Discharge Summary: Inez Ramos (Patient ID 080760)
Once pumped out, rinsed, and sterilized via autoclave or irradiation, the following items are what doctors identified as the contents of Inez's stomach:
The copy of a key to a 2002 Cadillac Escalade, a truck she test drove but failed to buy after the salesman referred to her and her husband, Ernesto, as the kind of people this car is popular with. She was not offended, not really, but something told her she should be. Maybe it was the voice of her daughter, Lisa, who'd been away at college in the northeast for the past three years, and who'd joined a Mexican sorority even though the Ramos family was not Mexican. But she had had to do something to meet other Latinos, and if white people think we're all Mexican, then I might as well join up, she had said. Inez had wondered out loud, Wait, wait, we're not white yet? And Lisa--who'd stopped wearing all make-up except for eyeliner, which made her look like she was always glaring--had scoffed and said White was the worst thing you could be, and Ernesto had said, Well then you better go lay out in the sun a little longer, and don't let those Mexican sisters of yours see your pasty ass, Miss Chicano Studies.
Eleven cents; one nickel and six pennies, most likely from the center console of her 1990 Toyota Camry--which they still owned and was in mint condition thanks to punctual oil-changes done by Ernesto himself (in his former life, he'd been a mechanic) and shampoo washings (courtesy of Inez's theories regarding the connection between hair dye and paint). She'd ingested the change to avoid a fight with the previously mentioned Ernesto, who never likes when the coins in the car's console are disorderly. (He is given to angry fits that usually involve stopping the car and refusing to drive anyone anywhere, or worse, removing the tires from the car while it is parked in the garage, his reason for doing so being that the interior was not kept clean according to his carefully thought-out and painfully reviewed instructions.) Coins, he had told Inez and Lisa repeatedly, were to go in the plastic baggy found within the glove compartment, and when Inez slipped in the car to find her change from the morning's coffee scattered next to the emergency brake, she scooped them up and tossed them in her mouth before Ernesto got the driver's side door unlocked. She coughed a little from the dust they had collected, and she felt the warmth of each coin, which they'd absorbed from the sun beating down on the interior through the windshield, slide down her throat. She cracked a filling on the nickel, dislodging it from the graying molar on the top right of her mouth.
One metal filling. Awaiting lab reports as to composition--most likely, mercury. See above for details.
Other metal objects found:
Two pairs of tweezers (Inez had inherited her father's facial hair, and like most Cuban women, she put up a hard fight against it, and like most Cuban women, she lost this fight on a weekly basis. The ingestion of the tweezers signified her acceptance of defeat).
A silver trumpet's mouth piece (her quiet way of urging Lisa, the summer before fifth grade, having just returned from a summer music camp, to try the piano instead. Inez refrained from ingesting the trumpet itself, because she knew that would kill her daughter, who even at that young an age, Inez could tell, desperately needed something loud. From the evidence, one can safely conclude Inez never swallowed subsequent trumpet mouth pieces, though it should be noted that Lisa has not touched her horn since the spring semester of her freshman year, and her father still sees the lessons as a tremendous waste of money, which could have been better spent on fishing lures).
One saltwater fishing lure (thought lost by Ernesto, circa 1998).
Eight paper clips (mostly the oversized ones that resemble butterflies).
A gold men's wedding band (her father's; without ever telling her mother, she had removed it from his hand when she saw him in the casket. She refused to admit the theft even when her mother accused the owner of the funeral home of stealing it. Inez, with her mouth closed around the ring, had even helped her mother fill out a formal complaint about the pilfering against the home.)
A small stone, which had been lodged for some time near Lisa's kidney before she'd peed it out, at which time Inez grabbed it from the toilet to take it to the doctor for inspection. The doctor had said he really hadn't needed the evidence, and Inez thought him incredibly unappreciative. Hers to keep, she considered mounting the stone--which was the size and shape of a match head--on a pendant. She'd heard that sometimes, when people die, their families elect to have their remains turned into semi-precious stones that are then crafted into brooches, rings, whatever, and these dead relatives get to rest in peace dangling from an earlobe or flashing from a finger. Inez once considered being turned into earrings when she died, but decided it was a stupid idea when she realized she couldn't wear them herself.
Two to three handfuls of fingernails. Judging by their transparency, they appear to be many years old. Also, Inez has claws; one-inch pink-and-white acrylic nails, recently filled in by her cousin, Natalia, who works for State Farm Insurance but also does nails if you come to her house for the service. The fake nails are manicured in a style called French, and all of Inez's current nails have a thin stripe of white at the tip (excluding the two thumbs, which Natalia has always had a problem getting right, but that's why she does insurance full time and not nails, and Inez never minded the messed-up thumbs because Natalia only charged her half-price since they were family). The recovered fingernails vary in size, as do the teeth marks that facilitated their removal, leading one to believe that this is a collection formed over many years, the pile sloshing around inside her since she was, perhaps, nine. The youngest sample appears to be approximately twenty two years old, which confirms that fact that Natalia has been giving Inez pink-and-white acrylics since Inez was at least thirty-one.
