A Trip to the Clinic

It was 6:50 a.m. on November 9, 2013, and already the conjoined and lightly cushioned chairs placed strategically in the lobby were quickly being filled. I was sure that scheduling my appointment for 7 a.m. would rid me of any crowds, but I quickly found out that my early bird tactics had been stolen by other people.

Gazing around the room, I was puzzled by the movie selection on the 40-inch-flat screen TV hanging high across the room. Oceans Twelve? Some choice of a movie.

The receptionist smiled and handed me a stack of papers.  Like the women who had come before me, I read and signed at least 20 documents.  One by one, each woman filled out her stack, handed it in and waited, unsure when her name would be called.

My name was called just minutes after turning in my mountain of papers, yelled, in fact, by the nurse, peeking her head out of a hidden doorway, as if it led  to a top secret place.  The laser dance scene in Ocean’s Twelve played as Vincent Cassel, with his Brazilian capoeira style moves, flipped, wiggled and maneuvered his way through a sophisticated laser alarm system set in a sprawling mansion. I barely took my eyes off of the screen as I walked to the doorway and into another part of the facility.

It was a bright, sterile and cold hallway. Very cold.

Patients called before me sat in folding chairs placed against the left side of the long, slender and sparse hallway.  This was the beginning of a four-hour day in which I would make three stops before getting to my final destination.

The first stop was to check my blood pressure, height and weight. My blood pressure was good and I was 5”8, just as I had been since middle school.  My weight however, had a mind of its own and had been doing its own thing for the past two-and-a-half months.  I guess the Chinese food and Pizza Hut I binged on the day prior didn’t help either.  I was ordered not to eat after 12 a.m., and wanted to be sure my insides had something to nibble on for the next several hours.

It was now 7:30 a.m.

Back in the hall, there was a game underway.  Like musical chairs, each woman sitting in the desolate space was called one by one into a room, giving up her seat to the next woman standing along the wall, as the chair-to-person ratio was off. Way off.  Luckily, I got a seat. My feet were killing me from running around the day before, in preparation for this visit.

I sat and read some magazines to pass the time. Marie Clare and Cosmopolitan weren’t typically my first choices, but I wasn’t here to be picky over the place’s monthly subscriptions. There were cute outfit suggestions in Cosmo with price tags that made my stomach flip. After today, all of my money would be spent.

I heard my name again, this time from another nurse who was younger than I’d anticipated and had a bubbly personality. Shorter than me, with medium length brown hair and a sharp nose, she gave a warm greeting and merely confirmed what I had written in my paper work. No, I don’t take any medications, yes, I am 22 years old and yes, I would like my follow up appointment to be with my personal doctor and not with the physicians in this barren joint!

I was dismissed—and had one more stop before the final destination.

This time, I decided against playing musical chairs, though I saw an open seat.  A woman walking behind me saw that same seat, almost running me over as she thought I was charging toward the last empty spot. No, go ahead speed racer. You can have the damn seat!

I went back into the lobby and it, too, was like the musical chairs game I had just come from—only with many more people. A room holding just six people 45 minutes ago now had at least 25. This made walking through the hall door and returning to the lobby feel like a fashion show.

All eyes were on me and my frumpy green jacket and dark boot cut Levi’s jeans that used to be two sizes too big, but now fit rather snuggly.

My hot pink Nikes made everything worse. Sharp, inquisitive eyes watched them guide me to my seat on the other side of the room, next to my sister and best friend.

My sister sat right next to me and conveniently rested her arm on the armrest of my chair.  She asked me question after question after question, something I was accustomed to. Being three-and-a-half years older than me made her act like a mom, which made me reluctant to tell her about this in the first place.

My best friend sat next to my sister.  She leaned towards me and asked, “Did you go to counseling yet?” I simply replied “No,” to which and she shook her head and returned upright in her chair. Rush Hour was now playing and my friend had the most robust laugh in the room. This made me smile. I needed every ounce of joy I could grasp, even if only for a millisecond.

