Name Dropping

Interior, B25 Bomber
“Do you want to put on a flight suit?”

My daughter nodded, a grin starting to form. She had not been one bit happy about being dragged to an air show.

“They didn’t make flight suits that fit women so the ladies had to roll up the legs and sleeves to make them fit.” She zipped up the suit, then rolled up the cuffs. “Come on, I’ll show you how to fly!”

She helped my daughter scramble up the wing and into the cockpit and proceeded to explain how the instruments worked, letting her use the pedals and rudder.

“During World War II, women flew planes like this all over and in some cases taught the men how to fly…”

It was a fascinating thing watching the change that come over my daughter. She held her head higher. She seemed more confident. She positively glowed. It was a striking transformation.

The key?

Her brother was not getting to do this.

I used to think that girls just needed the same opportunities as boys but I am thinking that is maybe less true. If her brother had been there he would have commanded all of the attention. She would have faded to the background. She needed her own opportunity, her own experience. My daughter needed the woman in the B-25 bomber to pull her to the side specially and tell her that she flew in this plane all the time, that girls, that women, CAN do amazing things.

This post was going to be about how grateful I was for all of the women in the world who take the extra time to help girls understand their history, to understand science, to help them reach their dreams.

And then the Boy Scouts announced girls could join up.

Now, I’ll be honest. I know the Girl Scouts are not all about cookies necessarily but that is what the world knows them for. I never wanted to be in the Girl Scouts as a kid. I didn’t want to have to compete at selling cookies. I wanted to do what the Boy Scouts were doing, having adventures, learning survival skills, but I never wanted to join the Boy Scouts because… boys… ick.

As a parent I have not enrolled my kids in either scout program. I simply don’t have time to be jetting off to two meetings and doing camp outs and projects for two different organizations. So, on some level I see the appeal, having both kids in the same program. But girls need their own space to feel special. Too often they get lost in the male crowd. They need mentoring from strong women.

All of this begs the question, what is wrong with being a girl? Why do we have to be more like the boys? Why can’t we be successful and adventurous in our own right? Why do we have to join the boys?

Why do we have to sell cookies?

I don’t think girls who want to join the Boy Scouts are bad but part of me feels the “allowing” girls thing is a bit insulting and maybe a bit embarrassing. Come, girls, join the BOY Scouts! Is being a girl such a shameful thing? Is being different bad? For all of the emphasis on cookies, perhaps the message is that Girl Scouts have missed the point. They are no longer relevant. 

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Taking It

Looking up at the Statue of Liberty

“He just hit on me again…” She shook her head in disbelief as she sat down the phone receiver. “The man comes in with an STD and then wants my phone number so we can hook up after he finishes the medication.”

“Again? Did he hit on you when he was here?”

“Yep. Twice.”

“Was he disrespectful?” I caught myself. What constitutes disrespect? He didn’t call her a cunt or force himself on her but then isn’t continuing to ignore her refusal as sign of disrespect? Particularly given the context.

“I don’t guess so…”

“I can fire him or have the office manager call him up and tell him to stop.”

“No. That will affect our survey results… likelihood to recommend practice and friendliness of the medical assistant….” Her pay raises and evaluations were linked by the healthcare system to those patient satisfaction measures much like 5% of my income depends on meeting certain thresholds for patient satisfaction.

“Well, you already told him no. That’ll affect it, too.”

“True.”

I think back on all of the times I have laughed off unwelcome advances over the years, people who really and truly crossed the line, and I said nothing. I stood tall and laughed it off, not showing my displeasure.

What will he think if I tell him to back off?

“It doesn’t happen often does it?” people ask. 

Depends on if you meet their definition of “pretty” or not. Then there is the question how often is too often? How far is too far?

Admittedly, “Doc, you sure look nice today,” is a far cry from “I’d like to fuck you.” 

Complements are nice. 

Harassment is not.

It isn’t like my medical assistant wears short skirts and low cut blouses. She wears baggy scrubs. I wear professional attire. Pants. A skirt to at least my knees. A blazer. Maybe jeans on a Friday. We don’t flirt with patients. We aren’t asking for it.

In the past, I have considered these sorts of encounters a part of the job. Now I want to tell this man that what he is doing is crosssing a line but is that going too far?Maybe no one ever said anything to him before. Maybe no one ever will. Maybe he will become the president of the United States or a powerful media mogul in Hollywood. Maybe I am just being overly sensitive. 

