The Doctor Said

It’s just a routine urinary tract infection, but my family doctor is all booked up so I go to the Emergency Room to get a prescription. I wait. I wait longer. Eventually I am brought in to see the nurse. I give her my medical history in her own abbreviated language - MVA, SCI, 1995. Currently - a UTI. Short and to the point. She does not notice. She asks about the car accident. How old was I? Who was driving? How did it happen? Did anybody die? My responses are short and to the point. Still, she does not notice. The asinine interrogation goes on until the nurse arrives at her ultimate conclusion - I am an inspiration; just so positive, especially considering my condition. Much later, as tests are being administered, she asks if I would like for her to catheterize me. I decline.

 

My feet ache in a way that I can not describe. To try - it feels as though each joint has been soldered together by a penguin. Which is to say, poorly. I am told that the waiting time to see an orthopaedic specialist in my home province is roughly a decade long. Somehow, I only wait for a year before he agrees to see me. I go alone and sit in a hospital room on the crinkly paper that never seems to fit the bed in just the way I’d like. The specialist’s apprentice comes in first. I give him my medical history in his own abbreviated language - MVA in 1995, SCI, compression fracture at T4/5/6/11/12 vertebrae. He doesn’t say much, just instructs me to wait for the specialist as though I hadn’t been already. I wait. Continue my attempts at rearranging the paper sheet. Pilfer some latex gloves for later. In time, the specialist comes in. He does not look at me directly but he does grab my feet and pull them up to his nose. For five minutes he touches my body without asking, warping my feet into previously unvisited positions.  I warily watch his formidable nose hairs, fearing they will graze my toes. He mutters diagnoses to the other man - collapsed arches, Morton’s neuroma, metatarsalgia. When he’s through discussing me as though I’m not there, he looks me in the face and tells me -  “I can’t cure you.” I remind him that I did not ask to be cured.

 

My life is being examined for legal purposes. I have to allow a medical professional to come into my home and assess me, so that my body and it’s capacities can be judged and graded, so that my insurance company will cover some of my medical expenses. For an afternoon I let an occupational therapist follow me around while I do house chores. I answer her questions about how I get dressed, how I bathe, how I make my bed. I explain that I live with my partner who helps with the housework. “ She vacuums the floors, she shovels the driveway, she takes out the garbage.” In the final report the OT writes that I live with a roommate who generously provides attendant care services. I wish I could say that I responded with an email explaining exactly what fucking looks like.

 

I am getting Botox injected into my bladder. The intent is that it will help me to contain more urine by freezing my sphincters, stopping them from spasming. My muscles have never liked stillness, preferring erratic movement. As the urologist, and nurses, and anesthesiologists, and med students crowd around my splayed knees, trying to insert their paraphernalia into my urethra, my leg muscles begin their own predictable contractions. My lower limbs flail wildly, making the doctor’s work more difficult. I try and control my out-of-control body, but before I realize what has happened a general anesthesia has been administered and I’m slipping under, my legs slipping into stillness. I am unconscious while they work on my body.  Thinking about it later, I wish that I would have hidden a single grain of rice inside my urethra for them to find, while I was knocked out there, half-naked and helpless on their bed. You know the kind of rice I mean, those grains that come in tiny bottles with names carved into them. “Janice”, “Matthew”, “Teresa”. Mine would read “Trespassers Beware”.

 

Monitors bleat out like sheep as I come too. The world is blurry, unclean lines. The drugs have decimated all my tempered graces, and I am laughing, and crying, and asking the attending nurse too many questions. Words that I would normally swallow slip out from between my now uncensored lips and I ask “Why was I given less anesthesia when I had an abortion then when I got this Botox injection? Do you think about mortality more often because of your line of work? Why can’t I bring my partner into the OR with me, but the doctor can bring all of his med students? Consider that it is my cunt.” My questions jump from political to personal and my language slips into honest obscenity, the way that I like it. The nurse chastises me for having so much to say but doesn’t give me any answers. The doctor walks in and congratulates me. The procedure went smoothly. He offers little more explanation and leaves quickly before I get a chance to respond. As he walks away I think about all of his layered clothing - underwear, pants, shirts, sweaters, socks, that long white coat. In my mint green hospital gown, my ass is cold.

