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.
, 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!
Love, Becky


lotusgirl said...

Oh my. This was so beautifully wrought that I have tears in my eyes. You captured it so well. I hope you're okay. I could identify with everything. I haven't had the skin cancer issues (as of yet) but I've had mole exams. Not fun. It's weird. I have a bit of graphite in my leg too. I was swinging my fabric purse in 4th grade (I think), and it hit me in the leg, and, of course, there was a super-sharpened pencil that poked through and stabbed me and broke off the tip.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Thank you, Lois. I'm perfectly fine. I just get these routine checks after dealing with some pre-cancerous stuff.
And you have a pencil tip in your leg too? We match! :)

Susie said...

I have a matching pencil tip in my thigh. Maybe it is a special club that we did not know we belonged to before now! I love your image of being like a chicken under parchment paper.Your writing makes what would seem to me like an unpleasant errand into an interesting, thought provoking and spiritual experience!

Laura S said...

As always, I love your writing... funny, thought-provoking, easy to relate to. You have such a gift!
I have a graphite mark between two fingers on my left hand (thanks to my brother and a fight during a Disney World trip when I was 5) and a few dry, patchy spots in various places (my doctor said not to worry, they were just signs of getting old... oh, thanks)- do those count?

I remember during a radiology follow-up exam last summer thinking they should play soothing music and/or have pretty things in the room or on the ceiling to view and/or have magazines in the room or let you bring in a book. Until then, guess I'll recite scripture, imagine myself in yoga, sing, think of my grocery list, anything to pass the time and relieve the anxiety.

Thanks, Becky!

Deidra said...

"Here's an extra paper sheet for your legs, just to keep you comfortable."

That line right there could be unwrapped for days. Great writing. I was there with you...pointing my toes, checking my polish for chips, trying to ignore all of the exposure. And I love the idea of the doctors giving each other Botox after the rest of us have gone home.

Unknown said...

You had me right there, Becky. My chest even felt a little tight. Why is it that those paper gowns do that to a girl? Immediately invoke anxiety? I'm glad you're ok. I've been through this type of inspection before and could relate to the chicken breast analogy. Made me smile.

Rachel said...

so well written - loved the part about the chipped toenail polish - I've thought that. lol

Loved how you brought the story back to our Creator - who knows every little part about us - inside and out - and cares about every little part.


Julie Gillies said...

Just had the exact same body scan done at my dermatologist's office too, Rebecca. What IS it with everyone there looking so gorgeous? Sheesh. I felt like a schlump-meister just walking in the front door. Clearly something has to be done. *grin*

Glad all is well with you. And thank you for including my favorite Psalm!

Oh, and I've had a pencil tip on the palm of my left hand since 1st grade. Seems we're leading parallel lives here...

Cathy said...

Rebecca, I have just been to the dermatologist - and guess what? This time he didn't burn anything off with that liquid nitrogen. Sometimes I think they carry that stuff around just waiting to squirt it. This time, I was lucky.

Yes everyone, wear sunscreen - avoid the sun between at least 10-3 during the DAYTIME!

I have a graphite mark on the palm of my hand.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Looks like we need to start a pencil-tip-under-the-skin club, y'all! I love your stories. We're all in this together!

Amy Sullivan said...

Can I tell you your blog is one of my fave, fave, favorites?

Loved your post. I wanted to hand you an extra paper gown to cover up.

I really liked what you said about God knowing us from head to toe. Ahh, he does, doesn't he? In some ways it can make me feel vulnerable in others, it brings me me such peace.

lynnmosher said...

Oh, Becky! I loved this. I think! 'Cause I'll have to do this soon. Ugh! Great post!

Lyla Lindquist said...

Huge fan of the giant paper towel. Oh yes.

What really had me here? I scrolled down from this post to the next to find superboy in his scivvies and cape. Perhaps this is what we should do, just don the paper like a cape and see what happens next...

Thanks for your stop the other day, Rebecca! Blessings to you this weekend.

Locusts and Wild Honey said...

I love, love, love this post! And UGH I hate that paper apron.

I just spent three hours getting my hair highlighted, aka three hours staring at my face in the mirror. I didn't find much I like anymore.

This is a good reminder that it doesn't matter.

Angie Muresan said...

Yes, it all resonates with me. I have spent too many years of my young life roasting my skin. I worry about it now. Have a beautiful and happy weekend.

kathy said...

This is so beautiful. Written so perfectly. Thank you for exposing your inner-most parts to us so we can all feel better about ourselves, too. I just had an hour-long ultrasound so the doctor can peer more closely at a couple of things on my mammogram. Oh, the indignities.

Unknown said...

Joining the pencil tip club, except mine's in the hand - a gift from Grade One. :) Loved your descriptions here.

You know the drs never find any suspect skin problems,just other things, which is surprising on both counts, as if I'm opposite to my mother who has mole/growths removed regularly. I love the sun, have been in it most of my life, tend to forget sunscreen, though I usually brown not burn. Not sure if that is a blessing or not yet. 30 min can change so many things.

Terri said...

I had to have a mole removed once, thankfully it was benign....but I know what you mean about the scan and the paper...I think I'd hate seeing doctors in France....

Michelle DeRusha said...

Oh my gosh Rebecca, this really got to me this morning. Partially because on Thursday this week I will be doing the exact same thing (again, payment for sun-basking -- a girl with Irish heritage!). And also because your writing is just beautiful, amazing, so spot-on!!! I relate to every bit of this -- the discomfort, the awkward conversation, the self-berating, the humiliation. It's just awful, isn't it. Psalm 139 -- a salve for my discomfort.

Thank you for this today!

Karyn said...

Oh, I dread those exams! I had one once for too much sun bathing as well and felt like they thought I was a jerk just for arriving that day! So thankful that's not a daily occurrence and glad you're okay too.