Pumped Up

IMG_1233

“Well, you see… I was benching 300 pounds and felt something give in my right shoulder. It’s been hurting ever since.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Um.” He searched his memory. “Three months ago? Maybe longer.” He shrugged, then winced.

“Why the hell are you benching 300 pounds?” 

Did he really do that? Or was he maybe exaggerating just a smidge?

I mashed around on his shoulder, bringing on another wince, and walked him through some range of motion exercises to evaluate the joint further. This was his sixth injury from lifting in past 24 months. I had already told him he needed to back off a bit.

“I need to gain weight. I need more muscle.” 

He came from a long line of average height, thinly built people. He had already put on 25 pounds of muscle since the last time I saw him. Much more was going to be impossible.

“You are fighting genetics, you know. You are not going to be able to bulk up more than you already have without doing dangerous stuff.”

He look back at me, clearly horrified. “Oh, no, I’d never do that, Doc! But I’ve at least got to make my chest look good. That’s what the ladies want.” He puffed up his chest for effect.

“I’m a lady. That’s not what I want. I don’t think that is what most women want.”

He stared at me with a single eyebrow cocked up in disbelief standing out on his fresh-out-of-college face.

“So, what do women want, then?”

“Security. Respect. Love. Not necessarily in that order.”

He rolled his eyes and laughed. 

Had no one said this to him before?

“Sure, Doc….” His reply held a hint of sarcasm.

“Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate a man who takes care of himself, who stays fit. That in itself is an act of love, but having impeccable pecs is really not necessary. Pushing the envelope is really not necessary. A guy who says, ‘You need to carry the groceries in yourself, hon, because I can’t lift the sacks with my jacked up shoulders and I can’t walk with this bum knee,’ isn’t really sexy if he did it to himself.”

There was silence as I ordered an MRI in the computer. Thousands of dollars already spent treating his injuries, what was a few more?

Then he laughed.

“I guess you’re right, Doc.”

Damn right, I’m right.

“Just take it easy on your body. It has to last you the rest of your life…”

*****************************************

I have had several conversations like this over the past year. I talk a lot about how body image issues affect women but there is a ton of pressure for men, for boys even, and it is getting worse. A distortion and misrepresentation of what is possible and what is desired is being perpetuated by media, by people selling lies. 

Fight back, I say. 

Fight back.

Stretched

Dinosaurs in the American Museum of Natural History

“I want to change doctors.”

Reviewing her chart before entering the room I could see that she had been asking for this for months. The medical assistant had warned me that she was going to bring it up again.

“Why?”

“Well, I never get to see her when I need to. She’s always out or I have to see the nurse practitioner because she’s too busy. Besides, you were the one recommended to me by several coworkers but you weren’t taking new patients.” She stared at me, accusation in her voice. 

“Well, the reason I stopped taking new patients is because the ones that I did have could not get in to see me when they needed it.”

Some days I have open slots that don’t fill. It makes me antsy but I try to remind myself that not overloading the schedule ensures that people can get in if they need to. I want to be able to see them, have a relationship with them, even if it hurts my bottom line. THAT gives me joy.

“….But you should also know that I have kids. Sometimes they get sick. Or I get sick. Or some other emergency pops up…”

“Well, she doesn’t have kids. At least not that I know of.”

In truth she is undergoing a fertility work up, hoping to have kids but it was not my place to tell a patient this without her permission. A woman should have the right to have a child if she wants one, shouldn’t she, even if it inconveniences others.

I agree to take her on as a patient. The very next day:

“Uh, mom?”

“Yes?”

“I just puked.”

The smell of vomit began to waft through the car. I cracked a window.

“Block my open slots until I can get to the clinic and see what is going on.”

“You don’t HAVE any open slots.”

As my daughter retches again into the plastic sack I know I don’t have a choice. They will all have to be rescheduled. There is no one else that can watch her.

“He’s going to have surgery. I’ll need to be out for at least a week….” 

It makes me nauseated to think about it, rescheduling that many people, but it just cannot be helped. 

He needs me.

No doubt someone, somewhere is asking to change doctors. Knowing that bothers me on some level but being a mom also brings me joy. My kids deserve a mom who can be present for them. It strikes me that this sort of issue is unique to female physicians. It is partly why we make less money. It is partly why we don’t hold as many leadership positions as our male counterparts. 

I choose my kids. 

I choose my family.

Meanwhile, I am sitting in a hospital room with my laptop, trying to do as much as I possibly can from here.

That doesn’t make me better. Or worse. Just different. 

Or maybe the just same. 

