Just beneath the surface of normal

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Part III: Wow, You Really ARE a Bleeder!

Wow, has it really been 10 days since my last confession? Sorry for the silence, I’ve had a nasty cold and have done almost nothing but sleep for close to a week.

But one thing I did manage to do was meet the gyno-oncologist on Thursday. Surprise, surprise: it was weird. So welcome to Part III in my series on un-jacking my junk in public as a service to the women of the internet. If you’re grossed out by all this vagina talk, now’s a good time to click away. I can recommend any of the delightful options in my blogroll to the right, or here is my pin board full of cute to scrub your brain:

Okay, last chance. Here we go:

So. First of all, I totally get how the lighting is supposed to be soothing and all, but the waiting room was lit only by dim lamps and there was no natural light. It was dark and depressing and  I don’t think if I actually had junk cancer I’d want to visit a cave every time I needed a treatment.

But there I was in the Sick Vagina Cave with a bunch of women decades older than I, all eyes fixed on a soap opera (which surprised me most of all – I didn’t know they still aired those things?) except mine and the supportive husbands flipping desperately through the magazine piles to find one that did not feature the latest trends in home decorating or handbags. I kind of see their point: I mean, if you’re going to be awesome and come along to your wife’s junk cancer appointment, you should be rewarded with access to a swimsuit issue, or at the very least National Geographic. Come to think of it, I would have preferred that myself.

I was called back blessedly quickly and handed the requisite paper sheet. I did the stripping below the waist drill and began my rounds of reading everything in the room while waiting for the doctor to come in. This time I noticed that there are many clever names for gauze products, and my doctor seemed eager to collect them all. My favorite was “avant gauze”, which is also the only one I can remember. I probably should have taken a picture. But in that moment I realized that it is somebody’s job to come up with catchy names for things that absorb blood, and that I wished that were my job. And then I got bored.

I should really just bring my phone with me to the table when I take off my pants and sit under a paper sheet, because doctors clearly have some kind of code that says that no less than fifteen minutes shall pass between when the patient gets under the paper sheet and the doctor enters. But I didn’t, so I carefully wrapped the paper sheet around me and shuffled across the room for my phone…and in sitting back down, sat upon the paper in such a way that it separated the fibers and left a rift between my legs. So then I had to make the horrible choice between being modest and having my butt cheeks exposed in a cold room. If you ask me, if you’re looking to make cancer patients more comfortable? A room that’s warm while you’re half naked is WAY more important than a dimly-lit waiting room. If there were any justice in the world, I would be a consultant and get paid $800 for that advice. Also, note to self: wear long cardigans to paper sheet appointments.

The doctor was awesome and I wish she were a regular gynecologist because I would look forward to seeing her once a year, but it seems like all the cool vagina doctors are specialists. She made me take a pregnancy test before she would do the polyp removing, though, because she didn’t want to be responsible for killing any babies. I tried to comfort her by explaining that I didn’t want any more anyway, but I think she must be religious or something because she made me do a pee test anyway.

Which meant 15 MORE minutes of waiting. But THIS time I not only had my phone, but I had a gown to wrap myself in like a blanket so that I would neither be cold nor expose my vagina before it was time. Hell yeah! I am like the MacGyver of the gynecology office. Extreme sudoku-solving MacGyver. Hell. Yes.

People, you will NOT. Believe. what happened next: she came in grinning and said, “congratulations!”

As my stomach began to consume itself, I replied, through a mostly-closed throat, “WHAT.”

And she goes, “You’re not pregnant! Congratulations! I was just messin’ with you. But you totally thought you were for a second there!” I genuinely didn’t know whether to high five her for such a well-played prank or walk out without any pants on. I guess you don’t get a lot of opportunities to joke around when you’re dealing with vagina tumors, so I kind of don’t begrudge her, but OMG, what the hell kind of bedside manner is that? Exactly the kind I would have, is what.

Next, we all assumed the position, and she said unto me those magic words you never, ever want to hear from a doctor: “this is going to be a little uncomfortable.”