 

In my wildest dreams I go to a doctor’s appointment and do not have to repeat the same abbreviated explanations for my body. The first question I would be asked is “How are you feeling?” and the second “What can I do for you?” I would enter a clinic and be understood as whole and complete rather than a puzzle to solve or to pity. In the hospital room my body would be recognized as the humbling force that it is rather than reduced to someone else’s degraded inspiration. Power would be redistributed, my own personal expertise would be valued.

 

But in the meantime, send me your bottled grains of rice. 

disability justice

A Love Letter To My Cane

As I walk home alone from the public parking lot late at night, I grip you tightly. I lean into you as I transcend snow mountains, scramble over hardened ice patches encrusted with garbage and dog piss. I feel steadied. A big man walks up quickly behind me. I hear his boots pounding the snow and feel nervous, a small woman walking home alone at night. He brushes by me and I grip you even tighter. Envision wielding you like a baseball bat. I am grateful for your heavy walnut wood. 

In the eighth grade you weren’t heavy walnut. You were a slim, light aspen painted pink with glitters. My mom spent hours making you beautiful so that I would feel more beautiful. When I got my first boyfriend I suspected that you, in all your shining glory, were part of the appeal. But then his older brother teased him for having a crippled girlfriend and I hid you in my closet where you stayed for fifteen years. You waited so patiently.

I just had my hair cut off two weeks ago. I haven’t had short hair in years, and never this short. I like running my fingers through it and having it stand upright. I like putting on tight jeans and a blazer and feeling dapper. I like the way my short hairs brush against the neck of my long coat, and I like the way that you brush up against the hem of it, swishing against the fabric as we saunter down Barrington St. together.  You tie it all together.

Last year I was walking into a grocery store with my partner. It was about 5:00 PM, maybe 6:00. A truck load of guys drove by and yelled out their window at me, chastising me for drinking so much so early in the day. I wonder if this would have happened if you would have been there? I love you because you give me definition. When people see you they see a different, more palatable, version of me. Disabled, not drunk. And while divisions like that don't always work, it can still sometimes make life smoother.

I like that the curved head of you is coated in baby blue silicone. It matches my eyes and my iphone case. To the discerning viewer, your look a little like a butt plug. Smooth and seamless. And while I personally don’t know that I want to move our relationship in that direction, I like the idea of you as a sex object.

I used to be so reluctant to be with you that I would hold other people’s hands rather than your handle. I would grip friend’s arms as we moved through crowded dance parties, squeeze other people’s fingers as I tried to climb grassy hills. It’s nice now, to have some autonomy. To have forgotten those worries that having a cane would mean that I wouldn’t be loved, that I wouldn’t be seen, that I wouldn’t be valued. It’s  breathing in a deeper way. It’s holding my shoulders less tightly. It’s letting go of the fear of falling.

 

reproductive justice

So You're Having An Abortion in Halifax, Nova Scotia

In 2011, I had an abortion. In 2013, I wrote a blog post detailing what to expect if you yourself are planning on having an abortion. I think that post is probably the most useful thing I have ever written, and so I think it serves to repost it here. (The original version can be found at thefuckingfacts.com.)

 

On October 5, 2011 I had an abortion in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
I had an abortion and it was a surreal, confusing, and alienating experience. The lack of information and resources was mind-boggling. The silence and sense of shame I felt was isolating.
You should know that when I had my abortion, I already had an exceptional amount of experience as a patient under my belt. As a person with a disability I had been navigating the medical system for 16 years at this point. I knew how to access the healthcare I needed – knew how to talk to doctors and how to assert myself. And when I had my abortion, I had been working as a sex educator for 3 years. I knew all about the resources available to me. And when I chose to have my abortion I made my decision without any uncertainty or regret. I was entirely confident in my decision. For an array of reasons (I am an urban-based, formally educated, middle class, white cis-woman) I am in a position of privilege. And still, with all of these tools on my side, I came through that experience feeling totally bewildered and unsupported. To this day it remains one of the hardest things I have ever done, not because I didn’t want to do it but because it felt like the rest of the world didn’t want me to do it. It was fucked up. It was a wake up call about how hugely important the pro-choice movement is, and how remarkably powerful the anti-choice movement remains.

