One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Or, Rather, strode through it.
Im wheeled into the room that holds the machine that will take pictures of the inside of my bowel and chest and new kidney. I call it ”The Doughnut” even though there is the word Siemens emblazoned on the top of the doughnut shaped entance to the scan machine. ”Is that pronounced ‘Seaman”?’ I ask with a sleep deprived giggle. ”Or, is it Simons?”
The nurses laugh and make sure that I am comfortable on the narrow padded plank that I have to lay on. I am gong to be left alone in the room while they use the machine to take some photos. Then a nurse will come in and inject some solution called Contrast, into my canulla which will rush the contrast straight through my veins and help get a clear look at my insides. ”The contrast can make you feel a strange sensation and it can caus you to feel as though you have wet yourself.”
”What? Really?” I say, a bit concerned. I am also very hungry and coupled with tiredness and a resentment that I have found myself back in this sort of situation, I am not at my most awesome. The nurse sees the look on my face. ”We have to explain this to everyone and it does sound scarier than it actually is. Not everyone feels that way.”
I nod and feel a little better. I relax a little and instantly feel an itch as you always do when about to have a test like this, that requires you to get ready to be perfectly still and hold your breath for a moment.
Once the first part of the test is done, I am given the contrast. I wait exactly 2 seconds and then, The strange unpleasant feeling washes throughout my body. I feel like it is almost unbearable, this feeling of warmth and illness.
‘Oh.’ I say. ‘Oh. Oh OH!” Then it happens. I feel a warm rush come out through my groin. I feel it fill my underpants. Oh wow. I think. They were not exaggerating.
It was the night of a much anticipated book launch, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race was being launched at The Town Hall. For the three days leading up to it, I had been feeling unwell and experiencing pains in my new kidney and my back. I was determined to make this launch and make it I did. I talked to literary friends and got hugs. I purchased the book and heard Maxine give a reading from the pages. I sat on the floor and fought back tears at her story at her wonderful vice and at her strength. I wanted to get up on the stage and dance with the kids that were jumping around joyfully together. I was too shy, though. I did not stay late as I got pretty tired and the stupid pain was starting to make it difficult to stand up comfortably. I leave everyone as they continue to drink bubbly and eat pizza.
Outside it is cold and it is raining heavily. I get the tram. I get the right tram. I sit and try to breath in and out, slowly. The pain is reverberating around and im shaking with cold. When the tram driver uses the speaker to say. ”I have gonE the wrong way. Next stop is the last stop.” I want to cry with disappointment. It is not a joke. The tram driver has driven the tram, on a rout that is not the one emblazoned on the front of the tram. He stops the tram and lets myself and two other passengers, off the tram. It is still raining and it is still cold. I am ready to collapse with shaking. I am also enraged at the tram drivers mistake. The young man who gets of the tram with me is talking on his phone and I am falling in love with his slightly British and slightly something else, like a pinch of a more articulate sounding Australian accent as he says good-naturedly. ”I think that particular tram driver is a bit dim. He did not seem to know what was going on.”
I cannot stand out here in the cold anymore. I cannot feel my fingers as they grip my umbrella that is not stopping the rain from getting in on me and dripping down m arm. I call my person, practicully in tears. Why didnt i get a taxi? I am enny pinching and thought that this would be fine. A tram driver driving a tram the wrong way? This has never happened in all the years I have ridden trams in this city. I get home and have a hot shower. My person makes us some salmon and broccoli. (SO HEALTHY!). A few hours later. I am crying on the bedroom floor in agony. I had taken Endone and Panadol and the pain was not going away. ”Do you need to get to hospital?” Asks a sleepy voice from the bed.
”I will just, You go to sleep and then when your at work. I will get a taxi to emegergency.” At this point I am lying on my back on the bedroom floor. The change in position has done nothing to quell the pain. ”So, the only reason that your putting off going to hospital, is convenience to me?”
”Yes.” I say in tears.
We arrive at emergency at nearly 4am. The waiting area is quiet and has a couple of people waiting. One person is asleep and snoring very loudly. An orderly brings a wheelchair for me to get taken to a bed. It is a wheelchair that is as wide as a double tram seat. It is for someone who ways 300kilos. I laugh out loud in surprise. ”Its the only one i could find.” The orderly says with a sniff. He is in no mood for hilarity. I sit in it and watch my partners face twitch with a smile at how I look sitting in the middle of a very large wheelchair. I resemble how I must have looked the first day on the school bus when I was 5 years old.