Me: You know what? I’ve been to enough doctors to know that “this is going to be a little uncomfortable” is doctor speak for “this shit is totally going to hurt”.

Dr: …………..Yeah, it is. This is totally going to hurt.

Me: Thank you for your honesty. I’m ready.

I immediately forgave her for the pregnancy prank because I like it when doctors don’t beat around the bush (which is a weird unintentional pun in this case, which we shall all tastefully overlook). But before the pain, the surprise bleeding:

Dr: Wow, you really ARE a bleeder, aren’t you? Uh. You’re filling up the speculum. [to the assistant] Could I get some gauze?

Me: yeah, that’s what I was saying – I bleed in a stiff breeze.

Dr: I don’t know if I can get this under control enough to finish the exam. Talk about elevated blood pressure! [to the assistant] I need more gauze. NOW.

I don’t know if I can really adequately describe what it’s like to be packed with gauze. I’ll go with “dry”. Which conveniently also describes the feeling you get when you realize your body is behaving so unusually that it’s making your seasoned professional CANCER doctor have a panic attack.

Finally things were packed in dryly enough that she felt we could move forward, so I took a few deep breaths while she inserted a long, white plastic stick into my uterus and wiggled it around. It was a little uncomfortable, but it wasn’t too bad, really. It totally didn’t hurt. For some reason she felt I deserve an award for this.

Dr: Hey, you’re doing amazingly well! Usually there is a lot more shouting during this part.

Me: It’s really not that bad. Remember how I told you I had warts burned off my vagina when I was seventeen? THAT hurt. This is not burning-your-lady-bits-with-acid pain. Nor is it childbirth. This is like the more gentle menstrual cramps.

Dr: You’re very special then, because this usually hurts a lot. This next part should be no big deal at all–


Dr: Huh. That’s weird. You are exactly opposite of most of my patients. Usually it hurts when I scrape the uterus, not the cervix.

Me: sigh. Of course I am.

Dr: …Um. I can’t get you to stop bleeding. I snipped off a piece of polyp and it’s really gushing.

Me: No worries [yeah, that’s me, reassuring the doctor]. I bleed all the time. I have a pantyliner.

She asked her assistant for some words that didn’t make any sense to me, but I gather she couldn’t make up her mind between two options. She finally went with what she later explained was the more potent clotting agent. Because I was bleeding that much.

Dr: It’s going to look like coffee grounds in the toilet tomorrow.

Me: I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of it because I would have just thought I had way too much coffee, but thanks for the warning.

Dr: Nothing at all should be inserted into your vagina for a week: no tampons, penises, douches, etc.

Me: What about my physical therapy?

She looked at me in mute bafflement.

Me: you know, she sticks in a finger and I have to squeeze it?

Dr: …

Me: It’s just my PC muscle, it’s not very far in or anything.

Dr: OH! I thought you meant like for your knee or something and I was all “what does that even have to do with your vagina?” Yeah, no fingers either.

I have to go back in after the biopsy results come back, and after I have a vaginal ultrasound, which I can’t get for a week either because I’m pretty sure they stick the wand in. Next time I’ll be sure to take pictures of gauze.

Good lord, I’m promising gauze photos to lure you back. Why do you people even read this stuff?


Delayed Live-Blogging: NYC

Monday, 4:04pm – I’m writing this from a hotel room in Manhattan. Jim had to travel for work this week and Corinne is with her dad, so I would have been alone on my birthday, which would have sucked, so I tagged along.  But Jim won’t let me blog or tweet about being in New York until we get home, because he’s pretty sure that burglars scan Twitter, Facebook, and my barely-read blog looking for proof that we’re out of town so that they can go burglarize our crumbling old house in a blue-collar neighborhood and take our thousand-pound antique piano. So since I can’t write about it as I go, I’m going to collect my thoughts here and post them all at once when I return.

