Academic journal article Borderlands

Life, in the Hall of Smashed Mirrors: Biopolitics and Terror Today

Academic journal article Borderlands

Life, in the Hall of Smashed Mirrors: Biopolitics and Terror Today

Article excerpt

I

I stared at my wife, but it wasn't her. Her face was puffy, newly freckled, and so white. Drained of blood white. Still beautiful, but I did double-take after double-take as I listened to her voice emerge from the face of a woman I had never seen before. Every fifteen minutes one of the midwives came and did her obs, talking quietly to Jenny as she took blood pressure, looked at monitors, wrote down readings. Every few hours they changed one of the blood bags hanging from the stand beside her bed, gingerly detached the IV from the needle taped into her arm, twisted the cap and shook the line as the red fluid flowed downwards once again.

It was the day after the birth. For a few minutes the night before, the twins had lain in the small portable cot beside her bed, swaddled and tiny, before being taken to the nursery to be fed their first meals and sleep under bright fluorescent lights. Now, for the first of a number of times that day, I walked with our boy, Nikos, and one of the nurses to the x-ray suite in the basement. There I dressed in a heavy lead gown and held his little body under the machine, so the doctors could trace the movement of barium meal through his intestines. The radiographer had her own gown, in leopard-print chic; I wore the blue, red and yellow shield of Superman. As I held Nikos' tiny arms and slumped under the weight of the gown I thought of x-rays. The dentist's chair, skeleton costumes, Superman's x-ray vision. The way a nuclear explosion gives off huge pulses of them: x-rays, gamma rays, science fiction words for invisible, lethal wavelengths of energy.

But there was no dying here, where the object was life and the means nuclear medicine. That morning the on-call paediatrician, upon hearing that Nikos had vomited some bile, ordered the tests to see if he might need an operation. Upstairs in the nursery he was fed infant formula every three hours through a thin tube fed through his nose and into his stomach. I pushed his cot into lifts and along corridors and through the nursery doors, then went from there to check on Jenny, where the new blood was slowly beginning its saving work, feeding the exhausted cells in her body, making new ones and flushing away the dying.

Normally she would be in the ward with the babies, receiving visitors and learning to breastfeed, but this was her second day in the delivery room, which now functioned as a mini-ICU. For eight hours the day before she had lain in the same bed in labour, her pain dulled by an epidural, watching the contractions and the foetal heartbeats pulse across a paper graph. When Sophia's heartbeat elevated, indicating distress, the obstetrician ordered an emergency caesarean section. A half hour later I was being ushered into the operating theatre, where the doctors were already painting antiseptic on Jenny's swollen belly. Soon after that, amid the anaesthetist's soothing chatter, we watched as the babies were lifted, kicking and bluish-white, into the world.

I marvelled at the calm intensity of the staff's teamwork: the anaesthetist monitoring his pain drugs; the nurses ventilating the babies' lungs with what looked like tiny scuba sets, warming them under lights and carrying out checks; the obstetrician turning to the sewing of Jenny's uterus as I was taken up to the nursery. There the babies were cleaned, swaddled and placed, tiny and dark eyed, into my startled arms. They looked at me and smiled, as if they recognised me. I returned their gazes, overcome by a strange and anxious bliss.

Soon they were placed side by a side in a portable cot and moved to a room on the maternity ward, bare apart from an armchair, where I waited with them for Jenny to arrive from Recovery. I was struck by a sudden, terrifying sense of responsibility. Outside the sixth floor window the city gleamed and floated in the darkness. Long minutes passed. I watched planes float slowly into land at the airport, disappearing behind the university buildings as they descended, warning lights blinking on their wingtips. …

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