A doctor inserts a canulla and they ask me questions. They give me Fentanyl through the canula, as I sit up in a bed. My person sitting in an uncomfortable hospital chair in the corner of the small cubicle. The relief is almost immediate. I feel the pain killer work its warmth around all the horrible pain and simply warm it away. I relax. I start to smile and make a happy sigh sound. ”I feel real…good.” I say softly.
”You have a very stupid smile on your face. That proves it.” My person says. His eyes are all sexy with tiredness. Im not sure how he does that. When it looks like they are moving me to the ward I know it is time to admit that I must be left here. I knew that this would happen. It is why I did not want to have to come. I tell him he can go home and I will call him later or he can call me. Now that the pain is being dealt with I need some sleep. With a kiss and a hug in farewell. I am left alone. ”Do you want another blanket?” The nurse asks me.
”I am so thirsty.” I say. ”Can I have some water, please?” I am given a cup of cold water and I swallow it down in almost one gulp. The ice cold flush is sweet relief to my scorched earth throat. I think of the fresh and new book in my tote bag. With its unbroken spine and clean flat pages full of a brilliant and important story. This is why I read. This is my comfort. This is what helps keep me from drowning.
They wheel me to a bed on the Renal ward. There is nobody I remember. New faces. I am taken to bed 42. It is one of two beds in the room. My bed is the one by the window. It is what I prefer. This view is quite something. From my window I can see down over roads and foot paths. I can see over buildings and watch cars drive. I am given bed 42. The number that is also the meaning of life, if The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy has taught me anything. A few hours after I am given my bed. I over hear the man in bed 41. He has his daughter visiting. They will be taking him home soon. There is discussion of how the hell did the television get cut off before he was sent home. They are upset. The son in law calls the hospital television company and starts getting agitated. ”You dont understand me?” The brother in law says angrily. ”I cant understand you. You cannot even speak English.” His wife and the man in bed 41 start laughing. My heart starts to thump in my ears. My blood runs cold. I open my mouth and say out loud without any shame. ”That is fucking racist.” I am ignored. I think that perhaps I was not as loud as I aimed to be. I feel y heart clench. It is everywhere. The man and his family leave shortly after and the bed is made up all fresh for the next person. She is an old lady who is having her foot cut off due to diabetes. She calls all the nurses, ”Sisa.” She is a lovely and speaks in both Italian and english.
By the time i am finished with the CT scan and being injected with something called ‘Contrast’ I am still grabbing at my groin area to make sure the sensation of wetting myself, was simply that, a sensation that had not concrete follow up. I get wheeled in a wheel chair back to my bed. I am starving and very tired by this time. When my poor nurse informs me that the doctors need to check the results of my scan, before allowing me to eat, I start to cry. I can hear the dinner cart being rolled through the halls of the ward. I dont care how sub par the meal is, I just want to eat something. I sit up in my bed, wearing the over sized hospital gown that keeps slipping off my tiny left shoulder. I can smell my own body odour and it resembles despair and sweat. ”I just want to eat something.” I say with sobs and gulps. The hot salty tears drip down my cheeks and some drip in to my mouth, others drip down my neck and into my arm pit. My breath stinks and i have no tooth brush. The nurse is so lovely and as soon as she is met with such a display, she promises to page the doctors and get them to look at my scan as soon as is humanly possible. When the nurse leaves, I lay on my back and let utter shame consume me. Why could I not be cool about this? I feel my chest hurt and my heart thump in my head, a pounding thump as the room spins a little. The old lady in bed 41 is watching tv and calling out, ‘Sista! Sista!” Her nurse comes and helps her to the toilet. I am given a dinner tray. I make up my cup of tea and drink the bowl of pumpkin soup straight from the bowl, untill there is nothing left. I butter the brown piece of bread and eat it in three bites. Outside my window the afternoon light has faded to dark and the city below is like a fairy kingdom of lights agains inky blue.