Here is the view from my hotel room:

How unfair is it that I can’t share this view as it’s happening?! Also, the park down there is Irish soil. So it’s like I can go across the street and visit Ireland whenever I want.

So today Jim went to work & I puttered around, then went to Thrift Shop Row on 23rd Street. OMG, you would not BELIEVE how expensive thrift stores are here! I guess because there’s so much designer everything. Also, all the shoes are heels. How do these women walk all the fuck over the place in heels? They’re insane, that’s how. They must all have epidurals or foot botox to numb the pain or something.

But so I was walking down 23rd street and I saw this no fewer than half a dozen times:

Tights, shoes, coat…no visible skirt. Who decided this was a good idea?

Usually when I go to New York, I worry endlessly about being judged a behind-the-times nerd who can’t keep up with their evanescent metropolitan chic. The fashion in boots has changed almost entirely in the two months since I was here last (WTF, New York? Boots are expensive!). But when you start dressing like you forgot to put something on this morning? I reserve the right to feel smug and not worry too much about wearing comfortable shoes. I guess skipping out on wearing bottoms is how you afford all those fucking boots. Personally?That’s not a battle I’m willing to pick.

Monday, 7:00pm – met Jim’s Project Manager for dinner at City Hall. He is delightfully nerdy and hilariously inappropriate. We were joking about blow-jobs within an hour. I want to keep him, but he lives in Arkansas and Jim says we have to let him go home.

Tuesday, 1:47am – Dear City That Never Sleeps: you might get more sleep if your garbage trucks didn’t pick up at 2 o’clock in the fucking morning. I’m on the 9th floor and they sound like they’re inside the room; are those even trash trucks I’m hearing or have the Decepticons invaded?

Tuesday, 4:09am – I don’t think that coffee after dinner was decaf. It may be that I spend my birthday in bed.

Tuesday, 5:04pm – well, it was a beautiful day as best I could tell from being mostly too tired to leave the room after sleeping so badly last night. For what it’s worth, I did invite The Bloggess to go do weird stuff in NYC if she was bored. She wasn’t, but she was very polite about it. It was probably for the best because I was too tired to be properly entertaining.

Tuesday, 6:20pm – The hotel sent me up a complimentary bottle of Prosecco. We opened it and drank a bit. I couldn’t get the cork back in, so I stuffed the corner of a hand towel into the bottle to hold in the bubbles. Classy.

This is why I tag along on business trips. I wish I had photographed my towel hack. What was I thinking?

Tuesday: 8:30pm – Stuffed myself ridiculous on the excellent fare at the North End Grill, and I drank two scotch bonnets (a single malt cocktail with honey and stuff, not liquefied hot peppers) and they brought me birthday dessert of butterscotch pots de creme (which is really just a fancy way of saying pudding, but nobody would spend ten bucks on pudding…unless it’s FRENCH pudding!) with a candle and a beautifully-scripted greeting:

And this is why I have no shame in telling anyone who will listen that it’s my birthday. They may pity my gaucheness? But free dessert, motherfuckers: I win.

The best part? Those are SINGLE MALT-MALLOWS, bitches! Whoever invented booze-flavored marshmallows should be sainted.

Wednesday, 7:50am – The Prosecco is still fizzy. No point in wasting a free fifteen dollar bottle of sparkling wine. Bought a $5 glass of OJ from the hotel and set in to finishing that bitch off.

I hereby decree that the morning after birthdays shall be mimosa time.

Wednesday, 9:37am – WHY are champagne bottles so damn BIG? I am awfully shitfaced for this early in the morning. Still approximately two glasses to go. I think I’ll have a nap, then finish it off.

Wednesday, 11:45am – FINISHED! I win the Most Mentally Disturbed, But Frugal prize. I’d like to thank everyone on Facebook who supported me in achieving this great achievement. I swear I’m not an alcoholic – I hardly ever drink, and I think I’ve only even had enough to get sick like once in my life. I have mostly-full bottles in my liquor cabinet that date back to the mid-nineties. I don’t even know if they’re still safe to drink, they’re so old. But I don’t waste free shit. Thank you for your thunderous applause. You’re too kind.