Worn

Interior, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Every year around this date I especially find myself marveling at love…

Love that is gained and lost, and found again. Love that is unrequited and unrewarded and yet still persists. Love that claws its way through the heart and lodges itself there against all logic and stays regardless of physical presence or absence. Love that endures despite being utterly spent, never quite reaching the point where it simply cannot love anymore. 

Lonely love.

Brilliant love.

Eternal love.

For over twenty years I have loved this love. At times gingerly, even tentatively, and at other times fiercely and with conviction. Is it more valuable for bearing all of the scars and scuff marks, the wear and tear of time and hurt? Is it more precious for simply surviving?

Perhaps….

But then, all love is precious. 

The First Lady

Liberty's torch

I put the baby to my breast. She ate greedily. 

So tiny for such a strong suck.

He had not come home yet. He did not know that she was a she and not a he. He would be angry, I knew. Would he let me keep her or would he kill her as he had the other three? Would he beat me as he had before?

Look, she is so beautiful, so perfect! Why can’t you love her?

Why can’t you love me?

The midwife busied herself quietly putting the room back in order. 

He would never pay for a doctor or a hospital. Not for me, he said. I was not worth it. 

A woman. 

A girl.

Someday I would leave him. I would run away. Far, far away. But to where? And they would find me, wouldn’t they? They always did. If I was lucky, they would shoot me where they found me. If not, he would be allowed to stone me to death. He’d like that. Then he could take a new wife. Someone who would give him boys. He never listened to the logic of genetics, that the determining X or Y chromosome actually came from him and from not me. My education, my past… it meant nothing to him. 

Neither did my future. 

No. I will outlive him. I will NOT give him the satisfaction.

The little one scrunched up her tiny baby face and yawned. Enough eating for now, she seemed to say as she looked directly into my eyes and grinned a lopsided baby grin. Then she drifted off into a peaceful slumber.

Born on Independence Day. If I were going to name her I would name her Liberty after the giant statue they tore down decades ago. No woman will stand as a national symbol, they said.  

Now she was gone.

Just like my own Liberty. 

The Artist

Room detail, Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

Over twelve years ago I met an artist.

What she had was a gift. I never had to tell her what to do. It was like she just knew. Left to create on her own she did the most amazing work.

Today was my last appointment with her. 

My hair stylist is retiring and I am grieving. She was the first and only person to ever take charge of my hair and make it look GOOD. She made me feel better about my hair, about myself. I cannot put into words how important and life changing that was.

When I ask patients what they do, often I’ll get the, “I’m JUST a…. fill in the blank.” Hair dresser, office worker, mail handler, Mom, etc. I hate, hate, hate that phrasing. 

Never doubt that what you do has an impact. No matter what your job happens to be, it matters to someone. 

It matters to me.

Maybe I will find someone just as good. 

Maybe I won’t. 

I loathe this kind of change so it will be a growing experience regardless but for now, I grieve. She was an artist in the true sense of the word and she will be missed.

The Boobs Have It

Display in museum in New York City
Do you know how many breasts I have touched? 

Thousands of them.

It is staggering when I reflect upon it. 

So many breasts. So very many. All shapes and colors and sizes. Hairy. Not hairy. Moles and rashes and skin tags galore. Droopy. Perky. Somewhere in between.

During breast exams I have for years and years referred to the exam as the “boob check.” Whenever I made reference to my breasts of anyone else’s I nearly always called them boobs or boobies. 

To be honest, I thought it was cute.

Touching another woman’s breasts makes me uncomfortable, maybe even a bit embarrassed. I feel the same when someone else is looking at or touching mine in a nonsexual, clinical sort of way. So I made fun of breasts and joked about the situation. It took some of the sting out of the situation to act goofy.

One of the many beautiful things about blogging  is that from time to time someone says something that makes me reexamine a part of my life and causes me to make some changes. 

Mark at Exile on Pain Street made a comment on one of my blog posts a while back (ok, maybe it was WAY back in July of 2015) that has stuck with me:

“I hate that word. Boobs…. Boobs sounds comical and crude. It lacks decorum. They’re beautiful! Not something to make fun of.”

This. From a MAN. 

At first, I blew it off. What does he know about women’s bodies anyway? What gives him the right to tell me what is disrespectful about the term boobs. I can can dang well call them anything I want, can’t I? I own a pair after all.

But it ate at me. 

And I felt kind of guilty.

I would take that comment out from time to time and chew on it. The word boob is, after all, another way to refer to someone who is a fool. An idiot. My breasts are way better than that, aren’t they? So are every other woman’s breasts for that matter. They give pleasure. They give life. Right or wrong, so much of who we are as women is wrapped up in these exocrine glands. I would never tell a man to show me his “twig and berries” if I were doing a genital exam. Why do I persist in denigrating the female anatomy during office visits? 