The next morning, it is blood test time. The next morning I get more Fentanyl. On the ward it does not get injected intravenously, it gets injected in my leg. The result is the same, a feeling of warmth like a huge hug that melts the pain away. One nurse comes in with the blood test kit and I hold my right arm out. She swabs the inner area of my arm and warns me of a slight sting. The needle goes in and there is silence as I breath and hope for the best. I feel a finger fiddle gently with the needle in my vein. The needle gets removed. It failed. ”I will get someone else to come and try, someone who is excellent at bloods.” I nod and she takes the equipment away with her. It is not even 7am. I am wake now. Nothing makes you alert at an early hour like a painful but, ultimately, ineffectual blood test. I am being fed some nutriants via an iv. The nurse from yesterday said I needed to be rehydrated after the ct scan. Being connected to an iv, makes getting around, even just getting around your bed, difficult. A nurse comes and brings me towels, she also disconnects me from the iv and tapes up the canulla so it does not get wet. I am not given any soap. I ask for some and wait a bit. I get so desperate for some kind of a wash, even one sans soap, that I just take my towels and a pair of clean knickers and the clothes I arrived in the hospital wearing. A shower that is simply a full body rinse, is better than no shower at all. I stand naked and skinny staring down at the kidney bulge to the left of my abdomen. A bulge that carries a brilliant looking scar. The detachable shower head gives of pretty good water pressure. I relish the feel of each individual needle like drop of water as it soothes the pain around my lower back and in the kidney bulge a little. Am I smaller than usual? I think. I feel smaller. my arms seem twig like. My legs look like they could get snapped in two quite easily. I am as fragile looking as I feel, in that moment. This makes me start to cry. I was getting used to feeling stronger than I looked to the untrained eye. Who said it? That woman is natural, therefore abominable? Baudelaire. What the hell would he know about it. There is still much work still to be done in replacing an entire history that is created through men telling us what it is to be woman.
Once in my baggy olive green t shirt with the black sheep on it and the black leggings, I sit in the char by my hospital bed and start to read the freshly purchased book from the book launch at The Balla Union. While in the shower my bed had been changed. It is at this point that someone familiar walks in and stands at the end of my bed. It is one of my favourit nurses. I look up from my book and smile at him. He is looking over my bed and not finding what he is looking for. ”Where is your New Yoker?” He asks by way of greeting.
‘Ah, well, my partner had no time to grab me one on the way here at 3:30am.”
”What are you reading, now?” He asks me.
”The Hate Race.” I answer. ”It’s by my friend and she is amazing.”
”What’s it about?” He asks me.
”Its about the insidious nature of racism in Australia and how it attacks the soul in a myriad of different ways.”
”That sound good. I should write a book about being the only Asian kid in school.” My favourite nurse comments.
”You should.” I enthuse. ”I would buy it for sure.”
”I go through stages of reading and then go through stages of reading nothing. I have not read anything in two weeks.”
”I’m not surprised.” I say. ”Your job must be pretty overwhelming at times and not leave you with much energy for reading.”
”It’s not that.” He says, not accepting any excuse for his lax reading habits. This is one of the reasons he is one of my favourite nurses. ”I’m just lazy.”
Another nurse comes in with all the blood taking accessories in a spew green kidney shaped bowl. ”She sees Paul and says. ”Oh, are you here to take blood?”
”Nope.” I laugh. ”He has just come to shoot the intellectual breeze with me.”
”Jess reads the best books.” Paul tells the nurse. I flush with happiness. I am sure that I even blush a little. These are the sort of compliments that make me feel one thousand feet tall. I show my arm again and rest it on top of a pillow. The nurse starts to check my arm that has a few pin sized holes in it from the previous tries. Paul watches as the nurse finds a vein she thinks might work.
”Nah.” Paul says as he walks out of the room. ”Nah, it wont work?” I ask. I whisper to the nurse as she gets ready to go in for the kill. ”We will show him. You will do a great job.”
She slips the needle in and straight away it hurts and does not feel right. ”Ow.” I say.