Wednesday 2:00pm – I had to go buy leggings so I could give the Bloggess a panty hat at her book signing later. I bundled up and walked like a mime against the tropical storm-force winds to Century 21, a giant 6-story department store where all tourists go to shop. It’s a weird place, populated mainly by Asian and European tourists with no sense of foot traffic and marginal fluency in the English language. But they’re cheap and near the hotel (though I had to walk all the way around the World Trade Center construction site, which makes it farther than it needs to be. Not that I’m trying to disrespect the victims of a horrible tragedy with my inane whining about weather or anything. What I mean is that when the winds are gusting to 45 miles an hour, you curse the terrorists all over again). I also got warm hat-hats, because it’s cold and we were going to have to take a train to the Upper West Side and I wasn’t going to ride the subway with a panty on my head before its big debut so I just wore it as a scarf (plus Jim’s new hat has ears on it, which is awesome; and he says panty hats are for girls, which is less so). Turns out it was only cold and windy down in the financial district. I’m pretty sure Dante said the lowest level of hell is the coldest part, too. Coincidence?

Wednesday, 5:27pm – Jim came back to the room and told me that his PM isn’t feeling well and is bailing on coming to the book signing with us. I am sad. I told Jim to tell him I said he’s a pussy and should just suck it up and ignore his debilitating back arthritis. He refused because he is unhelpful. But that’s okay; I can do inappropriate all by myself.

Wednesday, 6:50pm – We arrived at the Barnes and Noble on the Upper West Side. The only remaining seats had views partially obstructed by support beams. I found one in the back with a decent view, so of course a tall blonde with a top bun sits down right in front of me and her short friend sits in front of Jim, so I’m all weaving side to side to see around her anyway. Sigh. I made up for it by getting increasingly anxious about meeting someone I admire and began nodding vigorously to everything Jenny said, like a very agreeable bobblehead on cocaine. I was last in line, and she was very friendly and relaxed and funny and I was forced to wonder if she was really as likeably crazy as she made herself sound, or if I really am the only one. But she was game for panty hats, and her assistant took a picture of us, in which Jenny looked like a model and I looked like Dieter from Sprockets. We got downstairs before I realized that the picture didn’t save and I had to go back up and beg for another picture, which I already posted. She is the best sport EVER, putting leggings on her head twice in one night, and she appeared to be happy to be given leggings, so that was nice. She has clearly spent time in the mirror practicing photogenic poses, and if I’m going to get published I’d better start logging some hours in front of a mirror too, because seriously, I take TERRIBLE pictures.

I don’t remember that much else interesting happened after that, but I can say for certain that even though it’s not a fancy, modern, 9th floor hotel room facing the Hudson river, where people clean up after you and the cabinet re-spawns candy bars every day, there’s no place like your own bed.

Also, I think I might have gotten addicted to napping.

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My Ship Has Come. In.

You guys, I totally just put a bid on a million dollar castle in the Virgin Islands because THIS IS ME AND THE BLOGGESS WEARING PANTY HATS!


Modeling the next big thing with the best sport ever.

When you get a best-selling author to model your million dollar idea for you, that’s like a free endorsement and now all her readers will be wearing panty hats and the money is just going to start rolling in. That’s always how it works, right?

She does a great book event – you should totally go. She’s a good reader and she’s very funny and kind, and you can’t even tell that she’s a little loopy from beta blockers. I should probably have taken some of my own, because the whole thing made me a little manic and shaky. But the best thing about the patron saint of functional crazy is that when you show up being a little crazy yourself, she is totally beatific about it. I even accidentally deleted the first picture of us wearing panty hats (which is probably for the best because I looked frighteningly like Dieter from Sprockets) and she let me come back and do another one.

Bonus: now she owns a pair of leggings that I bought her, which is even better than making her a skin suit because there are no restraining orders and I’ll get to continue to comment on her blog.


