chapter 31: CONTRAST (alternate: “Sex and Luccia”)

BEFORE:
AFTER:



on the morning of august 4th, there were many cracks.  there was a crack in the divide between my formerly “good” health and the threat of epilepsy.  there was a crack in my thumb where i’d sliced myself with a sharp blade at work the night before.  and there was a crack in my joints as i rose.  because i was getting up at the crack of dawn.

i showered and shaved…i wanted to look good for the team of medical professionals who’d be administering my cerebral angiogram.   personal grooming was never my thing, but neither was coming up short–who wants to feel sloppy in that super nice, breathable gown?  i imagined myself on the red carpet…

“yes, and who are you wearing tonight?”

“well, joan, i’m wearing a prominent designer; you’ve seen his creations on the sick and the elderly.  soft white cotton.  little pattern, not overstated.  comes in three versions.  this is the snowflake.  there’s also a paisley, and a non-descript constellation of blue dots.  like most male fashionistas, the auteur is gay, hence the open-back design.  it’s a little risque for me, but the great thing is that you can tie this hot little number if you’re feeling a little less than frisky.  and it goes swimmingly with a nice Prada catheter bag.  my oxygen is Ralph Lauren, and my colostomy, Versace–he’s a master of elegance.”

fortunately, the latter wasn’t on the docket for today…

but the docket still held some undesirables…like…a cerebral angiogram.  how about a nap instead?

on the way to the hospital, i looked affectionately toward getting back home and sleeping, presumably with drugs.  i was gonna sleep well.  but that wouldn’t happen ’til the end of the night; i had things to do.

repeatedly, i stared at my thumb.  the thing wouldn’t stop bleeding, no matter what i did.  i’d kept tape around it through the night, but clotting remained as elusive to me as a positive media reception to a Republican.  i gazed at the bright crimson rift lurching around my favored extremity for movie reviews…it looked the same way my head may soon look, a preview to a potential bloody gash that a bunch of brain-bent surgeons would splash around in.  i only hoped that my head would seal up more adeptly.  as for now, i watched the split in my thumb, waiting for the Israelites to cross it.  Moses, put down your staff.  Wrong red sea.

compress.  compress.  squeeze.

nothing.  still bleeding.

maybe they could stitch it at the hospital.

i arrived just in time to enjoy a 5 minute wait in puke green chairs that had been there since before the advent of the Scientific Method.  or at least before Greg became Johnny Bravo, and previous to Cindy losing her Kitty Carry-All doll because Tiger had hidden it in the doghouse.

then, it was time:  a makeover, hospital style.  cool plastic bracelet (and anklet!  –for the morgue???  boy scouts motto?), nice duds, nifty headdress, and little blue footies that made me look like a fluffy Smurf from the anterior ligament down.

but halt.  my personal style can only wander so far from home…

i had my wardrobe limits.  i had my standards.  i drew the line at a point; etched it in permanent marker.  i took a stand

and i wasn’t afraid to set the nurse straight:

“i left my underwear on.  i’m leaving them on.  i’m leaving my underwear on.”

nurse:  “you can’t do that.  take them off.”

line erased   😦

i felt exposed under my loose-fitting gown.  as a guy, unless you’re a eunuch who wears kilts most of the time, this is an unfamiliar and undesirable sense of, well, many words that end in “-gle.”  a few being “juggle,” tangle,” “mingle,” and worst of all, “dangle.”

as i adjusted to my libertine crotch–and as per hospital policy–the nurse gave me the rundown:  they would be going through my femoral artery, sending a catheter in, up, through my carotid artery, and on into my head, where it would shoot dye and take photos.  this sounded like a lot of fun, and since the catheter itself would be taking the pictures, it gave me my first chance to pose for a photo and really “smile inside.”  say cheese… [flash:  but for some reason, when the actual procedure was performed, there was no camera on the tip.  instead, an imaging system around my head took pictures of my dye-filled dome]

waiting to be wheeled into surgery, i told the nurse the truth:  i was nervous.  i didn’t want to be; but for that matter, i didn’t want to have a brain tumor.  as mick jagger said, “you can’t always have the thing that you want to have.”  or something like that.

still, “nervous” isn’t my usual mode:

Back to the Suture:

10 years ago, i had a problem:  a tumor (YES, ANOTHER ONE!) that had a very good chance of malignancy.  where was it?  in my chest.  well, excuse the masculine parlance; actually it was in…my breast.  you know, those things they stuff into bras?  the doctors thought i may have breast cancer.  the experience was a whirlwind of L.A.-flavored gender bending; it should’ve prepared me for the mad city in which i now live, where the women are women and so are the men.  i had to make several trips to places a man should never need to go.  there was a mass which was rapidly expanding, an ode to both cell division and dolly parton, as the area beneath my right nipple was experiencing explosive growth, like the number of people who like Glee.  and just like those people, the growth was in need of being stopped AT ONCE.