The pain does not go away. She continues to fiddle a little. The needle moves inside the vein and the pain shoots up my arm and i cry out. The needle is taken out. A cotton ball is pressed down on where the needle exited from. All that pain and for nothing. The vein feels bruised and sore for hours after. I look at the area inside my arm in the centre, between shoulder and wrist. There are four red dots a painful mini galaxy against a backdrop of my very own skin. The skin I am in and cannot escape, even though I am not a tree, you can only change direction inside your head sometimes. I try to read my book but the pain in my chest the thump of my heart. The thump of my heart that is so fast it is a thumping hum. I cannot concentrate. I want a valium. I try to think about if I have ever even had one. I want that kind of numbness and relaxation of the heart and mind. I want it so bad. Nobody will give me valium. I am told that i just need to concentrate on my breathing. I stare out my window at the city below and think about flying.
The old woman in bed 41 keeps shouting out for the nurse by calling out ‘Sista.” I hear a nurse come and kindly explain that she is not a nun. She is a nurse who is not catholic and so, does not need to be called by the name, Sista. ”You can call me Tahlia.” The nurse explains. ”That is my name.” This nurse is from Tasmania. I hear her joking about how ashamed she is about this, with other nurses at the nurse’s station near my hospital room. The old lady does not call the nurse by her name. She repeats the name once and then reverts back to her habit. A habit that goes back years in her own experience as a nurse who was also a catholic. A pathology out patient nurse comes to me with her cart of blood taking treasures. She remembers me from my many visits to pathology. ”They say you are a difficult bleeder.” She says with a twinkle in her eye.
”Only when I am a patient on the ward.” I say. It is like all my blood simply slams the bedroom door to the surface of my skin and hermits it up like a sloth.”
”We never have trouble taking blood fro you.” The pathology nurse says quietly as she bends over to inspect my already blood test ravished arm. She swabs my area full of pin pricks and finds something worthwhile. I close my eyes and try to envision the blood in my viens as free flowing and ready to be pulled up through the needle and make its red wave way to the small plastic vial, where it will stay, to be assessed and measured for tacro levels and things to do with kidney function. About twenty minutes before the lunch tray is bought to me, I am visited by a small group of doctors. One of them Sticks a gloved finger up my bottom, to check that it is all working up there. There is talk of giving me an enema. Not a full strength one. A half strength one. The whole thing makes me wish I knew more butt themed jokes. I remember going through a sexual stage of loving a bit of butt play during intercourse. Having to lay on your side with your hospital gown scrunched up around your waist and your knickers pulled down to your ankles, whilst a doctor says, ”Breath in and relax for me.” is not as sexy. Though I am finding that a hospital themed erotic fiction is forming within my head as I write this. I get another Fentanyl injection, as the pain gets to be too much. I sleep.
Saturday my beautiful ex housemate and friend, comes to visit, with presents. The sort of thoughtfulness that can only come from a woman with whom you share a wavelength. She hugs me tight when she arrives and I breath in her smell. We are almost the same size. When we lived together we shared clothes. I have never been able to do that with any of my blood related sisters. I am presented with a bunch of Jonquils, a selection of fancy cakes that are resting on a fancy gold looking cardboard tray, two small lined notebooks, a pack of five sharpies called ”Electric Pop” and the collected journalism and writing of the amazing Angela Carter called Shake A Leg. I am also given a coffee from the cafe down stairs so it is still hot. She sits on the bed with me and we talk about feminism and books and her life. We also watch an episode of Don’t Trust The Bitch In Apartment 23. We shamelessly objectify James Van Der Beek, who plays himself on the show. A quick Google search proves that the version of himself he plays in the show is not a true representation. This is a good thing as the selfish and funny version is more entertaining than the happily married with four kids version that is true to life. The grown up James Van Der Beek looks so much like an ex lover. I keep this observation to myself as I do not want to ruin the loved up friend time. Also my blood pressure is high enough without me making it worse on myself. ”I actually think that James is hotter, now than when he was young and on Dawson’s Creek.” I comment as I bite into a chocolate brownie. My friend and I are watching and sharing an ear bud ear phone each. James is getting ready to be on Dancing With The Stars and it is comedic genius. As I watch I wonder out loud why Katie Holmes was not given the opportunity to have a show that includes a version of her that is all grown up AND not married To Tom Cruise. I remember it is my brother’s birthday and text him. He does not text back. This is not a worry to me. When my friend leaves we hug again and I thank her for all the gifts. I am overwhelmed with her generosity and kindness. She had bought me a perfect collection of stuff for a hospital stay.
