When you start seeing someone new

IMG_0491.JPGMoaning, I threw yet another shirt on the bed and pulled on a purple cotton tank with lace at the hem. I added a purple beaded necklace, the silver bracelet my parents gave me that has the entire serenity prayer written on it in impossibly tiny letters that serves as a tangible reminder than I do not govern the universe, and a long, lightweight white shirt. I hurried to the mirror to examine the effect.

I nodded at my third and final outfit and headed to the bathroom to take my morning meds, disgusted with my own fussing.

I had changed my underwear to a nicer pair in a more subdued color. Doubtless I would have my pants off before too long.

I had remembered to shave and moisturize my one leg. Brushed and flossed, hair blown dry and sprayed, facial moisturizer slathered on. I sniffed under a raised arm — yeah, I already applied deodorant.

I debated changing my shoes but was running too short on time to get out the extra long shoe horn and start the wrestling match with my slightly nicer pair of black flats.

Nerves tightened my shoulders as I drove. We had made arrangements over the phone to meet at a place I had never been. My GPS system spoke to me in its Australian male voice, calmly guiding me closer and closer to this new person.

I wasn’t sure I was ready for a new partner, but the last one had already said goodbye. He was moving to Arizona and our relationship was over. He let me down easy, assuring me that he would miss me and that he still cared about me. He had to pursue his own career, and of course I understood that.

I parked the car and took a few deep, slow breaths. Grabbing my purse from the passenger seat, I shoved my keys into it and walked unsteadily toward the door and my potential new relationship.

To my relief, our initial get-to-know-you chat went quite well after the initial awkwardness wore off. I think we will suit each just fine.

As all amputees know, having to switch prosthetists is a nerve-wracking experience. I had followed my last one from one practice to another office much further away from my home in order to maintain our relationship.

I felt comfortable with Charlie. I felt like he knew me and understood my body intimately, as only a professional who fits a prosthetic socket into the groin of an above-knee amputee can. We had in-jokes about real problems (mechanics) and girl problems (aesthetic objections), and he addressed both with equal seriousness while appreciating my ironic feminist wit.

While I understood in my head that Charlie’s move was good for himself and his spouse, and I wished them the best, I nonetheless felt in my heart the loss of his kind, easygoing nature and vast prosthetic expertise, his quirky sense of humor and sharp eye. It’s difficult enough to endure endless fittings and adjustments, but it’s far worse if you can’t relax and trust the person groping your butt to find your ischial tuberosity.

It felt terribly vulnerable to show someone new my naked leglet (i.e. residual limb or stump), with its uneven folds and assortment of scars, ghosts of surgeries past. It was exhausting to go through the whole story again–the cancer, the chemo, the surgeries, the staph infections, more surgeries, the amputation.

We talked a little about what I do. I made it clear that I am not athletic or outdoorsy and remain completely uninspired by posters of mountain-climbing amputees. Perhaps they could find a poster of a female amputee in professional attire confidently speaking from a podium in a conference room? No?

As I left, I touched my fingers lightly to my bracelet, reflecting on what I can and cannot change. It will take patience and a willingness to be vulnerable for me to build a partnership with my new prosthetist. I’ll miss Charlie but I am ready to start over again.

The Voluntary Pain Rule

funny-snail-pain

I’ve just officially confirm that it is not just me who thinks that today’s “beauty treatments”—most of which I hear about from my students, who seem to relish horrifying me—are using the amount and quality of the pain they induce as proof of their effectiveness.

Laura Craik suggests that dominant culture has moved from “no pain, no gain” as a mantra for vigorous exercise to using it as a slogan for enduring excruciating facial masks (the videos of which are widely viewed on YouTube), body waxing, anal bleaching, and any number of unpleasant beautifying regimens. The companies selling these products make pain sound not only necessary but desirable.

No. Just no.

Sometime around the 5thor 6thof my 17 surgeries, I formed an important rule that I have lived by ever since. I call it the Voluntary Pain Rule, or VPR. As you probably guessed, it states that I do not voluntarily undergo painful procedures of either the physical or psychic variety, unless they truly are medically necessary.

This means that I do not smear burning acid goo on my face in the hope of having younger-looking skin. But I take my refusal to endure unnecessary pain much further.

I do not have plastic surgery. I do not have tattoos, and my only piercings are one in each earlobe, done when I was 16 years old, long before the implementation of the VPR. Botox shots and Brazilian waxing are out of the question.

I also do not watch horror movies. I’ve actually tried to endure the sociopolitical angst of watching The Handmaid’s Tale, but within 5 minutes I start foaming at the mouth with feminist rage, my shoulders tight as rocks, a tension headache tearing across my temples, and I have to shut it off.

I do not engage in extreme activities likely to result in bodily damage, such as skydiving. Every time I see those “inspirational” posters at the prosthetics shop advertising prosthetic equipment, I shake my head at the amputees scaling icy mountain peaks or hanging from a climbing wall. I avoid places where poisonous snakes are likely to cross my path. I don’t go camping with Lyme-disease-bearing-ticks and the risk of nocturnal visits from hungry bears or other toothy predators. Actually, I don’t camp ever, unless you count staying at motels with no room service.

I have a deep-seated aversion to reading Cosmopolitan (and similar) magazines, the visual and written content of which induce such extreme body-shame that I am left keening, despite my intellectual rejection of cultural misogyny and my cherished belief in the immanent value of bodies of all shapes and sizes. I just can’t even go there.

I also treat pain immediately and without guilt. I take prescription pain meds for phantom limb pain, ibuprofen when I have a headache or my tendonitis flares up, numbing gel prior to Novocain injections before dental work, and 12-hour decongestant when I have a sinus headache.

I’m not immune to temptation, of course. My inner feminist is loath to admit it, but since my early 40s I have longed to have my breasts lifted back up to their previous position, a completely unnecessary procedure (although it may be medically necessary for some women due to back problems or other health issues). This clearly violates the VPR, and I won’t do it.

The VPR also prevents me from doing something creative and liberating, unfortunately. I would dearly love to have delicate floral vines tattooed around my port scars and allograft scars as decoration for the physical evidence of my survival and persistence, like other women with scars have done. But tattooing on the side of and between my breasts and on the remains of my inner thigh would be too lengthy and painful an experience for me.

As with all rules, there must be exceptions. All life involves some risk—simply getting in my car every day involves substantial risk of accidents. I don’t blame people for taking reasonable chances in doing something that they love or value. And everyone gets to determine the acceptable pain levels for themselves. I know my limits.

If I ever become YouTube famous, it will be for cool amputee Halloween costumes or some wild feminist rant; it will not be for enduring voluntary pain in the name of beauty.