Friday, July 9, 2010
Thirty Minutes in a Paper Gown
Flickr Photo by cafemama
"You'll need to undress down to your panties," says the nurse, handing me the paper gown. "It opens in the back. And any make up you're wearing will have to come off. She's got you scheduled for a full body scan, so she needs to see your bare face. There's soap and gauze by the sink. Here's an extra paper sheet for your legs, just to keep you comfortable."
Somehow I don't think the paper sheet is going to do it for me, but I take it and thank her.
This is how I pay for the sunburns of my life.
Fair skinned people should not spend their teenage years marinating themselves in baby oil and sunbathing on aluminum foil blankets. This may sound obvious to you, but would somebody please travel back to 1980 and show me the paper gown?
I wipe off the makeup, strip to my undies, unfold the gown and put it on, then climb up onto the examining table. There are pamphlets on a side table for Botox and Latisse. There's a mirror on the wall and I see my crows' feet. I make a smile at myself, just to see how I look, and wish my face didn't have to be naked too. I look at my feet, pointing my toes in the mirror like a naked ballerina. My toenail polish is chipped. I should have redone it.
I sit on the table, waiting for my dermatologist to get things rolling, to walk in with her skinny self, her blond hair, her pointy toed shoes. I sit in my nakedness and wait.
You'd think I'd be better at this. I lived in France, for goodness sake, where I became friends with my body. I even wrote about it in French By Heart, how the parade of naked breasts helped me become more bien dans la peau, comfortable in my own skin. At the moment, I'm just comfortable with the gown. In France, I'd have to sit naked as a jaybird on the table and stay that way even after the exam was over, while the doctor talked to me from his desk.
I remember all of this to distract myself.
The doctor comes in and the nurse follows. No crows' feet on either of them. Do they give Botox to each other after everyone else has gone home?
She puts on gloves and starts to work. I find myself sandwiched between paper, like a chicken breast in a parchment packet. She pulls up one chicken leg/arm from my side and runs her eyes over it, as if she's part machine, scanning my arm from shoulder to fingertips.
Hmm, she says, and I feel myself tense. She pulls down the scope attachment to her glasses, closing in on a freckle on my forearm. I relax as she moves on, pulling apart my fingers and examining them like Ben used to do whenever he was bored at church. She turns my arm and scans the pale underside.
She slips my arms out of the sleeves of my gown exactly the way I used to undress my dolls. She lays the paper aside and I close my eyes and imagine half of my naked Raggedy Ann chest out for all to see, its embroidered I LOVE YOU candy heart exposed. She moves parts of me and prods and pokes, then walks around to the other side of the chair, and starts the practice all over again.
Does this bore her or is it kind of fun, treasure hunting for disease, for things to freeze or snip? She touches my knee as she scans it, and I explain about the blue scar, how I accidentally jabbed a pencil lead into my leg in third grade and isn't it funny that I've been carrying it around the sliver all this time.
"Uh huh," she says. "Nothing to worry about, it's graphite, not lead." I know that already, but I don't say so. I don't tell her that I'm just trying to make conversation here, to soothe the awkwardness of being naked, of being poked and prodded.
She guides me to turn over with her gloved hands, and my brain entertains me with a vision of her trying to grab me with a giant set of tongs, to flip me to the other side.
As she examines every last square inch of me, the skin hidden by my underwear, the backs of my knees, the bottoms of my feet, I wonder how I compare with other women my age. Am I just another skin-wrapped body walking around to her, or does she find me odd in any way? Will she talk about me to her husband, or give the nurse a knowing look while I'm standing at the front desk, handing over my credit card?
I know she has to do the looking, that it's the whole reason I came, but still I wonder.
How do I measure up?
It's a human question, one I ask too often.
I feel the lamp light on me and hear the scrawl of the pen on paper as she surveys my land formations, and I'm not scared, just uncomfortable.
She gets out the spray can of liquid nitrogen and aims it at a couple of spots on my legs.
This is nothing, I know, but I get squeamish easily, so I try to think of other things. I tell myself that I'm beautiful and whole and healthy. I ask myself what God would say to me here in this room. Psalm 139 comes to mind.
Of course. It's perfect.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely...
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed...
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139: 1-4, 13-16, 23-24
I think about God, who knows me from head to toe, every inch of my skin, every freckle, every scar, who sees the parts of me that I hide, the parts of my heart that I keep to myself. Other parts that I let some people see, but not everyone.
God, scan me thoroughly. Help me root out disease, the unhealthy ways I sometimes think, the way I compare myself with others, my need to measure up, my hunger for applause. Help me learn other ways. Heal my weaknesses.
Does any bit of my experience resonate with you? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Have a great weekend, y'all! And wear sunscreen!