Sunday I finally call my parents. Leong had asked if i wanted him to call them when I was first bought into the ward, but, i had refused. There was no point. There was still no point. I called them anyway. They were already in Melbourne and were going to come visit me at home anyway. They come and visit me. It is so strange to be a person who has been sick as a child and sick as an adult. The shift and evolution of the role the parents play is a theme that requires an extended essay all its own and one i am sure i shall write at another time. I do not need them for the comfort in the ways i did as a child. I do not crave hugs or hand holding. I get blood tests and all kinds of things and I do it alone. I did not call because I needed to. I called because I felt that they would want me to call them.
I read and reread a Sylvia Plath poem on my phone. I read it and read it again in an attempt to memorize the words and somehow hold them, hold them in my skin, in my blood and in that muscle that sits so perfectly placed, an outlier to the rest of my hap hazard internal makeup.. The poem is called Tulips. The words feel good in my head and that travels to the heart muscle, one of the few organs that i have inside of me that sit in the correct spot and work well, too well, I think. I am told to be less intense. I am told to be less sensitive. I am told this by people who do not do what I do. For me, my intensity and emotional excess is vital to my writing and the catapult to actual productivity. I want to read the words of the Plath poem out loud. I am in a hospital, though and do not wish to annoy my room mate, who has been so good. that afternoon, I accidentally walk into the toilet because she has not locked the door. I see her sitting on the toilet with her paper knickers around her ankles. She looks so vulnerable and quietly dignified. I silently and quickly walk backwards out of the toilet and leave the door slightly ajar as I found it. I return to my bed and to the powm on my phone. The Jonquils have been put in a large wide vase and placed on top of the long cupboard for hanging dressing gowns and coats in. The vase is too big so each jonquil is leaning on the rim of the vase on its own. They are still pretty and the smell comes and goes. You think that they no longer have an aroma, and then, there it is, wriggling up your nose and taking over from the smell of sweat and medicine and the toilet. I stare up at the flowers, each standing alone and sharing the same water. When the nurses come to do change over. I ask for another Fentanyl injection. At least the physical pain can be dealt with effectively.
On Monday a great deal happens. A psychologist called Kate comes to see me. I purge out a few of my feelings and she calmly and kindly tells me that I have a lot to work through and that a psychologist that i get along with can help a great deal. ”Is it weird to want one that is a feminist?” I ask. ”One that at least can understand how difficult that can be when you have a back round in a well meaning but, incredibly patriarchal religion? And that bulk bills?” This seems like an astronomical expectation. Only people willing and able to pay full price can have expectation or hopes such as the ones I am voicing. My enquiries about getting a valium, go unheeded. I just want one so I have a few moments of not caring so much. You know, a bit of a sweet and calming valium haze. I get my antidepressent dosage put up instead. I try the new dosage one night and don’t care much for it. It simply makes me feel foggy for the main part of the morning.
A doctor called Nicole comes to see me. She is accompanied by another doctor who stays silent the whole time whilst writing stuff down. His name is Ollie and he is very handsome in his well fitting shirt tucked into well fitting pants. i am sitting in my visitor chair and reading The Hate Race. I am more than half way through it already. Nicole has her light brown hair pulled back into a bun and she wears black framed glasses. She crouches on the ground by my chair and this move suggests she does not want to seem dominant. A classic trust enhancing move that is not unappreciated. ”Do you ever think about what would happen here in hospital, during a zombie apocalyps?” I ask. ”I mean would you guys simply run and leave all the intensive care patiants for dead? I mean, what choice would you have?”
Nicole is not taken aback by this and this makes me wonder what was her briefing on me as a patiant? Was I described as ‘unusual” or ”unique” ? Was I described in similiar terms as to how it was to get blood from me; difficult. ”You know what would happen?” She says to me. ”you would hide in the cuboard by your bed and the zombie would eat me and go on its way. This would allow you to live.”
‘Yes, but for how long?” I say. ”Do you suggest that I stay in the cupboard for a undefined future? The treats in my snack drawer would only last me so long.”
”You have more of a chance of escaping than quite a few patients on this ward.” Nicole says, lowering her voice a little. I laugh. ”I guess you are right.”
”So, your pain.” Nicole starts. ”Not a lot of answers.” I shrug in agreement. ”You are feeling better?”
