your tongue, with a thick sour film. Nurses will give you swabs that smell of lemon, swabs you’ll suck greedily only to yield a small burst of chemical tang; you’ll be given tiny ice chips to chew—at last something solid!—but they’ll dissolve too soon. You’ll remember a friend who told you the best way to keep an orchid happy is to feed it one ice cube a week—the ice will melt slowly, mete out its gifts, keep the soil from getting soggy; this seemed so clever, you wanted to run out and buy an orchid even though you’ve never been good at keeping green things alive. You could handle feeding a flower one ice cube a week, you told yourself. You’ll tell yourself you are an orchid now, subsisting on ice. You’ve seen orchids that look like monkeys; orchids that look like owls; orchids that look like naked men. This orchid will look like you waiting for news in your hospital gown, cold trickling down to the root.


Gayle Brandeis is the author of the memoir The Art of Misdiagnosis, the poetry collection, The Selfless Bliss of the Body, the craft book, Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, and several novels, including The Book of Dead Birds, which won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement. She teaches at Sierra Nevada College and Antioch University Los Angeles. Find out more at

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