The top half of a fetal pig, swallowed whole, ingested in 1971. Formaldehyde rinsed off prior to ingestion. Inez split and then consumed the pig as a result of her mother's disgust when she brought it home after her ninth grade biology course's lab. Inez saw it as she carried her freshly dissected pig over to the garbage can. The unused sample was a runt, and it floated in a soft, lazy circle around the mouth of the oversized glass jar, curling into itself like the shells she'd collected in Cuba before leaving for good. She plunged her hand into the formaldehyde and rescued the abandoned piglet, tucking him under her shirt so that the cold liquid soaked into the waistline of her pants. Once back at her desk, she slipped what she'd started thinking of as the baby into the brown bag that she reused each day to carry her lunch. Inez had named the pig, which was female, Lisa-Margarita, which was the name she would have given herself in ninth grade. Inez very much wanted a pet, which her parents--who did not speak English and could not, in their early years here, find steady jobs--told her, almost daily, they could never, ever afford. She saw the pig as a compromise; dead, but free. Still, her parents did not let her keep it, at least, not the way she'd wanted to, which is to say, somewhere outside of her stomach.
Also, several lipstick tubes housing orange-brown shades she'd worn during the late 80s. Many buttons, mostly Ernesto's and Lisa's. There was a business card with an appointment time scribbled on it--8:55 in the morning--for a follow-up exam after her most recent pap smear came back abnormal. She hadn't kept the appointment, or gotten around to rescheduling it. The date scribbled on it was for three years ago. A nurse noted the number of ant bodies, flower petals, wads of gum, and watermelon seeds, all counts falling into acceptable and healthy ranges. Also found: Inez's ID badges, from the few years she'd worked as a nurse's aid in a private clinic, still on the chains from which they used to dangle. These were tangled with the plastic necklaces--each bead the shape of a tropical fruit--she'd stolen from her best friend's house before leaving Cuba, though, after all this time, only the bananas and pineapples were identifiable.
While in the stomach, all objects were found to be suspended in half a gallon of café con leche--still frothy--with the requisite amount of sugar to satisfy a Cuban (approx. three-fourths of a cup, dissolved). Based on a post-sterilization taste test, the coffee was determined to be from the Latin American Grill--the one between Hialeah and the better neighborhood of Miami Lakes. The location allows the management to charge a quarter more for the same stuff. Blood work showed the same coffee/sugar mixture to constitute nineteen percent of blood volume, a level somewhat lower than exhibited in most Cubans, and even Cuban-Americans.
Additional comments as dictated by attending physician:
Patient reluctant to disgorge voluntarily, and initial attempts to induce vomiting (ipecac syrup - 30 ml) failed--patient's system seemed particularly stubborn, a common feature often noted in Cuban patients over fifty-five, especially among Cuban women. Most items in stomach resistant to digestion, also typical. Consulted with patient's regular physician via phone (also Cuban--suggested prescribing an antacid), who stated that patient's condition was preexisting, and that she had lived with it, mostly without complications, for quite some time. After consulting literature regarding this condition, and finding no record of it, the decision was made (see patient chart for waivers) to pump the stomach, despite it having nothing to do with the patient's initial complaint (chest pains, which disappeared once the patient's daughter arrived). Ramos family as a whole had trouble keeping their voices down--nurses received several complaints from nearby patients--though nothing could be done to remedy this, as the inability to regulate volume is a common cultural deformity (though it does not qualify Cubans for disability, not yet). Nurse to follow up regarding insurance.
Summary of post-operative procedures:
The café con leche was disposed of, seeing as Inez need only to walk a block in any direction to refill herself, and all other items were returned to her in a plastic tub.
During routine discharge interview, Inez remained seated on the bed while Lisa stood before her, her mouth open. Inez pushed the contents of the tub toward her daughter, and Lisa ate, despite the pamphlets that were provided urging them to reconsider. Lisa's stomach bulged--though the tub was still full--but as they loaded her with the things just pumped out of Inez, she kept her mouth open, even as spit dribbled down her chin. Lisa burped to make more room, asking between bites, Why haven't you broken any of it down? Why couldn't you do that--like a bird, feeding her babies, making an easy soup? No--Inez passed everything on whole, the way she'd had to swallow it herself. She tipped the tub over Lisa's head. A waterfall of coins poured into her daughter's mouth, splashing her cheeks and chin.
Inez cradled the fetal pig in her hands, stroking the rubber of its back with her thumbs. She pressed the ill-formed snout to her daughter's mouth. They both closed their eyes to better hear the swish of Lisa's insides as they shifted out of the way, the sound of Inez's stomach finally filling with sterile air.
About the author:
Jennine Capó Crucet is originally from Miami but currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their adopted pit bull. Her debut story collection, How to Leave Hialeah, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award and is forthcoming in fall 2009 from University of Iowa Press. She is the recipient of a Bread Loaf Scholarship and was a finalist for the UC Irvine Chicano/Latino Literary Prize. Her writing has appeared in Ploughshares, the Northwest Review, and other magazines. Visit her online at: www.jcapocrucet.com.