”Yes, thanks to Fentanyl.” I say. ”Also, even when in pain it is not as bad as the pain that made me need to come to emergency.”
”The scan has shown that you have a small cist on your left ovarie. Which is situated behind your transplant kidney.”
”A cist?” I ask. That sounds familiar.
”Yes, apparently there is mention of it in your file about a year ago. Now, the cist is teo centrmeters and we don’t usually remove them unless they are six.”
”Im pretty small though.” I say thoughtfully. ”That is why this needs to be explored further, before any surgical date is made. We are going to have a gyneacologist come to talk to you and organize a vaginal ultrasound.”
”Oh, cool.” I say laughing like a bit of a loon. ”That sounds super fun.”
”There is one theory that I have been thinking about.” Nicole says to me. She is sitting on the edge of the hospital bed now. There is a phenomenon in women under forty, who have had long term kidney failure. Once they have had a successful transplant, a year or so afterwards, these woman can start menstruating for the time. This is because that their body has been under such stress and not functioning properly. When the new kidney starts working, this can make the body start functioning at a level that has not been experienced before. Nicole explains all this and it is very interesting, except for one thing.
”How long were you in end stage kidney failure?”
”A few years.” I say. ”But, i was born with only fifty percent kidney function. That percentage was split unevenly between my two kidneys.” I explain. ”Also, i don’t have a uterus or cervix.”
”Do you have ovaries?”
”Yes, but, they are sort of, just floating around.” I explain. ”I am pretty sure they are not exactly where they should be.”
”You could be ovulating.” Nicole tells me. ”If the ains you are experiencing are cyclical and happen at the same time monthly. Do you have times when you feel more emotional? More sensitive?”
I consider this. Could I be obulating? Like a real woman? ”Can you do that without bleeding?” I ask.
”Yes, as long as your ovaries are functional.”
Wow. I think. This is big. ”Can I get pregnant?” I ask, suddenly very worried.
I sigh with relief. Oh, no. I think. Have I been calling ‘ovulating’ obulating? Jesus. She did not even pull me up on it. This is how familiar I am with the whole menarche thing. I don’t even have the lingo down. I have never had my emotional out bursts blamed on a menstral cycle. It has been a charmed life in that respect. My ex did say that due to my non existent menstration, I could be a ‘Bitch all the time. Not some of the time.”
Nicole sees me thinking hard. ”We cannot know for sure, if this is what is really going on. Thats why I think the vaginal ultra sound as an out patient to The Womens Hospital is a good idea.”
”Do you remember who you saw for the vaginoplasty?”
”I never had one of those.” I say.
”No surgery.” I say a little proud.
Do you think your parents would remember the name of the gynacologist.
I sit up as if I have been shot in the back.
”I never told my parents about that stuff.” I say. ”It all happened when I was 23. I was unmarried and trying to have sex. I was raised to wait till i was married. All I know is I saw a GP at the Fitrzoy medical centre and she referred me to an adolescent gynaecologist.”
The doctor says calmly. ”It is alright we did not mention anything about sex. We just want to know more about whats going on, so we can solve this.”
If I had stayed a good mormon girl I could still be ignorant and still not know. That. That stuff. The stuff that you read about in science fiction? It never came up in Dolly Doctor. I was a walking lesson in how pre marital sex can be far more useful than simply waiting. Sex is not a present, it is a process and a language all its own. What we say when we are not saying anything. It is a language that can have impediments. I was relieved when the conversation was over and I was left alone. I lay down on my bed and stare up at the flowers and think.The whole Mormon up brining really only works if you are a normal young woman. I was never normal. I never fitted the very restrictive confines of what a ”daughter of heavenly father” was supposed to be. What teenage girl can live up to such standards? It is only by pushing and repressing down very deeply, any part of yourself that is wild, unpredictable and erratic as the wind and rain. This thinking gave me a head ache and I lay back down again. I wish that Ollie could have let me see the notes he took from that exchange. I wonder what he chose to write down and what he chose to simply leave out. Gosh, he is handsome. I think. I really wish he did not know so much about my weird vagina.
