Scars and Assumptions

I didn’t want to clean her down there,  even though this was her ninth abdominal surgery in two years, I deemed her strong and agile enough to make her way through her own business without my help……but she asked. 

The night nurse told me she had asked her to do it too, I rolled my eyes as she described the strange woman and her requests, her long list of troubles sparking  in me long lists of assumptions…..this is what happens…we know it happens, and we warn each other against it happening…still it happens. We jump to conclusions.   Over and over again.  What is that saying? When I assume, I make an ASS of U and ME?

Brilliant, really.

But still….

Fibromyalgia? Cry me a river….no, really…….CRY ME A RIVER, you’ll feel better.  I assume this ailment could be cured with some good old fashioned primal screaming, a long hard cry, talk therapy, yoga, and a heavy dose of nature.  When I read this information on someone’s medical history I assume things….I assume you are going to be controlling, repressed, and whiny, and quite frankly, the night nurse’s report only served to dig a deeper groove into my fibromyalgia samskara. She made you wipe her hoo-hoo? Hell no!

And she is a little controlling…. she sends away the phlebotomist because she doesn’t want him digging in her veins and she won’t let us take off her abdominal binder to assess her incisions, because..”They’re just fine!”  And she’s whiny…she whines about the pain that she believes will kill her when I take out her epidural, even though I assure her it won’t hurt a bit….especially since she’s already numb back there.   And judging by all the pain medication, stimulants and benzodiazapenes she takes, she is clearly…repressed.  Stuffing herself with controlled substances, she is obviously unable and unwilling to feel the pain of  her existence, so she pours lots and lots of chemical  a-ok-ness down her throat.

The anesthesiologist makes her rounds and we discuss the woman’s pain management plan. “She is a typical chronic pain patient, don’t expect her to pain level to get below a 7.”  I shake my head in understanding , still I ask,  “Why does she take klonopin and adderall at the same time?” Adderall is  a stimulant, legal methamphetamine given to folks with ADD, and klonopin is a sedative, given to sedate you, calm you down. She shrugs her shoulders and says again, “she’s a typical chronic pain patient.”  This time I don’t nod my head to agree. I’m puzzled.  I’m also puzzled by how much my patient doesn’t bother me….she should be rubbing me the wrong way, what with all her problems…but we get along just fine.

I bring the patient her scheduled klonopine and tell her it’s time to take out her foley. She whines at this too, she is also a nurse and tells me she believes all nurses should have to be patients before earning their license. I bristle at the thought, ” I disagree…”  As I pull out the foley I notice some small dark spots, at least 30, on her inner thighs, close to her labia.  I’m contemplating them, when she asks me to wipe her down there. I bring her a box of wipes and encourage her, ” I think you can clean yourself, don’t you?” She’s a nurse and she knows that it’s in the best interest of the patient to encourage them to do as much for themselves as they can, still she makes just a half-hearted swipe at her girl stuff, and says, “you still have your gloves on, do you mind?”  I do mind.  But I wipe her without much to-do, and when I’m done,  I ask  about the scars, “what happened?”

I am not prepared for what she says, and that she says it like she is telling me about the day she cleaned a nasty ring out of her tub.

“They’re from when I was raped. ”


“I was a medic in Vietnam,  and there was a soldier who was hurting and he asked me to give him more morphine than was ordered. When I told him I couldn’t, he was angry. That night as I was falling asleep, I felt something cold on my neck. It was a knife, his knife. He took his cigarette and burned his way between my legs, forcing me to open them….”

I’m listening while getting tangled up in her IV cords, maintaining eye contact, I almost trip while moving her IV pole to the other side of her bed, so she can bend her body into the chair without pulling things out.  She continues as she relaxes into the chair…..”He was killed the next day. He lost his head the next day, isn’t life funny?”

Life is funny.

I have lived through what I like to call an emotional holocaust. I don’t use drugs or alcohol to numb myself, and I’ll admit….. I’m a bit  ashamed because I feel like I’m a badass for feeling all my shit so intensely, so completely…I feel a bit superior I think. I’m a warrior, relentless..bring it on!

Shut up, Kate.

But really….I’m a warrior, and maybe she is too.  We are survivors. How in the hell do I know the depth of her pain?  Or that my way of crying, screaming, yoga, writing, and therapy is better than drugs? Her way seems easier. Maybe smarter.  I haven’t had my gut sliced open 9 times. I haven’t lived in a war zone, watched people I know get blown to smithereens. I’ve never had a knife held to my throat, I’ve never been burned with a hot cigarette, and I’ve never been raped.

 I have scars too. We all have scars, most are invisible to the eye, but we all have them. She thanked me for asking about hers, she said health care professionals often ignore them or ask her if they’re contagious. Maybe she asked me to wipe her because she wanted me to see evidence of her pain, her scars are her reason.

 I pray I can become a little less self-righteous and make less assumptions about people and their pain.  Again, I am reminded that I don’t know a damn thing…..

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