–so for that cease-and-desist action, i would have to make the trek from snakes and snails and puppydog tails, across a physiological channel, to the isle of sugar and spice.  but it wasn’t nice.  i hit the shores hard, just shy of Pap Smear Pointe…and immediately, HELLO, ULTRASOUND:  “how IS the little fella?  can you see the feet?  and the scrotum?  and the BREASTS?  ah…he IS a chip off the ol’ block!  …and, why, how are YOU, Vanderbilt Breast Center?  i’m sorry–i wanted boobs so badly, i grew them myself.”

geez…

the Breast Center…hmmm…sounds like my DREAM PLACE…but alas…

every trip to the “BC” (if you’re cool) took me down a few notches more…i’d be reading McCall’s in the waiting room, jonesing for the Better Homes & Gardens that the white-haired retired lunchroom lady (from the 60s) kept selfishly to her E-Cupped self; and Aunt Bee in the corner was hording two coveted copies of the AARP Digest, one with Ed McMahon on the cover, the other being the annual Osteoporosis issue.  i sat relegated to my article on menopausal dishes for the budget gourmet, and finally, the nurse came for me.  just as i was about to discover the miraculous hot-flash-curing virtues of a 20-minute casserole.

i’d barely gotten past the cracker crust, when she called my name.

but not my name.  not my name…

i tensed, agasp at the words rolling off that brash R.N. tongue (which should’ve stood for Rong Name), with all the pleasant elegance of a British police siren.

out it rang:

MRS. HAYNES?????!!”

i stood, and the upward motion pushed my head into a draining cloud of humiliation.  i walked solemnly across the room…past henrietta…and past myrtle…past an old man waiting on his old wife, thankful that he’s not a woman…past better days, regretful that–at least today–I AM.

i closed the distance between the nurse and myself, ’til my words needed travel mere inches.  and then, with the most perturbed voice, drenched in the same ironic, sorrowful denial that was surely heard from the stand at Nuremberg: “I’M ‘MRS. HAYNES!!!!!!!!!!!!

—-and the court breaks into MAYHEM!!!!—-

……

after a barrage of classically oriental apologies from my name-calling nemesis, i was led back to the special room.  where i would receive my–

mammogram.  let me say that again, more appropriately.

MAMMOGRAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

……  there, process it…  …… i will wait

i took off my shirt, and prepared for a hallmark of womanhood.  a rite of passage.  i hadn’t been this excited since i’d bought my first training bra.

the upbeat, 40-something southern belle of a technician looked at me with complete seriousness, and said twangily, “my son just thinks i have the neatest job.”

not right now he doesn’t, lady.

she took me and made me her own.  my mind flashed to the steel rollers flattening taffy in the windows of a Gatlinburg shop.  i was pulled, flattened, and pressed, and i half expected to be left with mickey mouse’s face on my chest, like the machines at Disneyworld that flatten your penny with an imprint of an American icon.  HEY!–boys have boobs, TOO?!  it IS a small world, after all…

and a sensitive one, too:

for my exams, i was given a default fluffy pink top, to make me feel more feminine.  trust me, it worked.

where was i going with this?  oh yes–the SURGERY.  the plan was to cut around my nipple, creating a porthole that Gopher or Captain Stubing might poke their heads through.  then, the surgeon would get onboard and cut that sucker out.  and he DID.  a mass the size of a golfball.  it wasn’t a Titleist, but i can only hope he enjoyed the freebie on the driving range.  (is this why doctors golf?  the constant, free alternatives to those pricey, dimpled orbs?).  FORE!  and “fore” the operation to remove my ball (in my chest), i had an imperative request:  I DO NOT WANT TO BE PUT TO SLEEP.  that isn’t my style.  AT ALL.  KEEP ME AWAKE.  CUT ME.  BUT KEEP ME CONSCIOUS.  THAT’S MY STYLE.