The abortion debate has been raging forever. Today we’re seeing anti-choice ads all over the Halifax Metro Transit buses and bus shelters. (If you find them as hurtful as I do, you can donate money here to a pro-choice group soliciting funds to put up counter ads). I do not want to humour that debate here. The following essay WILL NOT question a person’s right to choose. If you have stumbled upon this post and you do not (and are unwilling to) believe in the right to choose, then stop reading now. But, if instead you are reading this because you are interested in sex and everything related to sex (pregnancy and abortions being two such things); if you are a feminist; if you have found yourself pregnant by mistake; if you have had or may in the future have an abortion; or any myriad of reasons that have made you an empathetic person, then please continue. The following aims to be a helpful guide to having an abortion in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I will tell you all about what to expect: the appointments, the procedure, the stuff you may hear and the things you may feel. Or at least my experience of it all.
When I went through my abortion a veritable coven of powerful women showed up on my doorstep. They had each had abortions of their own before me, and they gave me invaluable pieces of wisdom and advice. I would love to be able to pass some of those golden nuggets on. If you are seeking out an abortion and are feeling afraid & confused, then I hope this information can provide some reassurance and guidance. Trust me in this – you are not alone.

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The Test:

Acquiring the test and having the courage to even seek it out is one of the most difficult parts, or at least it was for me. It requires a certain level of acceptance. But once you got it, it is all yours and it can be almost relieving to feel so proactive. I got my pregnancy test at a Shoppers Drug Mart. It cost me $29.95. If this doesn't fit your budget, pregnancy tests are also available for free through   South House, here in Halifax. If You don't happen to live in this city check out sexual health centres and feminist/women's advocacy groups in your area to see if they offer this service. Once you have it, you can take it home and pee on it. Peeing on the stick is fairly easy and the box provides helpful instructions. (Though to be honest, I did accidentally piss on my hand.) Wait two minutes and you will have an answer, YES or NO, in all caps. Typically, the kit comes with two testing sticks, so you can double check. The test does not give false positives. If you get a yes, it is a yes. However, it may provide a false negative, so keep that in mind.

The Appointments:

Typically, there are two appointments that you have before you have your abortion. The first is for an abortion referral. The second is for a blood test and ultrasound.

The First Appointment

Once I knew for sure that I was pregnant, I immediately called the Halifax Sexual Health Centre (HSHC) for my referral. I called them rather than my family doc because I had been there before and I hoped they would be able to get me in to see a doctor faster. Plus, I liked the anonymity of the HSHC. I didn’t really want my family doctor to know. But you can also get a referral through your family doctor if that is what you prefer.

If you go with the HSHC, when you call to book an appointment, ask for a “T.A”, which stands for Therapeutic Abortion. The receptionist will ask when your last period was. As is explained on the HSHC website, if your period was less than 3 months ago you will be booked in for an appointment in probably about a weeks time. But, if your period is more than 3 months late the receptionist will most likely put you directly through to the nurse. In Nova Scotia abortions cannot be performed after 15 weeks and 5 days of pregnancy. So, if you are over 3 months late they will try and help you move through the process more quickly.

When you arrive for your appointment, you are first brought into a room with a nurse to talk about your decision. The nurse will ask you some questions about yourself, mostly things like: when was your last period, when did you take the test, and are you making this decision with or without a partner. It is mostly logistical questions. The nurse then explains your options (T.A, continuing the pregnancy, adoption). They will detail what exactly having an abortion involves, and give you some pamphlets with information about the procedure.

Next you are brought into a second room. This room is an examining room and you have to get up on a bed and take off your pants and underwear. A doctor comes in and examines you. In my experience, the doctor put her gloved fingers inside my vagina and told me I was about three weeks pregnant. I remember finding this really disconcerting. If she could put her fingers inside me and know that, would everyone be able to somehow tell? It made me feel weirdly visible.
After this, you are almost done your first appointment. You go to the receptionist and they book you in for your second appointment to get blood work and an ultrasound done. This happens at the hospital, not at the HSHC. At this time they also book you in for your abortion, which also happens at the hospital.

