Still There by Ann Kathryn Kelly

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You were there, not conscious but in body, when they draped you, intubated and hooked you to a ventilator. Your bladder, catheterized. Your body turned, from back onto stomach. Bolsters placed under your chest, to accommodate the breathing tube. Face lowered onto a horseshoe-shaped pad. Your skull locked into a clamp, pins tightened. Hair shorn, scalp cleansed. Your MRI, called up on a screen. An incision, maybe five inches, where the back of your head cradles onto your neck. Skin and muscles folded back and clipped. A section of your skull sawed, removed, set aside. The surgeon sliced through tissue, collagen and nerves, parting layers with tweezer-like tools, navigating blood vessels that crisscrossed a glistening surface, a maze of membranes: the dura mater, arachnoid, the pia mater. Long-handled scissors, drills, an ultrasonic aspirator that irrigated and suctioned around compacted folds. Instruments like this, likely used. A delicate probe, a jet of water. Suctioning, another probe. Cautious cuts. Seeping blood. Tunneling toward Angie—you’d named your tumor—deep in your brain stem. 

You imagine it might have gone something like that.

After twelve hours, what remained of Angie was placed in a tray, measured, sent to pathology. They returned your bone flap, screwed it down, stitched you up, sterilized and gauzed you. 


“Your eyes, nose, mouth, it all blended together,” your mother remembered, on seeing you in ICU. Nothing about your face was familiar. “I looked,” she said, “but couldn’t find you.”

You assured her, as you recovered in the months following, that you’d been there. Still there, beneath the swelling and the bruising. With the monster no longer in your head, you were ready to heal. Ready to live again.

Ann Kathryn Kelly lives and writes in New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. She’s an editor with Barren Magazine, a columnist with WOW! Women on Writing, and she works in the technology sector. Ann leads writing workshops for a nonprofit that offers therapeutic arts programming to people living with brain injury. Her essays have appeared in a number of literary journals.

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One thought on “Still There by Ann Kathryn Kelly”

  1. This was such a well-crafted piece. “Sterlized and gauzed you…. navigating blood vessels that crisscrossed a glistening surface, a maze of membranes… Cautious cuts…Tunneling toward Angie—you’d named your tumor—deep in your brain stem…”

    Doesn’t the Rolling Stones’ song–“Angie”–have the refrain, “Ain’t it time we said good-bye”? I’m sure it was great to say good-bye to THAT Angie.


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