The next day a doctor comes to see me from the Women’s Hospital. She wants to put a finger up my vagina and explore the vaginal walls and my ovaries. I want to explain to her that I am pretty sure my ovaries are not close enough to be touched by her fingers.How far is her finger going to go? I think with growing panic. I am asked to lay on my back with my knees up and together. ”Now, keep your feet together.” The doctor tells me. ”And spread your knees apart.”
I wonder what is going on back at Manchester, UK. The place where I lived for a time a few years ago now. Where I was foot loose and almost completely fancy free. Got bored and went to our local and they were having a night called ‘Rod Stewart & Friends’ and it was this guy and a tiny synth with No Friends and it was upsettingly awesome I don’t mind telling you ( a photo taken through toilet window because he kept dancing at me and the three other customers if he saw a phone), then he had a meltdown during a Billy Ocean number and declared the whole thing ‘shit’ and drove home in a Sierra. David Lynch would’ve made a 2hr film about it. Dave Lynch may not have been so keen to make a film about my current situation.
My knees begin to shake and tremble with sudden and very strong anxiety. Why would I want to spread my knees for such a reason as this? It sounds so uncomfortable. I take a deep breath and comply with her request. ”his is incredibly undignified.” I say saluting the ceiling and the doctor with my unkempt nether regions. When you get mistaken for a prepubescent so oten, it seems creepy to remove the very natural and needed proof of my womanhood. In addition, its warm and I just like having hair down there. It makes me feel protected and as if my weird vagina has millions of tiny and curly friendly gatekeepers. I watch the doctor scrub her hands and snap on the latex glove. ”Can you please remove your heels from on top of your…” My doctor starts to say.
‘Oh.” I say lifting my heels and resting them a few centremeters from my labia. ”I guess that was a knee jerk defence mechanism.” I say. I am told to take a deep breath and relax. I feel her finger invade my vagina and start to try and feel around gently. I start to whimper a little. This all happens in a few seconds and it feels like longer. The finger is pulled out with no warning and it is a relief mixed with worry. I am pretty sure she did not find what she was hoping to find out. ”It is not going to work.” She says as she pulls the glove off and throws it into the bin. ”I cannot get to your ovaries as they are too far away.”
”The left one is playing hide and seek behind Roberta my transplant kidney.” I explain. ”The left one is the one with the cist?”
”Yes and i was hoping to get a feel of it.” The doctor tells me. ”I am going to go have a talk with my boss and we will will more than likely recommend you get a vagina ultrasound, through out patients.”
I nod. I am pulling my knickers back up as she is talking. It is sweet relief to feel elasticated cotton spread itself over and hug my butt cheeks and front fanny. I could never comfortably go commando. I hate feeling that vulnerable. It may sound dark. I always wear knickers because, at the very depths of my being, I feel as if the few seconds required to remove them or even tear them, in a sexual assault, may bide me some precious seconds in which to escape. This is how it feels to have spent your entire existence trapped in the female skin. My skin, the skin of fear and random wonder as much as defiance. I am left alone My Dad calls that evening and I tell him about the cist. ”Oh, no.” He says. ”They aren’t going to have to fiddle around inside you again.” I think aa great deal of my life, in the experience of my parents, has been taken up by being ”fiddled” with by Doctors. Medically speaking. I tell him about the zombie apocalypse conversation with Dr Nicole. ”I don’t think you need to worry about that happening.” He laughs. I laugh as well. It is funny to me how he seems so sure of that. It is not so concrete to me. What is more likely to happen? A zombie apocalypse? Or, a second coming of christ? I know that my money is slightly more on the Zombies. A man made disaster, from a disease or a cure that has terrible unexpected consequences. I do not ask this question to my parents. It is not the first time I have told them half truths and half lies. It will not be the last time that I lie through the sin of my teeth and tongue. I finish The Hate Race before the 7:30pm cup of tea and biscuits is bought around by the tea lady. I was hoping to see my favourite nurse again so I could tell him about how great it is and that he should get a copy and read it. I want to tell him to get a copy for his 12 year old niece he was telling me about. He even said he would bring his niece to the panel I am going to be on that is about girlhood representations in film and television. I hold the copy in my hands and simply stare at the cover and consider the journey the pages has taken me on. I am traumatised and electrified simultaneously.
