Today I sweated through my blush-pink blouse over the course of thirty-five minutes. Six of those minutes were spent in a doctor’s office waiting room where I tried to smile at the nurses every time they walked by. It was a desperate smile, maybe even a grimace. The kind that says: PLEASE LIKE ME, which is code for: please help me. The next twenty-nine minutes I sat on a low plastic table, my lower back throbbing like twisted red coils as the nurse took my hard-to-find-pulse, blood pressure, family history, surgical history, and lists my hospitalizations—too many to fit on the line.
This is the part of the new doctor visit where I start getting morose; to offset my embarrassment at my physical ailments I weave self-deprecating jokes throughout my dismal health montage. The nurse, a kind, dark haired woman struggles to keep the pace as I tick off surgery dates and diagnoses.
“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” she asks.
I am perfect. LY NoRMaL. ReAlly. fOR REal.
“It’s OK, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all this shit either, um yeah it’s—it’s called I D I O P A T H I C D I S M O T I L I T Y.” I worry that I might have implied she is too slow.
I mock my body, its glaring imperfections, its offenses, and its flagrant disregard for my own well-being—my inability to trust it. As if to say, hey, I know, this piece of shit is super annoying. Sorry you have to deal with it—sorry you have to see it—sorry I make awkward jokes, sorry I really just want to crawl into a hole—the stakes are high. If they can’t, or are unwilling to take on my challenges then I’ll be left to carry the burden of symptoms, with no rhyme or reason, and then they might conclude I am “making it up,” “overly sensitive,” or “feel too much.” And they won’t think there is something wrong with me, but that something is wrong with me. Sometimes the nurse’s laugh, other times they glaze over as they type in my diagnostic measurements; little numbers that tell everyone how seriously they should take me.
I am sure to bring up that I work in a dispatch office in a police station, that I will begin a graduate Teaching Assistantship in the fall—all of these things might give me the credibility I am desperate for. Being believable is everything in the doctor’s office, because it will make my painful revelations of ovarian pain and gastric distress worthy of medical attention, worthy of my doctor’s eye contact, worthy of their time and help.
By the time my new doctor comes to see me, the top of my pants are wet with sweat. Gee thanks for bein’ gross, body. Little half-moons of dampness have formed under my breasts. When my doctor lifts my shift to palpitate my areas of pain—I wonder if she notices. I wonder if this when I find out if my new woman doctor will ally with me and my struggles, or shirk off my symptoms with a laugh like so many of their male counterparts have.
I suppress the overwhelming urge to tell her everything. To tell her about my last doctor leaving me without medical care—in his absence, a new doctor brandished his power and authority over me, which led to a lawsuit where my suffering is being put on trial. I want to tell her I was betrayed by those who saw me in one of the most desperate times in my life—I was fighting to stay alive, against the obstacles my body put in front of me, and that I needed a doctor to see me as a sister, a friend, an equal. In the past I would try to break down the barrier between my nurses and doctors because I was dying for a while, and I needed to be able to trust that they cared just as much as I did, about staying alive.
I don’t expect my doctors to have all the answers; in fact, I find it refreshing when they admit they don’t. All I am asking is that they be a partner with me, that we share my goal, of becoming healthier, in less pain, and an overall better human. Instead I have been deemed: “critical, pushy, demanding, and vocal.” All the things you should be, when your quality of life is at stake, but they don’t see it like that. To them, I was, I am, a number. Another body from which to fill the coffers of their bank accounts.
This time I luck out. My doctor is a young woman, I chose her because of her gender and age; maybe one of the few times that will work in her favor in the patriarchal institution she navigates. We don’t end our time together with a hug, or an invite to her son’s 1st birthday party; but she looks me in the eye when I speak, she displays empathy to my struggles, and takes my concerns seriously and is sure to ask me what I think about her plan. She is a human being, and treats me like one too.