Friday, July 23, 2010

The Young and The Shameless

shame sh ām
a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior

shameless ˈ sh āmlis
(of a person or their conduct) characterized by or showing a lack of shame

Shame: something that I felt time and time again when my GI would snap those plastic gloves on his hands and down went my pants for an examination. Which makes sense, I suppose, in hindsight, demanding a preteen to drop her pants for an adult male three times her age is embarrassing. I was humiliated to say the very least, I would close my eyes with my knees drawn into my chest and pretend I was somewhere far away from where I really was. What my GI failed to realize, and many doctors of mine after him, was that while for them IBD check-ups and procedures are routine and cold, it was all brand new and scary for me and that’s a very private part of your body to suddenly be on display for the medical world to poke and prod.

Then there was the peer shame. Not so much with my ‘normal’ peers as I felt it with my IBD peers. I can recall being on the elevator with my Mom in the hospital and a boy darting in just as the doors were closing. I looked up just as he looked at me, and I found myself staring at his NG tube. At this point I did not have one, and my cheeks were bright red as I watched his press the floor button that the GI clinic was on. I felt ashamed that I had escaped tube feeds when he had to be on them. I wanted to tell him that I too had Crohn’s, that I too was in pain and was suffering, but I couldn’t speak and wasn’t sure what to say. And that too, made me feel ashamed.

Years later, I found myself in a similar, if not worse, situation. It was the middle of the night and in my exhaustion and pain, I had wrangled myself from the hospital bed, torn the IV cables from the wall, and shoved the IV pole to the bathroom. But not fast enough. Down came the diarrhea as I began to cry and threw myself on the toilet. There was no chance I’d be able to clean myself up effectively by myself, no way I’d be able to get off the toilet without help. And so, I did what I could - I pulled that dreaded nurse emergency button. And there it was again - shame.

They came running, things were beeping, maybe in hindsight I’ve dramatized it, but they came as if the world was ending. The door flew up, their faces in fright, I held up in hands and tried to laugh. I told them I was fine, I just needed some help getting cleaned up. I felt badly for having worried them and making them run down the hall, felt badly they had to sponge bath a teenager to clean her of her own gross stool. And suddenly, while part of me remained shamed, part of me made it routine and ordinary, and it felt a little better.

I’d like to think I’m shameless now. In terms of GI things, I mean. I know what’s going on medically, I’ve had an enema done with an audience of nursing students and countless exams - and it’s okay, because it has to happen to somebody. I would rather be the guinea pig than have someone like my 12 year old self go through the shame blindly as I did. I know that I am not responsible for having my disease, but I am responsible for doing my best to get better.

As I prepare for surgery and think, disgustedly at times, who will see me at my most vulnerable time, lying on that OR table unconscious, it can make me cringe. But I know they’ll know what they’re doing just like I know what I’m doing. When it comes down to it, I’m just young and shameless - and proud of it.


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