I get released. I am given a collection of laxatives and Endone, so that i can take the pain killer and the laxative chaser, to avoid the intense pain of not having BMs. I have had this pharmacist before and this time around is as the previous interactions: there is a mutual sense of dislike. The tone of this pharmacist’s voice grates on my nerves like screeching tires. They over explain things that I know almost off my heart. I have taken all these things before and know what to do. I sit on the bed and try very hard not to sigh out loud and roll my eyes with boredom. I understand why they need to do this. Why they need to be so very thorough in the explanations. I’m sure some people need to have it all explained step by boring step. I nod and say thanks and let them be on their way to the next patient.
I am wheeled away by a friendly orderly who helps with all my stuff. I take one last look at the jonquils. I am left in the wheelchair, at the admin desk while my records get collected. At the end of the long hallway there are windows and through the window I see smoke billowing up and out. I wonder what is causing it. The smoke is not black but pale and softly filling up and out into the sky. I will not be picked up until after 5pm. I decide to dump my stuff at the transit lounge and then go to the roof top cafe of the new Peter Mac Hospital that is connected to my hospital by a enclosed walk way. I can have a coffee and stare out at the city from the balcony garden. The transit lounge is busy today. There are old people sitting with blue plastic bags full of clothes and toiletries. There is one old man who is still in a white hospital gown. His face and limbs so thin they look as if they could be snapped by a sudden loud noise or a bad fright. He sits quietly not looking up at the television in the upper corner of the ceiling. I hope somebody comes to take him somewhere comfortable. I think. I get out of the wheel chair and the orderly helps me take my stuff to be placed beside a large recliner arm chair. He makes sure I have everything. I thank him and he leaves.
I am presented with a lunch and take the lid of to see what the main part is. It is not looking good. Some mashed potato and a square of something that looks a bit like lasagne. There is an older lady sitting in a chair like mine. She is much better at filling the space in the chair than I am. ”I like the bee badge on your coat.” She says as I butter my piece of brown bread. ”Did it come with the coat?”
”Thank you. No, I added the bee badge myself. I got it in Japan.” I say. The sentence sounds so strange coming out of my mouth. The woman I am speaking to can barely walk without pain. She has two teen age kids who have behaviour problems and yet, she tells me, they have helped look after her for over 5 years. When she leaves in a wheel chair, she wishes me luck and I wish her the same and so much more. I get my back pack that holds my lap top and my tote full of clothes, looked after by the administrative nurses working behind the reception desk. This leaves me free to go to the roof top cafe again. The doctor called Nicole was not lying when she recommended a change of scenery from my hospital bed would help a little with my anxiety centred perceptions. It is a sunny day and the cafe is a wash with bright natural daylight. There are doctors and nurses and patients and thier friends or family, all eating or waiting to order something. I order a donut and a soy mocha. I take my table number and wander around trying to find the perfect place to sit and read as i slurp and nibble. I walk all around the outside area. The places out in the sun are wet from all the rain of the night before and early morning. All the tables under cover are filled with people. I wonder if there are any other people here who do not have cancer and do not have any one here who does have cancer. My brother did have about ten years ago. He never talks about it. At the time I actually thought that his experience of cancer would bring us closer together. I thought it would maybe make us understand each other a little. It did not do this. I smile at the memory of him at a relatives wedding. He was undergoing chemo and had lost his hair. We are laughing and joking as usual and he looks at me and says dead pan.
”Jess, I win.”
I laugh and nod with a roll of my eyes.
My brother. The competitor, even with cancer. My brother who will exclaim, when asked by me, years later, ”I never considered myself sick.”
My brother. Thank fuck, he did not die.
After loosing my self in memory. I come back down and look around. I think inside is best and sit at a small table near the entrance from the enclosed walkway into the cafe. I am second table from the closest one to the walkway. There is an old woman sitting at that one, alone. There is a coffee cup and saucer in front of her. She is in a hospital gown and slippers. My coffee and donut are placed before me and I spend the next three hours reading and watching around me as I eat and slurp and sit. I get picked up earlier than anticipated as they left work early.
The next day I am back at my hot desk and ready to make up for lost time. Four days later I am on a train to Bendigo in order to visit my father in Hospital. I sit in the quiet carriege and read my Collected Writings of Angela Carter, with a pen poised and ready to underline parts I like the best. This is how I stay afloat. This is how I tread the water. This is how I keep from drowning.