Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We're awaiting results on your dignity

Maintaining one's dignity can be synonymous with keeping one's "cool." I've already established that, overall, I've been super cool my entire life. One setting, however, has proven to be the Waterloo of my human dignity and humility—the dental/medical office.

We learn from an early age that we must face discomfort with a calm demeanor, especially if ice cream awaits us pending a successful behavioral outcome. I faced my first true medical adversity when, as a six-year-old, I was informed that my molar was abscessed, and that an oral surgeon would need to put me under and dig away at the festering alien beneath my precious, little gum line. Naturally, I was quite apprehensive, until informed that I would be receiving nitrous oxide, otherwise known as "laughing gas."

"You won't feel a thing," spun my mom. "It's laughing gas. You'll feel pleasant, fall asleep and wake up all better." I'd recently watched an episode of Batman, where the Caped Crusader pulled some laughing gas spray from his utility belt and incapacitated the villain in fits of laughter. Enter power of suggestion, stage left.

Abscess-emancipation day finally arrived, and little Timmy was prepared. I hopped into the dentist chair, cool as a cuke, and prepared to lightly chortle from the effects of the impending anesthesia. As the doctor lowered the breathing apparatus onto my mouth and nose, I began giggling. After six or seven inhalations, I was writhing in uncontrollable spasms of laughter. Soon, everyone in the room—my mom, the doctor and his assistant—also began laughing, harder and harder.

Imagine being six years old. You've never experienced any type of euphoria-inducing chemical and here you are, high as a blimp and watching your mother, in a baritone James Earl Jones voice, slowly yet hysterically guffawing as she disappears down a warm, colorful tunnel.

I later awoke, threw up several times and realized that when in the able hands of medical professionals, we control nothing, including our dignity.

I believe each patient should exercise his or her medical Miranda rights, or the right to remain silent in order to avoid discrediting themselves. I most assuredly should have invoked this right prior to my vasectomy. After several minutes of flirtatious and witty banter with an attractive nurse, she asked me to drop my trousers to begin the wonderful procedure.

She surveyed my pre-operative shaving job, looked at me and said, "Mr. Haywood, have you ever shaved before?"

"Umm, not there."


Her sunny demeanor instantly U-turned. The next three minutes were not fun, as somehow, I had added some unwanted labor to her day by performing shabby work down there. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't do male Brazilians, especially on myself.

But that's not the end of the vasectomy dignity assassination. Four months later, I returned with my "post-operative requirement" sealed in a plastic jar, inside a brown, paper bag. I felt dirty, but I had to ascertain that my days of siring offspring were behind me. That same nurse took my sample from me and asked me to sit in the waiting room while she tested it. Five minutes later, she popped her head through the door, raised a rubber gloved hand and gave me the thumbs up. The room was crowded, and I'm sure everyone was quite relieved to know that I was now sterile.

I could continue with other examples of medical humility, but I won't. I'm fully aware that most women suffer even worse indignities on a yearly basis, so believe me when I say that I don't feel sorry for myself.

Just please remind me, next time I go to the doctor for a prostate check, just to keep my mouth shut and not to shake his hand afterward.

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