The magazine selection in the lobby satisfied my taste a little more than in the hall—just a little.

I skimmed through Health magazine which had a number of weight loss stories in it.  Jenny from New Jersey lost 45 pounds and now participates in triathlons, and Katy from Mississippi lost 100 pounds and is training to run in her first 5K, something she would have never imagined herself doing.

I, like them, was very active. Well, used to be. My knack for strenuous physical activity slowed down about six months ago, when my life became the hectic thing that it is now.  Work overload and stress made cinnamon buns and their sugary candy coating more appealing than a treadmill.

I was in the middle of Dan from California’s story when a small white figure appeared in the doorway, calling my name, “Ms.—.!”

Yup, that’s me. I glanced at my companions as I and my military jacket and highlighter sneakers scurried to the door like a mouse to a hole.

This girl was a counselor in training. Oh, boy, I get to be someone’s test dummy for the day.

Irritation filled me.  I was not in the mood for breaking in new employees and surely didn’t have the capacity to be sympathetic to her or her learning process. I just wanted to get this day over and done with.

Ms. Newby asked the questions I thought she would. “What made you come to this decision? Do you have support? From who? You haven’t eaten or drank anything, have you?”

From the rumbles and grumbles emitting from my stomach, I thought that was a trick question. Of course I hadn’t had any food! I did, however, have a sip of water, which I quickly found out made me a bad, bad girl. Newby explained that my surgery time could now be pushed back.  I had my dry throat to thank for persuading me to binge on a drop of water.

My uneasy expression led her to ask, “Do you have any questions for me?”

The only question I had for Newby was how long my approximate wait would be until the final stop. “Perhaps, less than an hour,” she replied.

That answer suited my impatience, even though I was still numb, almost emotionless, to what I was about to do.

I, again, walked back to the lobby, which was now ridiculously packed. It was 8:45 a.m. and the number of patients waiting had doubled by this point.

There were people forced to switch their body weight from one foot to the other, in attempts to relieve their discomfort, since the chair to person ratio was off.  Way off.  I nearly ran to my seat, as I just knew someone was preying on it.

The wait until my final stop was on and the only thing that crossed my mind was that sinful sip of water.  I hoped and prayed that my defiance wouldn’t work against me.

I was ready to get this over and done with so that I could ache for a few days,  then return to my old self. It’s sad that I was so accustomed to pain and dysfunction, that I welcomed it. Hell, I almost grew to enjoy it.

I took my last minutes in the lobby-turned-catwalk to people watch.  There were women of all ages and nationalities occupying the space.  I even saw some girls I knew from high school. I didn’t speak though.  This wasn’t the time or place for “what’s been going ons” and “how has your mom beens.”  I was zoned out, almost as if I was looking at my life through a telescope, placing me thousands of miles from my own reality.

Not too far from me was a girl sitting with a guy I presumed to be her boyfriend.  They were flirty with one another, making me feel incomplete.  By no means was I jealous.  It was actually refreshing to see one of the many women in here with her someone special, since most of the patients had come with their mothers, sisters, friends, or cousins. The two were obviously in love, just as I thought I had once been.  I broke out of my trance just as the couple wrapped their meatless limbs around one another. Good for them.

“Ms.—?” yelled yet another nurse.  Great, one more new person I had to flash my hundredth bogus grin to.  Perhaps this time I’ll show some teeth to make it more genuine.

The clock read 9:15 a.m. and if I wasn’t ready at this instance, I had several minutes to get there.

I was taken through the hall, to a small changing room and given a bag for my clothes. A pair of booties, a hospital gown and a hair net, all variations of blue, would be my new outfit for the day.

I placed my clothes in the bag that read ‘Personal Belongings,’ and sat in a leather chair just outside of the changing station.