BUT:

[and now we transition]

here i was, at UCLA Medical Center, asking the nurse…”if you have to err between giving me more or less drugs…i’m spitballing here, but i’d go with more.  i’m a little nervous, and i need some help relaxing.”  they were about to go into an area NEAR an area that i feel kind of protective of.  and they were going with a KNIFE.  then through my circulatory system (that thing my heart is in), up through my jack-the-ripper artery…  i could use maybe a pound of turkey and some hot milk.  or a mind-numbing, medical-grade anesthetic.

after duly noting my request, the nurse saw me transferred to a large room with a high ceiling, which looked like a 3 car garage.  i half expected my doctor to have greasy hands and his name on his shirt.  maybe i could use a coupon, because regardless of the prognosis, i was sure they’d recommend a radiator flush.  they always do.  but until then, i had enough other things to concern me.  i lay on the slab–i mean table–with my IV in…

an old woman in a dress appeared at my left side.  she looked like Mrs. Wilson from Dennis the Menace, in her Sunday best.  she began asking me questions–my name, my birthdate, my attitude toward vanilla wafers in banana pudding…  my eyes fixed on her name tag:  “Luccia.”  LUCCIA…i thought about that name.  and as i pondered the sum of syllables, a middle eastern man to my right lifted up my gown.  and then he –WAIT!!!  WHAT???!!!!  LIFTED UP MY GOWN?????!!!!!!!!  LUCCIA!!!!!!!!  Mr. Wilson!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

the man started shaving the area, as Luccia continued her litany of failed distractions from the fact that i was being given a sick and twisted bladed version of a brazillian wax, SOMEWHERE down there, in the neighborhood at least…i couldn’t tell quite how close…with a captive, well-dressed audience of 1.  rather than the PREFERRED AUDIENCE, of NONE.

thankfully, the shaving was over in just a few seconds, and a covering was laid onto me.  Luccia kept the conversation going, betraying a great deal of curiosity about me, the fruits of which she was logging onto her clipboard.  after a few minutes, i started wondering exactly what kind of coverage i had…i couldn’t see, and i couldn’t sense enough…my gown was still up, but presumably the man had added a wealth of material to the entire area…finally, i reached a point where i needed to know the exact situation.  i struggled with the tubes wrapped all around both arms, and i finally freed myself such that my right hand could make its way down and around, to discover…

shelter?  refuge?

um…

did i ask for the brazillian, or the LANDING STRIP?  because there was a strip of material, so narrow that…

…well, imagine you can’t see my face, but you can see my ears

LUCCIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  WHAT THE CRAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’M DRESSED WITH A NECKTIE!  AND NOT THE 70s STYLE–GROWING UP, MY FATHER HAD A HOST OF TIES IN HIS CLOSET SO WIDE, THERE WAS NO NEED FOR A SHIRT.  BUT THIS TIE–THIS WAS STRICTLY 80s.  I HALF EXPECTED THERE TO BE A KEYBOARD PRINTED ON IT.  LUCCIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  LOOK AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  LOOK AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PORNO TARZAN IS MODEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

…….

after the humiliation of my airplane having its wings exposed, i was flying low and pretty much ready for anything.  “need to go through my heart?  knock yourself out.  oh, you don’t have to?  well, you wanna anyway?  i don’t really have an aversion; i’m too busy showing my balls.”

cut, stab, prod, push.  dye.  photos.  say “cheese.”  and then, on the other side of a sweet serenade of REM’s greatest hits (the sleep phase, not the band), i was awake, still in the room, and there was Luccia.  there was a sparkle in her eye.  what had she done while i was asleep?  i didn’t want to know…  being high, i asked her questions of a nature that would’ve normally been as far from my mouth as Paris Hilton from reality.  but alas, the drugs…i delved into her sex life…nudity…my influence over her…we bonded…and then, like the payphone industry, it was over forever.

i lay in a recovery room for maybe 2 hours.  then it was time to go.  i moved like a snail.  onto my next activity–  bed?  no.  rest?  no.

band rehearsal.  i got places to go, people to see…very, very slowly.

but in the meantime, the procedure with the contrast dye which filled my head made less of a cerebral impact than did the photos of me at the hospital.  since my hemorrhage, i had gone downhill physically.  seeing the pictures, i realized that i looked horrible.  i would have to work on that.  but unbeknownst to me, “working” wasn’t going to help at all.  if only i’d realized that at the time; but i didn’t.  i didn’t…

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