“My, you have a lot of stuff with you. Is there someone in the waiting room you can leave that with?”
With whom you can leave that. “No, I drove myself.”
“Well, you’re going to want to go put that stuff in your car.”
Tell me again what I am going to want to do? “No, that’s all right; I’ll just carry it with me.”
“But there’s no place for you to put it.”
Don’t roll your eyes, tarah. “That’s why I will carry it WITH me.”
It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was going to annoy the hospital staff as much as they were going to annoy me…and I had had a head start.
Who is texting me at 5:00 in the bloody morning? I see Tyler’s name pop up across my Samsung Galaxy.
“What time are you leaving? I have something I want to drop off.”
Part of me – the fiercely-independent-bordering-on-isolationist part – wanted to ignore his text. It was just after 5:00. The sun was still down. I was on my way to get my breasts sliced off of my body, and I was a little busy trying to physically and mentally prepare myself. I was also trying harder than usual not to trip over or drop something so that I could sneak out of the house without having to talk to anyone. If I were quiet enough, Renee might not wake up; if I got ready quickly enough to leave early, Jenna wouldn’t be home from work yet. The words “nipple sparing bilateral mastectomy” kept playing over and over again in my mind, and that phrase took up so much room that I didn’t have the mind space for friends’ departing words.
… but it was Tyler, the Tyler who broke my strict coworker barriers with his reference to Judith Butler one day in the teacher workroom; the Tyler who encouraged me to buy a house through the Good Neighbor Next Door program; the Tyler who let me stay at his place for three months, while I closed the deal on my first home; the Tyler who carpooled with me to work for almost a year; the Tyler who loaned me his tools and his fix-it skills time and time again, as I learned what it meant to be a homeowner; the Tyler who helped me up my game in racquetball (even when I sulked profusely about how hard he would hit the ball); the Tyler who almost died from a brain infection and didn’t put up a fight when I insisted on sleeping in his hospital room for almost a week straight during his recovery time. I put myself in check and replied to the text.
“Leaving in 45 minutes … still getting ready.”
Forty minutes later, I found myself engulfed in a mini Bon Voyage party. Renee, Tyler, and Jenna were all there, all taking turns giving me hugs, words of encouragement, and gifts to take with me: a canvas shopping bag
filled with chocolates and snacks, wireless headphones, and a blue pillow to match the
two designer hospital gowns that I had
purchased online two weeks prior. If the sun had been out by then … if any of them had looked a little closer at my face … they would have seen the frustration building, slowly building … but they weren’t looking hard enough. They were struggling through this moment just as much as I was. In my heart I knew that they were giving me something they thought I needed before I headed out alone to an undisclosed hospital, where I would spend the next two days recovering from an amputation and processing the official diagnosis that I already knew in my gut but could not get confirmed without a final pathology report.
“All right, ma’am, the first thing we’re going to need you to do is provide a urine sample.”
“It’s standard procedure, ma’am.”
“But what’s it for?”
“We need to check to make sure you’re not pregnant.”
“Oh, I’m not pregnant.”
“We still need a urine sample, ma’am.”
(Now, most people would just shut the f*ck up and pee in the cup. Most people would not think this is a big deal. I, however, am not “most people.” It’s heterosexist for hospitals to assume that all womyn are (1) straight and (2) having sex with men, and I don’t see why this is acceptable in 2015. For those of you who still don’t think this is a problem, consider the financial aspect: Someone has to pay for that urinalysis. Maybe it’s your insurance company, who will find a way to pass expenses off to its members in other ways. Maybe it’s you, if/when your insurance company decides not to pay for it [which happened to me once, during a routine wellness exam. I was a lesbian then too, but ended up being ordered to pee in a cup anyway, and then later I was billed $110+ because my insurance company wouldn’t cover two STD screenings in the same year.]. Maybe it’s the hospital itself, when they bill the insurance company AND you, but neither one pays. “Standard procedure” isn’t automatically a procedure that is both diversity-sensitive and economically sound, and I had a point to make.)
“I’m a lesbian. I can guarantee you 100% that I am not pregnant. I don’t need to have a pregnancy test done because I don’t have sex with men.”
“You can still be pregnant, even if you are a lesbian. I knew this one lady who …”
Oh, here we go. Gotta love the straight folk who think their one queer acquaintance makes them an authority on the topic….
“… was a lesbian, and she used artificial insemination so that she and her partner could have a baby.”
“Okay, well, I don’t have a partner, I’m not trying to have a baby, and I’m pretty sure I would know if I was being artificially inseminated, which I’m not. I’ve been forced in the past to pay for urinalysis tests, so unless the hospital wants to sign some sort of document guaranteeing that I’m not going to have to pay for this heterosexist test later, I’m not giving you a urine sample.”
She sighs. “I don’t have time for this. Put the hospital gown on, and a nurse will be with you shortly.”
When the nurse arrived, I was still in my street clothes.
“Why didn’t you put the gown on?”
“I brought my own. It’s in one of the bags that the other lady took from me.”
“You need to wear the one we provided.”
I’m sure you can imagine where this conversation might be going. Luckily, Laronda was a no-nonsense kind of nurse who had a better answer than “It’s standard procedure.”
“Look, when you’re in surgery, your body temperature drops – a LOT. This hospital gown has built-in warming compartments. They can connect it to your bed and adjust the warming compartments to make sure that you don’t get too cold. If you get too cold, it can cause complications during surgery.”
Finally, a logical explanation. “Okay, I’ll wear that hospital gown for the surgery. Before I head to recovery, could you make sure they change me into the hospital gown I brought with me? I’ll feel better if I am in my own clothes and not one of those extra-large burlap sack gowns they make everyone wear.”
“Sure, we can do that.”
I was late to my own surgery, by the way. At one point, I went and spoke with one of the staff and tried to warn them that I would be late. They told me to go sit down and wait for my name to be called. I ignored that directive and reminded them that my surgery was scheduled for 9:45, and I was supposed to get a sentinel node injection done beforehand. That lady gave me the same look I had already seen two other times this morning: the look of an authority figure who doesn’t appreciate being questioned by someone “beneath” her/him. It turned out that they had my OLD surgery time (10:15) still written down on their paperwork, so at 9:35 when they finally figured it out, they had to start scrambling to get everything in order. And at 9:37, when I *still* wouldn’t give a urine sample, a waiver form magically appeared, excusing the hospital from any liabilities in the event that I did end up being pregnant.
Now, if they HAVE such a form, why can’t that be an option for their “standard procedures?”
My first moment waking up from anesthesia was fuzzy, but I do know that it was right at the time staff was changing me from their hospital gown to mine. I vaguely recall one of them asking something along the lines of, “Why are we doing this?” I didn’t hear the answer, but I did hear someone chuckle in response, followed by someone else saying, “It’s pretty, though” (the gown, not me – I was a hot mess coming out of surgery). The chuckle stayed with me all during my 2-day stay at Virginia G. Piper Cancer Surgery Center. It was the icing on my lesson cake: Good patients are compliant patients … and I certainly didn’t win the “good patient” award on this day of November 17, 2015.