My experience at the Halifax Sexual Health Centre was a positive one. No one ever tried to convince me not to go through with my procedure, nor did I ever feel like judgement was being passed on me unfairly. I did have to argue against getting an IUD, something which was strongly encouraged by the nurse, but this was easy enough for me. I am adding this caveat not to imply that the HSHC is not always a positive space, but simply to point out the truth that this situation is rarely an easy one. No matter how helpful and fair the medical providers may be, you may have to rely on your own strength and will at times.

The Second Appointment

The second appointment for the blood work and ultrasound happens at the hospital. I had to wait about 2 weeks in between my first appointment and this second appointment.

The point of getting the blood work and ultra sound done is to tell exactly how far along you are, and to make sure there aren’t any complications (for instance, is the pregnancy in utero or ectopic).  When you go to the hospital it will say on your chart that you are terminating the pregnancy. This ensures that no one congratulates you or tries to show you the ultrasound, if seeing it makes you uncomfortable.

In my experience these procedures were quick and painless. I brought two friends with me and they were able to stay with me almost the whole time, except when the ultrasound was being performed. For the ultrasound you are brought into a quiet, dark room. You lie one a table and a nurse rubs the ultrasound machine all over your belly. It is cool and wet and I found it kind of soothing. For this you need to pull your pants down a bit, but you don’t have to remove any clothing. When you get blood work done they just take blood out of your arm. You don’t have to lie down, or go in a separate room or anything at all. All you have to do is roll up your sleeve.

The Way Your Body May Feel :

In Nova Scotia there is legislation in place (which I still can’t understand) that states that a person must be at least 8 weeks pregnant before an abortion can be performed. This is to ensure that the abortion procedure “takes”, though I know that other provinces do not enforce this seemingly arbitrary waiting period. In my experience, this is the hardest part of getting an abortion. To be forced to be pregnant for two months felt like a total bullshit punishment from the state. I am sure that this waiting period is also a symptom of Nova Scotia only having four hospitals that will perform abortions. With few resources, many people end up waiting in line as I did. This lack of resources is also bullshit.

I was pregnant for nine weeks in total. Those nine weeks were one seriously intense roller coaster. It’s strange to write about them now because that whole experience all seems very far away and resolved. But at one point I felt totally shamed and out of control and alone. I remember wanting to Google the symptoms of being pregnant to see if everyone felt the way I was feeling, but I was too afraid. I tried to once but the congratulatory nature of all the pregnancy blogs made me sick to my stomach. In fact, everything made me sick to my stomach. Vomiting was something that my body loved doing when I was pregnant. Here is a quick list of some physical symptoms you may be experiencing if you are pregnant & waiting for an abortion:

  • you may be sick to your stomach in the morning, or at other times of day
  • you may feel more tired than usual and require more sleep
  • you may find the smell of cigarettes and alcohol really repulsive, even if you are normally pretty into consuming these things. If you do consume them, you may find yourself feeling really nauseous
  • you may find your sense of smell is heightened (for me this part was actually kind of cool)
  • you may find you want to eat strange foods (I fell in love with mac n’ cheese)
  • you may find your junk smells different/stronger

The Procedure: 

On the day of the procedure, you have to get up really early. You must be at the hospital at 6:30 in the morning (!). They don’t schedule you in a specific time for the procedure, you just show up and wait along with the other people having an abortion that day.

