“Oh, look, you made me a bull’s-eye!” Dr. W says as he enters the room.

I attempt to chuckle and pretend I am amused. I am not.  It is not that I don’t appreciate his sense of humor or his desire to connect and make me feel comfortable. Rather, it is that I am laying face down on a skinny surgical table, chest elevated on pillows and my face hanging down into a hole similar to those found on massage tables. My neck is on fire, not literally of course. I am uncomfortable and anxious. I am not in the mood for chit chat. It frustrates me that he, like my dentist, expects me to carry on a conversation when I am in no position, emotionally or physically, to do so.  Perhaps I am wrong in my expectation. He may not be anticipating an answer but since social rules dictate one responds when spoken to, I feel pressured.

Dr. W was commenting on my back tattoo, a rather large piece of skin ink.   The tattoo, an all black illustration of a Native American symbol common referred to as The Man In the Maze, rests on my upper back between my shoulder blades and beneath my neck. 

“How funny would it be if the spot I need to inject into is right in the man’s neck?” he quips.

Another forced chuckle from me.

Dr. W begins the procedure and tells me he will inject me with a local anesthetic first followed by the steroid injection. 

“So, tell me, does the tattoo mean something to you?” he asks as he wipes down my back with what I presume is betadine. 

“Yes, it is the logo of an organization I run.” I respond.  At least this topic interests me. If I am going to be forced to talk I may as well talk about something that matters to me.

“Oh? What kind of organization?” he asks as he signals the surgical assistant to move the x-ray machine in a different direction.

“It is an organization that helps reunite family members separated by adoption.” I respond with some degree of difficulty.  The position my neck is in has caused additional pain. 

“By what?” he asks.

“Adoption.” I respond with a bit of an agitated tone.  No surprise he cannot hear me. I am talking through a hole in the table looking down at his skele-toes shoes. I wonder if those things are comfortable.  Is the feeling akin to wearing thong underwear with a piece of fabric separating each toe much like the string of a thong rests between your butt cheeks?  I think those shoes would bother me as much as a thong.  I ponder toe wedgies versus ass wedgies.

“Oh, wow. That’s neat.  How many people have you helped?” he asks.

“About 200.” I respond.

“Really? WOW, that is great. Were any of them rejected or not welcomed by the person looking for them:” he says as I feel a prick of a needle in my back.

“Local anesthetic. You will feel a slight pinch first and then I will get ready for the larger needle” he says.

Bracing myself for some sort of impact, I respond to his original question.

“No. It happens, of course, but fortunately it has not happened to my reunions” I offer with a bit of pride. I then rethink my answer and wonder if I should edit myself and add “except my own” to my initial statement.

“Well, that’s great. I guess it’s good to know your roots. I can understand wanting to know where you came from.” he says.

“True…not to mention your medical history” I retort.  Pain or no pain this is a topic I am passionate about.

“Oh, yeah, huh?  I didn’t even think of that.” He says.

Seriously?  The doctor does not think of the value of medical history. Should I be letting him stick a large needle in my spine?

“So what made you get interest in that?” he asks as he begins to insert the secondary needle into my back. 

“I was pregnant when I was eighteen and due to familial beliefs and my boyfriend not wanting to, uh, marry me, I was sent to a maternity home for five months and eventually gave my daughter up for adoption” I say with a bit of a shake to my voice. I am not sure if it is the topic of conversation or the needle going into my spine that makes me a bit shaky.

“Oh, wow. Yeah, eighteen is young to have a child” He says seeming to suggest that it was a good thing; my daughter was better off begin abandoned to strangers.  I wince a bit. He thinks I am in pain and tells me to hang on a second.  I don’t bother responding. I did not wince due to pain, at least not physical pain.

Societal conditioning on adoption has just entered the room. I can hear it breathing. I can hear it laughing at the side of the surgical table.  I can sense its sarcastic smile looking over the doctors shoulder.  I cannot believe I am about to debate adoption Kool-Aid while I get an injection into my spine.

“I disagree. My mother was nineteen when she had my sister but she was married.” I respond.

