I’ve decided to start publishing some of my drafts. I have dozens if not hundreds of posts written in draft that I never quite finished, wanted to tweak, didn’t hit publish. I’m going to start digging some of these out and putting them under the harsh light of day. I originally wrote this in December of 2011.
Three weeks ago, I fell down. I slipped and fell on a perfectly dry floor. The entire weight of my upper body rushed to the floor and slammed on to the heel of my right hand. It hurt. In that instant, the pain was blinding. Had I been alone, I would have immediately unleashed a long torrent of foul language and writhed on the floor til the pain subsided somewhat. But my 2 year old daughter was in the room, and I didn’t want to scare her. She stood in front of me saying, “Mama fall down!” I swallowed my desire to freak out. I sat up and put a grimace on my face, faking that everything was fine as the pain slowly morphed in to a solid, pulsating throb.
The moment I fell, the first thing I did after I landed was wiggle my fingers, because I’d always heard that if it’s “broken”, then you can’t move it. My fingers moved. It wasn’t broken. Right? But it sure felt like something was up. As my wrist swelled and my hand turned an unpleasant shade of grey, I headed to the ER.
Xrays showed no fracture, which was good. But the doctor casted it anyway, because apparently some of the bones in your wrist like to punk you and not actually show up as broken until you’ve gone along your merry way for a few weeks, by which time you’ve screwed it permanently with all that breakdancing. So casted it was. And while it was a pain in the ass, I was relieved he casted it.
Because I’m always afraid I’m making a big deal about nothing.
When I was a kid, I used to fake being sick a lot. Partially because I actually *had* been sick a lot, and in some ways I liked it when I was sick, because I got to lay around and watch TV and sleep instead of go to school and actually interact with people. (Some things never change.) And then even when I wasn’t sick, I knew there were some days I just didn’t feel like getting out of bed and so I’d fake being sick, and it worked a lot of the time. Then my dad busted me and I couldn’t play that one anymore.
As I got older, the “sick” morphed in to “maybe there’s something wrong that will be kind of cool.” It started when I had a strange pain in my knee for a while that actually was something, but then it went away. Yet I pretended to still have something wrong with my knee for a good year, because for some reason I can’t entirely explain right now having something visibly “wrong” was cool. It brought some kind of cachet, some kind of attention. People asked what was wrong and gave sympathy, and I liked that.
I see it now in an entirely different light, of course. Now I’m embarrassed about my junior hypochondria and pretty much want to slap my 14 year old self silly. And I’ve swung the opposite way: I pretty much have to be dying before I’ll go to the doctor for myself for anything. Finally at some point in my mid-30s, getting more and more conscious of my own mortality, I went. Just to get a few things checked, all preventative like. And then something happened that reinforced my wimpy-ass shame.
I went for a colonoscopy. I’ll spare you most of the details except those that are relevant to the story: It hurt. It hurt a whole motherfucking lot. During the procedure they give you valium and some kind of painkiller, and I expected not to feel anything. I felt a lot. And none of it was benign or pleasant. I asked for a second dose of painkillers, the pain was so awful. Even after the extra drugs, it still hurt so much that I apparently asked the doctor to stop mid-procedure. I don’t remember this, because I was so doped up. (Important To Note: doped up with twice the usual amount of drugs, and still feeling pain.) Afterwards, the doctor – she who we will in future refer to as BitchFace – told me that she stopped the procedure “at my request” and dismissed me from her office. I found out later that she wrote in my file that I have a “low pain tolerance”. Which I thought was a terrible and completely unnecessary thing to say in a patient’s file – I mean, seriously, to what end? – but still. It stuck with me.
I was a wimp. A crybaby. Can’t take a little pain. Not tough. Weak. Even the doctor said so.
Then I got pregnant, and oh, was I insufferably gung-ho. I wanted a med-free childbirth. I wanted no interventions. I had lots of noble reasons – not wanting to expose my baby to unnecessary drugs, not wanting to interfere with labour. But the upshot really was? I wanted to get through something painful without being a wimp, for once.
Then I hit labour and I was contracting for days on end and not dilating and I couldn’t take it anymore and ended up getting an induction because I was miserable then that failed and I ended up having a c-section.
And the little voice said it again. I took the meds because I was weak.
If I had been able to take more, I would have made it through. If I had only held out, everything would have been fine. I would have won at giving birth naturally. For once in my life, I wouldn’t have been a wimp.
But I didn’t make it. Medically Confirmed Wimp it was. What she wrote in my file was all true.
And then I found something out. It turns out that BitchFace, the evil colonoscopy doctor, was not exactly what we call “benign” or “neutral” in her assessment of me. In fact, my pain was her fault. A story in the news brought many of her former patients together online, frightened that she’d exposed us to life-threatening diseases by not properly cleaning her equipment between procedures. And as we talked to each other, I discovered: She was well known for being brutal during procedures. Brutal. And I use that word to its full meaning: Ruthless, cruel. Not gentle: Harsh, rough while wielding equipment in to human orifices while patients were conscious. I heard story after story from former patients, about how they never had any problems getting procedures from other doctors, but they had horrible, frightening, demeaning experiences when they were in her care. Painful and dehumanizing. And then, to a person, she’d mock them for complaining about pain.
Then I started to wonder. I started to question the label of Wimp I had so readily accepted. Was she wrong? Did I have a normal pain tolerance? Was SHE the problem? Is it possible that I’m not a wimp? Am I normal? Was my c-section possibly not the wimpy-assed cop out I believed it was? Was it maybe, possibly, medically necessary?
So then I fell and it hurt and the doctor casted me and said it could very well be broken even though the Xray was clean and I was relieved. Ridiculous, right? Relieved. Despite the fact that I had potentially broken my wrist. Despite the fact the cast was a pain in the ass. Because if it was broken it meant that something had actually happened, something that was worth complaining about, something I wasn’t wimping out of. I Hurt, And I Hurt For A Reason Instead Of My Bullshit Attention Seeking Wimpiness.
Then, of course, I went in last week for a follow up and it wasn’t broken, and of course I’m happy I don’t need to be in a cast for six more weeks, but then the little voice piped up in my head again. Of course it wasn’t broken. You just can’t take a little normal pain. You and your Delicate Disposition. You always make a fuss over nothing. I want that voice to shut up, to stop echoing in my head. I should be relieved. And I am. But the voice, it won’t shut up. And I hate it. My wrist is throbbing as I type, probably the result of two weeks’ immobilization more than anything real wrong with it. And I refuse to go back to the doctor again. Because I refuse to indulge my wimpiness.
Because I don’t want to be a wimp.
Important Postscript: This post was originally written in December of 2011. My wrist ached through Christmas, but I continued to ignore it. The Xrays had said I was FINE. So I was Fine. Never mind the pain. I was fine.
Then in January of 2012, a month later, my phone started ringing – the hospital, the orthopedic surgeon, my family doctor. A radiologist had been reviewing my films, and they needed to talk to me urgently.
I went to the hospital, where the surgeon sheepishly told me that my wrist had, in fact, been broken. A hairline fracture in the radius that looked like nothing to the doctor but that a radiologist filing my xrays had caught. We re-xrayed it and sure enough, he could see the scar tissue in the bone. Broken. Broken all along.
Despite not being casted, it had healed properly.
And I wasn’t a wimp after all.