One of the funniest questions I have ever been asked, dressed in a tiny hospital gown as the nurses induced me for labor, having just had a stranger’s fingers in my vagina for the second time that hour, went something like this, “Where would you say you fall on the modesty scale?”
I have been thinking this week about shame, about a story I am ashamed to tell. And I’ve decided to tell it precisely because I’m uncomfortable. Because shame is one of those heavy, sharp rocks I’m just not interested in hauling uphill any longer. So, I’m going to tell you about my surgery. It involves many of my least favorite words. Polyps. Mass. Rectum. Reconstruction. OK, actually I’m a fan of reconstruction, but the rest of those words blow.
I am 28, and have been sick for three years. I’ve had a number of procedures, and each has discovered bleeding and ulcerations and unhappy organs. I’m vegan, scrawny, and have not had a drink of alcohol in more than a year. They discover the mass during a colonoscopy. Three weeks later, I wake, still groggy from the anesthesia, and call out when I hear motion beside me. “I know I’ve asked before,” I say, my voice breaking, “but I can’t remember what you answered. Did they have to go in from the front, or did they go in from the back?” This is important if your rectum is being reconstructed, because a frontal surgery means a visible scar, and a higher chance of infection, and a much longer recovery.
A nurse leans over me, so that I can see her, and rests her hand on my shoulder, and says, kindly, “It’s OK. They went in from the back. And it went well. And you’re OK.”
I’m not, of course. I won’t be for a long time. Although the doctors promised a 6-week recovery, I am not strong enough to sit longer than an hour for nearly two months. It will be longer still before I can take the dogs for short walks. Alone, so no one will see me crying. I think my body is a traitor. The mass was pre-cancerous, and I was lucky that they found it, but my body is a traitor. And I hate all of you for your health. For your strength. For the prodigal way you lounge, and drink wine, and travel. What if this is my life? I miss yogurt. I miss bike rides. I miss European bakeries. I miss vigor. My youth. What the fuck happened to my youth?
I feel poisoned. I wish I believed in god so that I could curse him. I am so angry.
I bleed from places no one should ever bleed. And every other week, for months, I will return to my doctor’s office, and be placed in a machine that inverts me, and have my elasticity checked. My elasticity.
I don’t fall on the modesty scale. I don’t. Our bodies are frail and imperfect and miraculous. My broken one would have a child 11 months after the darkest, most frightening time I have ever known. My child. The one I carried despite every prognosis. The one who clung to me, nursed, and slept, and nurtured. The antidote. The blessing.