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.