“Oh, wait, so you wanted to keep your daughter” he asks.

At that very moment, the entire left side of my body goes into a massive muscle spasm.  I feel pins and needles down to the tips of my fingers and I gasp.  I start to moan a bit and he tells me to hang on, keep breathing.  I try to get into my yoga frame of mind and focus on my breath. When that fails, I switch to the labor heeheehoohoos.  I am incredibly uncomfortable and conclude that if there weren’t a large needle currently inserted in my spine I would be jumping off the table.

The spasm wanes and I catch my breath.

“Yes, I very much wanted to keep her” I share.

“Oh…well…that must have been hard” he offers before telling me the procedure is over and that I can get dressed. He tells me the surgical tech will help me into recovery where they will check my vitals and ask me to wait a few minutes.

Hard I think to myself?  Hard.  Yeah. It was hard and still is.  Unlike the pain from the shot and the underlying condition creating the need for it, it is a pain that has lingered for twenty six years.

10 Thoughts.

  1. Oh Suz, this post had me in tears. Thinking of you lying there in pain, vulnerable, about to receive a procedure that is all at once, scary because of the unknown, temporarily debilitating, and painful on top of somehow having to carry on a conversation. Then, unwittingly, because of beautiful and meaningful piece of art, ending up having an adoption conversation with a professional who, like most Americans, is mindnumbling ignorant on the topic of adoption loss, Holy Hell!!!! I wanted to reach right through that paragraph and tell doc to shut the f$&k up, and just let you have a moment of restful respect while you are so vulnerable. This story definitely a trigger for me, I can not tell you how many times in the course of my mundane life, doc appointments, massages, fitness center clerks, I have had a sudden unbidden adoption topic/conversation knock the wind out of me, unbidden. Adoption is like that, isn’t it? A sneaky little passive-aggressive topic, that on the outside is all sugar-and-spice, but underneath, seeths a black hole of infinite loss. CRAP!!!

  2. Hard is right! The treatment sounds like no fun at all, and I’m sure the discussion didn’t help one bit. Your doctor’s responses were downright Pavlovian, as they often are from people in the mainstream – not unexpected, given the ridiculously skewed view of the entire adoption experience that most people have.

    I hope your back AND your psyche are feeling a little better with this behind you. Be good to yourself!!

  3. Holy crap! What a nightmare. I’m nearly speechless.

    I’ve learned, the hard way of course, simply not to ever speak about adoption trauma with the masses. They are, for the most part, clueless.

    • Yeah, I find I cannot do that. I understand (clearly) the reasons why you or anyone would do that but for me, it is my own little way of getting people to think – regardless the consequences it has on me. No, not a martyr or anything, I just remember my grandmother, crying as she watched the movie “Wallenberg” and when I went to shut it off, she hollered at me to leave it on. She added the instant we stop talking about the holocaust it will happen again. She lived the real holocaust, I lived my own personal adoption holocaust. I feel she is right – in her point and cause and in mine. So I share.

  4. (((SUZ))) Hard, indeed. It seems to me that most medical professionals think chit-chat is required. Perhaps in an attempt to take our minds off what they are about to do. Usually it’s along the lines of “did you have a nice Christmas?” or “have any vacation plans this year?” Unfortunately, your doc hit the bull’s eye in more ways than one. I applaud your bravery in answering his questions honestly. I’m sure I would have said re: the tattoo, “no significance, I just liked the image.” Who knows, maybe he’ll actually think about what you said and be a little less clueless down the line. In any case, I’m sending healing hugs your way. Hope your pain subsides and that you have a wonderful time in NO!

  5. [Seriously? The doctor does not think of the value of medical history. Should I be letting him stick a large needle in my spine?]

    … excuse me while I laugh my ass off about the irony. I don’t know if you meant that to come across the way it did to me, but man, it’s a good thing my roommate wasn’t in because she’d be alarmed.

    Btw, beautiful writing as always, and yeah, it sucks to have a conversation about adoption to the uneducated masses.

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