You are first brought into a waiting room where you can wait with your friends/partner/parent/whoever. It’s just a regular waiting room, like any other. You wait there for awhile, maybe 30 – 45 minutes, and then they take you to another waiting room. You must go to this second room alone. You are separated from your people and led through a maze of hallways to another section of the hospital. This is for the protection of those performing abortions. It may feel very scary, but don’t worry, you are just one step closer to it all being over. You wait in a second waiting room for awhile, and then a nurse calls your name. She brings you into a tiny room and asks you questions about how far along you are, if you have a support system, how you are feeling, etc. I remember I really liked this nurse and she made me feel safe. However, I was also really frustrated that I was going over all the same information I had already had to tell so many other people. I wish I knew what the value was of this mini pre-abortion interview, but I still feel confused about it. Anyway, when it’s over and you are done chatting, you return to the waiting room. There you may wait for one hour or a few, depending on how many people are in line before you. Eventually, your name will be called again. You are led into a room and given a dressing gown to change into. When you’re all changed and ready, the nurse will offer you Ativan, opiates, or both. These drugs are to help you stay calm and endure physical pain. I chose Ativan, which was an oral pill that made me really loopy for the whole day. Next, you are led into the room where the procedure takes place. You get up on the bed and put your legs in the stirrups. A nurse comes in and sits with you. This nurse will stay with you throughout the whole procedure. In my experience, the nurse let me hold her hand and squeeze it very, very hard at times. She was very kind. But before this, the doctor comes in and explains to you what is going to happen. They tell you that it won’t take long (between 5 and 10 minutes) and that it may hurt. They put a speculum  inside your vagina and use a needle to inject your cervix with a local anaesthetic. Then they use a series of rods to gently dilate your cervix. Next, a hollow tube (about a millimetre wide) is inserted through your cervix and into your uterus. This tube is connected to a suction machine which will empty your uterus of its contents. Once this is inserted the doctor walks off behind you to operate the machine. You can’t really tell where they are going, or at least I couldn’t. (For me, I was very glad that the nurse stayed and sat with me so I did not feel so alone.) Then the doctor turns the machine on and there is a loud noise and it hurts. It may hurt a lot. It feels a little like menstrual cramps but more extreme. But it does not last too long.

Now, you have had the abortion. The nurse will put you in a wheelchair and lead you into a room to recover. She will give you a pad to put on because you will be bleeding a lot (I brought my own reusable cotton pad and you can too, if you like). You sit down in a big, comfy chair and they bring you snacks – cheese, crackers and cookies. They keep you in there for around 30 minutes to monitor your bleeding and make sure you are ok. Other people are in the room with you, also recovering from their abortion. When I was in that recovery room I cried A LOT. I cried because it was sad and hard and it hurt a lot. It also seemed like a safe place to cry. I am sure they see a lot of tears there. The nurse’s acknowledged and normalized my reaction, and responded by telling me I was brave and bringing me extra cookies. There are also counsellors on hand who you can immediately go and speak with if you need to. I chose not to do this. (I did however contact the HSHC a week later and ask to be referred to a counsellor to talk about my abortion. The person I saw was nice, and it was free, but I only saw them once. I think there is a maximum number of visits you are allowed before it stops being free). When enough time has passed the nurses say you are good to go, and you are reunited with your friends. (I can’t say what would happen if there was more bleeding than usual and the nurses deemed you were not “good to go”. I think this is pretty rare. I assume you would be admitted into the hospital and they would try and sort out whatever complication was occurring.) Depending on the drugs you took, you may feel very loopy and strange all day. You are told not to take a bath, so that bacteria does not get into your body. You are also told not to have sex for three weeks.

After your abortion, you will bleed for awhile. I bled for about seven days, just like I was having a period. So don’t be alarmed by the bleeding. If it feels excessive though, than you should probably make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

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If it was not already obvious, I am not a doctor. I am a woman who had a surgical abortion in Halifax two years ago, and all of the above information is based on my own experience. Nothing I have said is a hard and fast rule nor a universal truth. Having an abortion is not often easy. Those of us who have done it may have each felt vastly different things about it and had vastly different experiences of having it. For example, in other provinces (such as British Columbia and Alberta) medical abortions are an option, which means you can take an oral pill to cause the abortion. Or some people may choose to have a herbal abortion, which is a whole other style of doing things. But while there is no one, single, universal abortion experience, I believe it can always be helpful to have an idea of what to expect.

These resources have more information about having abortions in different parts of Canada:

The Morgentaler Decision
Regina Women’s Health Centre
The Kensington Clinic, Alberta

If you have had an abortion and would like to share your story, check out this website.