Thursday, 7 June 2012

One Moment In Time

I’m not quite sure why there was a Women’s Waiting Room this time.  I assume there’s a Men’s one, too, but I really don’t know why.  They do these weird things in hospitals from time to time.  For a few years, they had mixed wards, which was horrible, frankly.  When I asked a nurse why they were doing it, she told me that men recovered much more quickly when there were women around than when there weren’t.  I asked if women’s recovery was different too – it wasn’t.  Which says more about our society than I even want to think about right now.  These days men and women are in separate wards again, and I think that’s a good thing, but I’ve always waited for surgeries in mixed rooms before now – where people sat with their loved ones so the last person they saw before they went into the operating theatre was somebody who meant something to them.  I had husband with me, and he was the wrong sex for the Women’s Waiting Room, so this time I’d be going alone.  All of this was going through my head as I walked with the nurse to said waiting room, without anything to call my own.  I’d left everything I owned with husband, so I had nothing – no handbag, no watch, no knickers – just me, my slowly filling ileostomy bag, and my perfectly smooth, waxed butt enjoying its last hour or so with a hole in it.  A fact that preoccupied me no end.  I was having a huge part of what was left of my intestines taken out, but all I could think about with this surgery was the fact that my anus was going to be sewn up.  That by the end of the day I was going to have a Barbie butt for ever more.  I’d thought having a stoma and a bag that I pooed into was surreal, but this seemed even more so.  I’d heard of bags all my life; I’d never heard about Barbie butts until I was asked if I wanted to have one.

And then I was there, in the Women’s Waiting Room.  Where there were two other women waiting.  One of them had one hand stuck up in the air, attached to a kind of splint; the other had one foot up on the chair in front of her.  I had no idea whether I’d interact with these women, or if I’d just sit there alone, trying to distract my brain from what was about to happen.  The foot lady had a book she was reading, and the arm woman seemed serene in her own company.  I sat a few seats away from the foot lady and two seats behind the arm one, and I’d barely put my still holed bottom on the chair before the foot lady put her book aside and asked if I was okay.

I’d like to say something here about women.  It starts with a big, fat, fuck off to Samantha Brick and all those ridiculous female columnists who, in the wake of her nonsense, wrote columns with the basic premise of ‘let’s be honest, women don’t like women; we’re all competitive with each other and should just admit it.’  Who are these horrible women who hate their own kind?  I don’t know them. And I know plenty of women.  I’m not saying I’ve never met them – I’ve worked in media-related industries all my adult life, so of course I’ve come across the odd unfriendly competitive bitch, but I could count them on the fingers of one hand, and I’ve been working since I was 16.  Mostly, I find women to be supportive of each other, warm and loving to each other, genuinely pleased when other women succeed, even if it’s in the same realm as themselves (except if it’s with a substandard offering, but we’d feel that about men too). If I feel low or unhappy, or if I feel overjoyed and jubilant, my first call will always be to one of my women friends, followed by several more of them.  There are unpleasant women, obviously, but there are unpleasant men too – I’d rather not hang out with unpleasant people of either gender, but I certainly don’t see any prevalence of horridness in women over men. The Brick woman and her like-minded columnist acolytes must live in a strange and horrible parallel world and I want no part of it.

So, loath though I am to paraphrase Ms Brick, I wasn’t at all surprised when these two women I didn’t know from Eve turned out to be lovely and warm and friendly and – yes – supportive.  There have been times on wards when I’ve seen the weird phenomena of competitive pain/disease.  Mostly, it has to be said, in older women, who come over and ask what’s wrong with you and then tell you how much worse off they are in a detailed account of what’s wrong with them.  That’s not what happened here, in the Women’s Waiting Room.  Foot lady was having a relatively minor operation – on her foot, obviously – and would be out by the end of the day.  Arm lady was having the position of her arm altered in one of a series of operations for a condition I’m ashamed to say I can’t recall.  I, somewhat embarrassedly, told them what I was about to have done and we all ended up laughing about it.  I was having my bum sewn up – how could we do anything but laugh about it at that point?  We did ask each other details about how we’d ended up in the situations we found ourselves in, and we shared our varying emotions about the surgeries we were about to have, but ultimately, we kept getting back to laughing about my impending Barbie butt.  Which was fine by me.  I was sad when the arm woman got called to her operation, closely followed by the foot lady, leaving me alone to ponder, but I wasn’t there for long and I was left with the echo of the laughter of women bonded, which is always a good thing.  And not a surprising thing, as the majority of women will attest.  It’s only as I write this that I realise that in all our openness, I still didn’t tell them I’d had my bum waxed – there are some things that remain embarrassing for a long while, it seems.  

And then I was following a different nurse to an operating theatre where a couple of men – boys really; they didn’t look much older than my teen – were waiting to stick needles in my hand and my arm.  My (female) anaesthetist was there too, asking me if I was sure I didn’t want an epidural, swearing that she found it the most effective option. I reiterated that I wasn’t having one after last time, and that I’d rather be operated on awake than find an epidural needle in my back again thank you very much.  She gave up on that and the two boys who weren’t old enough to be doing what they were doing started squirting various liquids into my veins and then it was time.  The anaesthetist stood with a huge syringe of milky liquid that I recognised from so many surgeries before and I smiled, because I knew what was to come.

And here, let me take a little bit of time to talk about exactly what it was that was to come, and that I was looking forward to so much.  I call it ‘the moment’.  You know when you’re about to have surgery and they tell you to count back from ten.  If you haven’t experienced it, you’ll have seen it on the telly – they always do it.  In reality, nobody gets beyond seven; it just isn’t possible.  So you don’t have long to experience ‘the moment’; just those brief seconds between ten and seven, and to be honest, I’ve never got further than eight; I’m only saying seven in case somebody else has.  I refuse to believe anyone’s got lower unless something’s gone horribly wrong.  But we’re talking about ‘the moment’: it’s the briefest of things, it’s probably less than a second; you can barely touch it, but you know it’s there and it’s kind of like a miracle; like a sudden total comprehension of the universe; like everything and nothing makes sense and is perfect and beautiful.  And as you reach out to try to capture it, to hold on to it, to use it as something to reassure you for the rest of your life, whenever things get tough or tricky or scary or sad … it is gone.  But it doesn’t matter because then you’re asleep and there are people cutting you up with very sharp scalpels and seeing parts of you you will never even know exist, and you know nothing about any of it.  But later – not when you wake because you’ll be in a daze then, and there will be morphine and pain and more morphine, but later, when you’re starting to get well, you remember ‘the moment’ and it makes you smile.  And although the memory fades, as long as you’ve known to look for it when you get the opportunity, you’ll always have had it.  Had ‘the moment’.  Honestly, if you’re ever going under anaesthetic, remember this and look for ‘the moment’; you’ll be so glad you did.

And then it was time, and my lady anaesthetist looked at me, smiling herself, as she said, ‘right Wendy, can you count back from ten’ and I really was going to get my bum sewn up I realised, as she pushed the thick, milky liquid into my hand.  I got to eight.

1 comment:

  1. I am going under the knife on 2nd july, having hartmanns procedure reversed. will try to remember "the moment"