Excellent question.

Yesterday I was telling a woman to change into my lovely blue paper gown so we could do a breast exam when it struck me…

When was the last time I called them boobs?

It had been a long, long time, I realized.

And that made me smile…

Fertility vs. Virility

Gerber Daisy in a pot

“I need help,” she pleaded. “I don’t know where else to turn.” 

“Sure. What do you need?”

“I’m pregnant.”

She was newly married. They were recent college grads, just starting their first jobs and their lives together.

“Congratulations! How exciting!”

Her face crumpled and she began to cry great body wracking sobs. I braced myself. Had he left her? Was she being abused? Was there something wrong with the pregnancy? Had she lost her job somehow?

“My health insurance excludes coverage for birth control. The pills make me so nauseated and the depo provera shot just made me bleed and bleed. I couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket for other forms of birth control. So we used condoms. We tried to be careful.” She whispered hoarsely, “I don’t know what to do.” There was terror in her eyes. “My insurance policy excludes coverage for pregnancy. We made calls. All of the OB’s in the area want at least $10,000 up front in cash. We don’t have that kind of money. We have student loans and a mortgage!”

Could health insurance DO that? Exclude coverage for both pregnancy AND birth control? Oh, yes. Yes they could. And it was always hidden in the fine print. It was the young women starting out in life that didn’t know what to look for, the ones most likely to end up pregnant. 

It made me angry for her. What kind of misogynistic world did we live in where this was allowed? Where women are punished for possessing a functional uterus? The United States of America. The bastion of freedom and democracy.

We talked about her applying for Medicaid. 

It felt wrong, though. A woman… married, employed, insured (sort of, apparently) having to apply for Medicaid. That was not what Medicaid was intended for, was it? Once her dates were calculated, the pregnancy predated her employment contract and would have been considered a preexisting condition anyway, even if she did have pregnancy coverage. No matter what kind of policy she had, she was screwed. Literally and figuratively.

The other thing, which no one talked about out loud, was that the OBs who took Medicaid in the area were typically so awful no one with real health insurance would ever willingly use them. There was a huge stigma attached to it all.

So what happened to her, you ask?

She had an abortion.

Despite what you want to believe, hers was not an isolated story.

What a relief it was when the Affordable Care Act worked to changed that. No matter whatever else you felt about the ACA, it was a powerful step forward for women but even it did not go far enough. We all deserve comprehensive medical care that takes care of our entire bodies, not just the parts that correspond to our male counterparts.

But here we are with some people thinking it would be great to go back to that alternate kind of reality.

Well…

Be careful what you wish for.

Exposure

Almond tree flowers
What makes a woman report a crime?

I’ve been thinking about this question since my turn with jury duty. There are tons of things that would make me call the police. Theft, causing physical harm to a person or property, cyber bullying, extortion, etc. There are some gray areas, however.

For instance, let’s take a woman who is minding her own business loading groceries into the back of her SUV. A man drives up slowly in the store parking lot and exposes himself to her, his penis waving about in all of its erect “glory”.* What makes her say, “You know what? I’m going to call 911 and report you, you sorry bastard!”

To be honest with myself and all of you, I would not be the woman dialing 911. I’d be shocked and disgusted to be sure, but calling the police? No. Not for this.

Why? 

Shouldn’t I be reporting the guy to keep him from doing this to other women? Isn’t it my civic duty to report it, to protect the public? 

Maybe I am just desensitized from seeing men’s penises every day as part of my job, some of them even erect (nothing funny about that, it is involuntary) that it does not offend me as it should? Maybe I just don’t want to waste more of my time on him. Filing a police report, potentially testifying in court… those things take time. A lot of time. Then there is the added aggravation of having defense counsel work to convince the jury that out of either malice or ignorance I must not have seen what I know I saw… worse, if the jury decided he was not guilty.

So here I am, an educated woman telling you that I would make the conscious decision to not call the police about a man showing off his penis to me in public and I have to be honest with you that after serving as a juror, I think I would be even less likely to do it. 

Call me a coward. 

What prompts another woman make the report, though? What are your thoughts? Would you call 911 if you were the woman? Why or why not? What if you were a man and witnessed this being done to someone else? What if it was done to you? Would you do something different if a friend was with you? What if there were kids around?

*In case you are wondering, this was not the case I served on as a juror.