I Deserve A Fucking Nobel Peace Prize

This is Part II of my series on my exciting adventure getting treatment for my pelvic floor disorders (Part I is here). I’m talking in embarrassing depth (pardon the pun) about my vagina in hopes that other people who have lived with stress incontinence might also learn that it’s treatable. Even though I’ve talked about it for years, I’ve never been referred for help. My own primary care physician had never even heard of Uro-gynecology. I am coming to believe that in this age of advanced medicine, being able to control your bodily functions is a human right, and the awareness of these problems need to grow. These are not first world problems; they are global problems. Talking about your troubles with elimination are still a taboo here, even if they don’t render you a homeless outcast in places without modern sanitation. I talk about this even though I was terrified of being shunned for doing so. The positive reception I’ve gotten so far has been a huge relief and I am deeply grateful that you continue to read through vulnerable and uncomfortable material.

So. Physical therapy: not the same for your vagina as for your knee surgery, it turns out.

My daughter goes to PT to rebalance the muscles in her back because of scoliosis, so since it’s a good office and I know them, I may have casually asked her therapist if he treated pelvic floor disorders. He actually blushed at me in a mortified sort of way, as though he’d never really considered that I might have a vagina before, and told me no, he didn’t do that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure he thought I was propositioning him.

My Uro-Gynecologist recommended someone to me, and I had my first appointment with her on Monday. When she led me into a private therapy room, I began to realize that this was not going to be the usual series of squats and lunges and balancing exercises. In getting her up to speed, I rehashed the whole billboard story from Part I and her response was only slightly less surprising, in that she’s going to suggest this idea to everyone she knows to bring awareness to the specialty. I figure this blog series is just doing my part. I’m like Lady Di or Nelson Mandela with my awareness raising over here.

My PT’s hands shook a lot, and I wasn’t really sure what to make of that. Was she nervous? If so, was it because I was making her uncomfortable, or because she’s still getting the hang of this whole hanging with vaginas all day thing, or was it because it’s kind of awkward for her too? Did she have Parkinsons, or just too much caffeine this morning? My friend Susie thinks it was probably just Essential Tremor Disorder, because she has it too, but that’s boring, so I’m choosing Heroin withdrawal. Unless she reads this and she’s offended by that, in which case I AM SO SORRY that I just called out your tremors on the Internet AND attributed them to illicit drug use. Please don’t stop fixing me.


First she had me resist against her pushing on my legs in various places, which got me all calm and complacent, and I started to think that maybe it was a private room because it’s nice not to have to talk about your vagina in a room full of people. Then she handed me a gown and left the room.

When she came back, she snapped on gloves, put bolsters under my knees (because they’re more friendly than stirrups), did a few more resistance tests, and had to teach me how to use my transverse abdominals. Now, I go to the gym several times a week AND I was a massage therapist, so I know my way around anatomy pretty well. But when we hit the part about the pelvic floor muscles, we kind of glossed over them because it was a Catholic program and we weren’t that sort of massage therapist. The only muscle I remember is levator ani, and only because it’s funny to say and it makes your butthole work. So it was news to me that the pelvic floor is the bottom of a muscular cylinder that works like a piston, and your transverse abdominals (the things you tighten when you do Pilates) are the sides. It also would seem that I’ve been doing Pilates wrong since day one, which would explain why I fucking hate them so fucking much, you have no idea. So we had to try like half a dozen times before I figured out how to make the muscles in my stomach do what she was asking of me. My muscles have a private line with my brain; you’d think it wouldn’t be so hard for me to make them do what I want by thinking about them. You would be wrong. My brain needs a Red Phone.

But then, just when I was starting to recover from the indignity of having a disobedient abdomen, she put a finger into my vagina and asked me to squeeze. Then she started testing the places where my hip muscles attach, from the inside.  We definitely never covered that technique in massage school. It was at this point that I realized why my daughter’s physical therapist had blushed at me, and I realized with horror that I was going to have to see him the next day.

