Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tales from No-Man’s Land

I’m sorry, it simply can’t be a coincidence that they make you spell out, if not whisper, the name of the only department in the hospital where abject humiliation is the daily fare: O.B./G.Y.N. Nobody has to say, “I‘m looking for the X-R-A-Y Department.”

Like the contents of their wives’ purses, most men don’t want to know what goes on “in there,” and who can blame them? It’s bizarre. Where else does a woman lie naked on butcher paper, staring at a Garfield poster on the ceiling, with her legs in “joy to the world” formation, confident that at least her bra and panties are well hidden? All while someone in a white lab coat tells her, “Try to relax.”

That’s life here in No-Man’s Land.

There aren’t enough accolades for the men who actually dare to venture into the trenches (ahem!). Like my gynecologist, Neal (and isn’t “kneel” a perfect name for a man who works in No Man’s Land?) who also happens to be a friend I see socially. In keeping with O.B./G.Y.N.’s weirdness, I get to pretend it’s perfectly normal to nibble wine and cheese with the man who’s more familiar with my uterus than the father of my children.
Neal helped deliver my oldest son -- that is, I think he did: it’s all kind of a blur. They discovered the baby was almost out of embryonic fluid, so they had to wheel me quickly into the delivery room, “Stat!“ (I love saying that!) and induce labor. I’ll quote the description from the wonderful comic, Dianne Nichols, and say my experience was similar to being “worked on by an Indy 500 car crew in a pit stop.” Instead of jumpsuits, surgical green-garbed blurs whizzed around me, the bright lights glinting off their shiny metal tools. A few pushes and I was back on the road, good as new.

All in a day’s work in No-Man’s Land.

One of the delivery nurses I do remember clearly was Carrie. She had lovely long fingers and always asked permission before doing one of those “Dispos-All” checks - you know, where they poke around and see how much your cervix has dilated. Not everyone asks, and after a few times, you do begin to feel like the garbage disposal, with people sticking their hands in there like they’d heard chicken bones being ground up. (Mans-lation: it would be like someone giving you a prostate exam without warning, only you get to watch it happening.) Carrie and I became friends during labor, and I found out between contractions that she was single and enjoyed biking, movies, fine dining and long walks on the beach. I gave her number to a single guy friend, and when nothing came of it, I didn’t hear from her again.

Then, ten years later, I ran into Carrie at a different clinic -- she was now a nurse practitioner, and by sheer coincidence, she was assigned to me for a routine exam. We happily caught up: I told her about my son, who now had two brothers, and she told me all about her training for this new job and how much she loved it. Then I said, “Last time I saw you, you were single and . . .”

The look on her face stopped me cold.

“Yeah,” she said, rather sadly, “I never did find the right guy, and I really wanted a baby. So today after work, I’m getting inseminated.”

Gulp. This is one market American Greetings has yet to tap: “May all your dreams be realized/Good luck getting fertilized!”

Really, what do you say? All I could do was hold Carrie’s long-fingered hand and make sympathetic noises while she told me about her struggles with this decision, her plans to return to work and how her parents will watch the baby.

“I’ll be praying for you,” I offered.

As we finished up, I looked back at the poster on her ceiling. It was a spoof of a Calvin Klein underwear ad (no Garfield for this gal!), with a buffed-out dude photographed in requisite shades of gray. Except that this guy was holding the front of his tighty-whities out and staring down, enraptured. The caption read, “Obsession.”

“Hey, Carrie,” I said, “Do you know what ‘klein’ means in German?”

She had a German-sounding last name, so I was taking a chance. But she thought a moment and burst out laughing, “Small!”

It was good to see her laugh. You don’t get many laughs in No-Man’s Land. It’s a tough room.

We said goodbye, and I gave her my son’s picture, for good luck. I got off the butcher paper, retrieved my bra and panties from their hiding places, got dressed and left. As the radio played the oldie, “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number,” I prayed that the nurse practitioner with the nice, long fingers who helped deliver my son would successfully conceive from an anonymous sperm donor.

Just another normal day in No-Man’s Land.