Saturday, August 16, 2014

historical reconstructions

1. is gratitude porn a genre?

The other day while driving home, listening to Fresh Air, I decided that The Knick was my new favorite show. Dave Davies was interviewing the creators and a medical historian who’d served as a consultant on the show. I can’t imagine that there are a lot of job openings in the field of medical historian, but I kind of want to be one. If my other career as the person who names nail polish colors doesn’t work out.

Medical theater.
Apparently the show is set in one of my favorite eras (New York at the turn of the last century, a.k.a. Newsies times) and centers on one of my favorite topics (the weird, dark, earnest trial and error that needed to happen so that I could live to get fake nipples—more on that in a minute).

The creators pointed out that the surgeons of the time were seen as gods because they were the main reason people were starting to live past their mid-forties. As gods, they were allowed to poke and prod patients in front of a theater full of colleagues. The patients just sat their naked, vulnerable and grateful.

A lot of them probably ended up dying anyway.

To say that I am grateful to be living in the time/place/social class that I do—even though I suspect that in another hundred years, we’ll be re-growing lost limbs/boobs from stem cells and not messing around with anything so unrefined as surgery—is an understatement. I can’t even fully wrap my head around it.

A long time ago I saw a cartoon of a man walking down the street; behind him, a piano had just crashed into the sidewalk. The caption said Thursday the 12th.

I feel like I lived through Thursday the 12th, and sometimes I just glance back at the piano and say, Huh, so that happened. Weird. Other times I feel the sidewalk shake, the breeze whisk past my ears. And I worry that Friday the 13th is just around the corner.

Yes, I'm chicken.
This morning I read Emily Nussbaum’s review of The Knick in The New Yorker, and I discovered it wasn’t my favorite show after all. She’s my favorite reviewer, and I knew that all the things that bugged her—clunky characterization and Dr. Quinn smugness—would bug me too. Which is not to say I wouldn’t totally watch it if I had Cinemax. But for now I’ll stick with my favorite medical-history comedy podcast, Sawbones. If you listen to just one medical-history comedy podcast this year….

2. nip/tuck/zap

Yesterday I had my final (knockonwood) reconstructive surgery. Now, somewhere beneath the gauze pasties taped to my chest, I have nipples—or “nipples”—made from the skin of my inner thighs. Sexy, huh? At first my plastic surgeon, Dr. L, had said he didn’t do nipples on radiated skin, since he’d had a couple of cases go terribly wrong. (For the record, he was able to fix them up nicely.)

I was annoyed that I only found this out after nixing my real ones, but by that point, I knew how to mourn body parts quickly and I took it in stride.

At my spring visit, Dr. L started talking about nipples just as casually as before; it seemed that he’d gotten past his own PTSD about the procedure and decided to make nipple decisions on a case-by-case basis. He thought I was relatively low-risk for healing problems, so I decided to go for it.

He greeted me and AK yesterday with big hugs, and he won my dad’s heart when he commented on his Route 66 sweatshirt: “Aren’t we on Route 66 right now? Part of it ran right down Duarte Road, didn’t it?”

My dad, who can be surprisingly tactful for someone who is probably On The Spectrum, refrained from launching into a story about his most recent cross-country Route 66 trek. Or maybe he was just busy with his more obsessive obsession, i.e., my health.

Later, as Dr. L sketched on my body with purple sharpie, he pointed to one of the black dots my radiologist had tattooed on me (again, with an attitude of: Oh, nothing, just putting a permanent mark on your body; patient objectification has survived into the 21st century).

“We can remove this, you know,” Dr. L said. “We have a [insert name of fancy laser tattoo removal machine here].”

“Oh yeah? That’s good to know. I actually work at place that has a tattoo removal machine, because we work with former gang members. Sometimes I think about going downstairs and getting myself zapped.” I didn’t add that the dots have kind of grown on me, as battle scars. Maybe that’s why some of the homies are reluctant to remove theirs as well.

We all have our battle scars.
“Like a Homeboy kind of deal?” Dr. L said.

I always get a little surge of pride when people know Homeboy, same as I did among the smaller group that knew P&W. I’ve never been very materialistic, but I’m a total nonprofit brand-prestige whore. It’s what I have instead of a 401k.

When I told Dr. L I worked there, he asked if I knew his friend Joe, a fellow plastic surgeon who was one of the volunteer tattoo removal docs. Just as Homeboy dispels myths about gang members, I hope it dispels a few myths about plastic surgeons too. They’re not just Nip/Tuck types getting rich off Beverly Hills housewives’ insecurities. Dr. L’s specialty is reconstructive breast surgery, and his friend Joe donates his time to making homies hire-able.

I walked out of there a few hours later with bloody boob bandages and purple bruises like butterflies on my hips, from where he’d suctioned fat to round out my wonky, radiated right boob. I was excited to spend the rest of my day off sleeping, binge-watching Mad Men with AK and eating sushi. There’s nothing like free lipo and really nice fake boobs to make you want to take better care of your body. It’s dumb that I feel a need to make myself “worthy” of Dr. L’s good work, but there you go. For now, taking care of my body means doing nothing much at all, and I seem to be pretty good at that.

1 comment:

Claire said...

"It’s dumb that I feel a need to make myself “worthy” of Dr. L’s good work, but there you go."

Hey, that's all right. As a side product, you're making his work worthy of you.