This week in the car, Josiah and I were talking about the day. I was taking him to day camp and he asked where I was going after dropping him off. I told him that I had a doctor’s appointment. He said, with a bit of impatience, “Again?”
“Yes again,” I said, “but the good news is that I don’t have to take my shirt off at this doctor’s office!” He and I shared a good belly laugh at that one.
It is a good day when I go to the doctor and I get to stay in my own clothes.
In the last six weeks, I have had countless appointments, most of which required me to disrobe and put on a hospital gown. None of the gowns looked as chic as the above gowns, and I certainly did NOT strike a pose.
Remove everything from the waist up. Gown to open in the front. The doctor will be in in a few minutes.
I will spare you the details of all the different procedures I have had. To briefly recap, I have had x-rays, mammograms (too many to count!), CAT Scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, biopsies, blood draws. I have seen my family practice doctor, 4 surgeons, 4 radiologists, 1 hematologist, and a handful of nurse practitioners. I have been contorted into a million unnatural positions, relentlessly squeezed from numerous angles, poked with too many needles of varying sizes. All in the name of diagnosing and treatment planning. I have not even started treatment yet.
Through all of this, I was rocking a faded blue or green or pink hospital gown. That is how I (and all cancer patients) roll.
Last week, I posted a beautiful letter written by a nurse practitioner to her mastectomy patients (An Open Letter to My Patient…) I am sure all of you who read the letter were touched by the tenderness of it. I don’t think that anyone could read it and not be affected by its vulnerable and reverent sentiment. It was/is beautiful.
I loved this piece because, although I have had mostly good interactions with health care providers on this journey, there is no way around the sterility of medical environments and the indignity of having one’s body repeatedly exposed to be poked and prodded. It is the cross that anyone with a serious illness has to bear in the name of recovery and health.
Especially for women.
We all know that women’s bodies are objectified in the media. We all know that women’s bodies are more often than not subjected to intense scrutiny and judgment. We all know that women’s bodies become a vehicle for political power. We lament this. We fight against it. As we should…
But we don’t talk much about the fact that women undergo (sometimes) traumatic, (most often) uncomfortable and (always a bit) embarrassing medical treatments regularly. Starting at the age of 18 for most of us. We have yearly OB/GYN exams. We have repeated appointments and procedures during pregnancy and birth. We undergo manual breast exams and mammograms. Our reproductive health is carefully monitored*.
And the above list is if you are healthy. But woe to you if you have an abnormal pap smear. Or if you have difficulty conceiving. Or if you experience one or more miscarriages. Or if you have a high risk pregnancy. Or if you experience unusual bleeding. Or if you find a lump in your breast.
Then your body isn’t your own. It is the medical industry’s. You turn your body over. Over to nurses and doctors. Over to procedure after procedure. Over to the surgeon’s operating table. Over to the oncologist and the radiologist. You just surrender it. In the name of health.
It is necessary, I know.
And I have had many lovely health care providers who are kind and loving and supportive.
But I pause here to witness to this burden for women. You are not invisible. And your journey is honorable, even when it doesn’t feel like it. You are beautiful in your hospital gowns, not because of Photoshop or a cute pose, but because God gives you dignity and strength.
You are God’s beloved. It is hard to remember that sometimes, but it is truth.
*I want to acknowledge that poor white women and people of color often don’t have access to this preventive care, and as a result, the treatment is often more severe and can be fatal because of this injustice. This will be a subject of a future blog post I am sure.