Saturday, August 31, 2013

compliance

Huntington Hospital looked like a hotel, a huge peach building spanning a block, with a turnaround island and two towers connected by a footbridge over the entrance. I don’t remember if there was a fountain, but it definitely seemed like there was a fountain.

An easel held a sign outlining maternity ward visiting hours. A big promotional poster showed a new dad cuddling a dark-haired baby.

Someday, I thought, maybe, maybe we would be here—or at another hospital—to visit our baby and his/her birthmother. But on Thursday, the day of my ovary-nixing surgery, it was just cruel.

I sat quietly with AK in the pre-op room. A blonde, middle-aged nurse named Becky asked me to pee in a cup: the standard-issue pregnancy test they give to every woman of child-bearing age prior to any surgery.

It was time for my big performance.

“Is there something I can sign instead?” I asked.

“I think so, but I’ll have to ask your doctors. They might refuse to do the surgery.”

“I mean, I’ll take the test if I have to, but I’d rather sign something saying I swear I am not pregnant.”

AK piped up. I sort of wanted to give my schpiel—to yell at someone the way I had yelled at the woman who’d mixed up my consent forms (“You have to acknowledge you’re going to be sterilized, see...”) the day before—but it was also really lovely to see AK so supportive of my piece of symbolic performance art.

“Just to clarify,” AK said to Becky, “would they say she has to take a pregnancy test or else they’ll cancel the surgery? Or would they just cancel it without even giving her the chance to do it after all?”

“I’m just saying I’ve seen it happen,” Becky said. She had a vaguely Brooklyn-ish accent, or maybe it was Midwestern; it was the type of voice that had both apology and toughness built into it.

“So they might be divas?” AK said, incredulous. “They might just be like, That’s it! I’m out of here!

AK imagined these hypothetical diva surgeons having a Moon Moon-esque attitude.
“Here’s the thing,” I said, as calmly as possible. “I haven’t had my period since February, from the chemo. My partner is a woman. And I’m here to have a procedure that ensures I will never, ever, ever get pregnant. It just seems kind of cruel to take a pregnancy test. And I’ll do it if I have to, but just as, like, a symbolic thing, I’d rather not.”

Becky tried to explain lawsuit culture: “It’s just that, if they did the D&C, and they found something—”

“They would be finding a miracle Jesus baby,” I said. Becky seemed to like that phrase.

It's equally likely that there's a piece of toast in my uterus.
The anesthesiologist, a good-looking gray-haired guy named Dr. Yarian, came in and explained lawsuit culture to me. He was cheerful, with what AK described as a cocky-pilot attitude.

And I could hear it from him, sort of. At least he wasn’t the one who would actually be taking my ovaries. So I peed in the fucking cup. (And surprise! They did not discover a miracle Jesus baby.)

Dr. Yessaian, the gynecological oncologist, came in, also cheery and animated. Did surgeons love surgery day? Was this a thing they did for the patients’ benefit? She had big dark eyes and stylish drapey clothes, a chunky silver pendant around her neck.

She, apparently, had also been assigned to explain lawsuit culture to me.

“So much paperwork,” she said, flipping through my binder. “For a fifteen-minute procedure, there is an hour of paperwork. You know, other countries don’t have consent like we do. Where I used to practice, twenty years ago, you just trusted that the doctor would do what they thought was best.”

“Where did you practice?” I had a hunch, since I’d looked her up online.

“Baghdad,” she said. “And granted, it was a very retarded system.”

When I saw she’d graduated from the University of Baghdad, I was initially concerned that maybe she was one of those doctors who couldn’t get into an American medical school. But I think those doctors go to universities on tropical islands, not the University of Baghdad. She’d gone to the latter because she lived there. What must she have seen, being an Armenian female physician in Iraq twenty years ago?

“The only consent they had,” she said, “was for hysterectomy and tubal ligation. But then it wasn’t even the woman who had to give consent—it was her husband.”

So yes, it could be worse. A lot worse. I could be a woman in Iraq being sterilized for whatever reason my husband saw fit.

And yet.

When we were alone again, I told AK that the forms my oncologist had to fill out for our adoption agency had included a lot of language about “compliance.” Was the patient compliant with her treatment? You heard a lot of this around AIDS too. The idea that your terrible disease would be manageable if you adopted a submissive stance.

“There’s, like, a specific meaning to medical compliance,” I said, “and I’m compliant. But I don’t want to be psychologically compliant. I just wanted to stage a little protest.”

Fred is not compliant. But I would totally go see his play.
We also saw Dr. Lehfeldt, my plastic surgeon, during this time, in his fitted greige suit and butter-yellow tie. He gave us hugs and drew some tribal-looking sketch marks on me with his purple Sharpie. I remembered that I was here for a fun reason too.

So here I am, feeling decent on the other side of menopause. So far, it hasn’t made me crazy or mannish or prematurely old, as far as I can tell. I constantly have my ear tuned for the sound of the other shoe dropping—in my mind, there are dozens and dozens of shoes, enough to fill my DSW online shopping cart—but my preemptive catastrophizing is often book-ended by after-the-fact downplaying. It seems more shameful to bellyache about my ovary-free belly now that it can’t be changed. I will do my best to blend in with the general population of thirty-six-year-olds. I’m just a girl who’s no more unpregnant than I was a year ago, who now has, if I do say so myself, really nice boobs.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

5 comments:

Claire said...

Thanks for the update, C. I was sending good thoughts your way Thursday and have been thinking of you.

I'm all for a hospital that looks like a good hotel. The one here is rather institutional.

Congratulations on the really nice boobs!

Cheryl said...

Aw, thanks! Huntington is seriously nice. CalArts, where I went to grad school, looks like an insane asylum, so go figure.

Peter Varvel said...

Again, thank you for sharing your story so openly and willingly.
I would be tempted to feel guilty about how interesting it is, otherwise.

I'm happy that there was a fun part in all of this, rather than a new pair simply being a perfunctory procedure.

val said...

You're amazing. You're like the best mentor ever and we haven't even started yet. :)

Cheryl said...

PV: I openly gawk at other people's life stories, so it only seems fair to provide a little fuel for other rubber-neckers now and then. :-)

V: You're so sweet to say that. If you're interested in refining the art of over-sharing, I'm the mentor for you.