So, when you find yourself in a room with a stranger who has a finger inserted into your vagina for quite a number of minutes, you find that you don’t really want them to be a stranger so much, and you have to make small talk – which is surprisingly awkward under the circumstances. But I asked what I like to believe anyone would ask when they meet a professional who has decided to spend her days dealing with broken lady bits: “so, how did you you come to decide you wanted to deal with vaginas all day?”

She explained that she used to do home care PT, and that she worked with a lot of old ladies who, after several sessions doing PT for other reasons, reported to her that they were no longer getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night or having leakage. Which immediately put me in mind of her doing what she was doing with me to little old ladies (on the bright side, my grandmother isn’t incontinent, so my mind didn’t wander down that particular nightmare road of no return). So she got trained in pelvic floor disorders and the rest is history, presumably with wider age ranges. Though since I’ve only just discovered this magical world of vagina specialties, it’s entirely possible that there’s a geriatric pelvic floor sub-specialization. I no longer put anything past medical science.

We also talked about our daughters and other random things, and on that level it was very much like going to the salon. If the salon asked you to take off your pants and put your knees on bolsters, that is. I guess if you get a Brazilian wax, they probably do. I wouldn’t know – I only occasionally even manage to keep on top of shaving my legs.

If I thought making my stomach do what I wanted was hard, it was nothing compared to making my pelvic floor work. Evidently I have really codependent muscles, which is not surprising since the rest of me doesn’t exactly know how to mind its own business, either. But every time I tried to squeeze my pelvic floor, my hip muscles, or other abdominals, or my legs, or my neck, or something having nothing to do with my pelvic floor would try to rush in and save the day. And I would have to try again. I was somehow supposed to hold this for 10 seconds, which I don’t think I did even once. And I was somehow supposed to be BREATHING during all of this, which was so very not happening – there are only so many things I can do at one time. I have never, ever, been so exhausted from lying on my back trying not to move.

In the middle of all this, someone started using the pulley attached to the outside of the door for their non-vaginal PT regimen. So there I am, lying on a table half-naked, squeezing a stranger’s finger, listening to the door going “zip…zip…zip…zip...” and wondering if the person using the pulley could even begin to imagine was was going on on the other side of that thin piece of wood. And my brain – because this is what it does – made a beeline the worst case scenario: “do you ever have to leave the room when somebody is using that thing and the person is lying on this table with nothing on but a sheet? Because that would be really awkward.” As I write this, I realize that this is only the second-worst case scenario. The worst case would actually be if the pulley made the door pop open, exposing to the entire PT room the scene of someone lying under a sheet in the middle of one of those awful squeezing exercises.

She assured me that the former almost never happens. I’ll have to follow up on the latter next time, when evidently we will be delving into the exciting world of putting little sensors in my vagina for biofeedback. Yes. Really.

I know this whole thing sounds pretty mortifying, and at least some of you are probably wondering why I would put myself through this AND THEN talk about it in public. But the truth is, I’m beyond excited. I would love to have a world without “achoo, DAMMIT!” and weird pelvic traffic jams, and the notion that this could all be sorted out in 6-8 weeks sounds almost too good to be true. If this is really going to be – as it appears – a thing that changes my life, I want to share it. I would love to be personally responsible for a collapse in the panty-liner-industrial-complex.

In other news, on Tuesday I apologized to my daughter’s PT for asking him about the pelvic floor thing because I had no idea what I was asking him to do. He was very gracious about it. Which is good, because I didn’t want to have to find her a new one. It is, however, noteworthy that they’ve moved her warm-ups from the exercise bike next to her therapy table and into another room to walk on the treadmill. They set me up on the treadmill next to her and we had a really lovely walk-and-talk, which I’m sure was less the point than a way for them to keep me out of the therapy room for 10 minutes so I wouldn’t say anything that would horrify the other patients, many of whom were little old ladies who I will never look the same at, ever again.