It was extremely cold in here, making me and my braless breasts uncomfortable. In this room, Jumping the Broom was playing. Another patient and I sat awkwardly close to one another in our matching gowns as we watched the movie and chuckled at the same parts.  We even quieted our joint laughter simultaneously, realizing this was not the place or time.

“Ms.—?,” the same nurse yelled out, again.

It was now 9:29 a.m., a time I would always remember.

This is the part where my memory betrays me. I don’t recall stepping into the operating room, but I vividly remember how it looked.

White—just like the rest of the place.

The hallway, the bathrooms, and now the operating room were all white, minimally furnished and cold – cold as hell.

I remember lying on the operating table and a nurse talking to me about random things that interested her. “You ever seen the movie Barbershop?” She asked in an informal voice.  “The anesthesiologist reminds me of the Indian guy from that movie,” she said while laughing harder than necessary.  She tried to make me feel comfortable and for that, I was appreciative.

Shortly into our conversation, the anesthesiologist and his wide stride walked into the room, surprisingly funny and cheerful. His Indian accent soothed my fears as he greeted me by saying, “What’s up, girlfriend?”

It’s funny how I received the most comfort lying face up on an operating table, with my legs dangling in stirrups, staring into the brightest light I had even seen, with wires and heart monitors pressed in and against my skin.

My last two conscious minutes were spent thinking about my “boyfriend.”  I didn’t allow a tear to roll down my face, as I was afraid that would be a sign to the nurses that I wasn’t 100 percent sure of my decision.

I thought about him not being here with me, about what time I could expect to hear from him and about how a creation of our own, soon, would be no more. The water in my eyes got heavier as I allowed my lids to shut.

Before I knew it, I was knocked out.

I awoke as I was being rolled into the recovery room. I woke up from the best sleep of my life, which coincided with the hardest decision of my life.

I could barely open my eyes and keep my head upright since the anesthesia was still wearing off. The recovery room was not at all different than the rest of the facility. Like the lobby, this room housed more women than I expected.  Seven of us, all fighting to regain consciousness, looking like a room of drug addicts at the peak of our highs.

I sat helplessly on my appointed bed for about 20 minutes, rubbing a heating pad on my lower abdomen.

Shortly thereafter, I was asked to use the bathroom to see if any blood was forming. I didn’t need to. I could feel the warm liquid drip from inside of me and onto the bed before I could even consider making a restroom trip.

The nurse told me to get dressed in the bathroom and my bag, the one reading “Personal Belongings,” was in there waiting.  She then handed me the world’s biggest pad that looked like a diaper. Ironically

I slowly made my way to the bathroom, barely picking up my feet as I shuffled to the door.  I got dressed and stared at myself in the mirror. I studied my own nose, mouth and eyes, like they were foreign objects.  I rubbed my freezing fingers over my chest, where the heart monitors had been.  I was sore. I was weak.  And, already, I was regretful.

On my way out, there was a table with graham crackers and ginger ale. I took as many crackers as could fit in my frumpy green jacket pocket and poured as much soda as could fit in the shot-glass-sized cup. I hadn’t eaten in 13 hours.  Those crackers tasted like a freshly baked pie.

clinicIt was just after 10 a.m. and the deed was done.

It had taken just four hours to rid myself of an unhealthy six month relationship that, two-and-a-half months ago, saw a day of unprotected pleasure and promising love. It took me less than a month to make my decision, one that took only five minutes to complete.

Soon, I’d have to face the protesters outside the clinic with their, “Jesus Loves You,” signs and brochures.  At that point, I surely hoped he did.

I paused, then opened the door. The recovery room exit led me to the long narrow hallway where the day’s festivities had all begun.  I had to make my final strut down the catwalk. I modeled my thrown together outfit for a new group of faces sitting in the same chairs I once sat.

I experienced what their blank faces soon would, too.

I walked the catwalk and this time, my audience wasn’t peering at my frumpy green jacket or highlighter pink sneakers.  They were staring deep into my eyes, trying to dissect my demeanor and gain access to my soul.  I didn’t mind since I was keeping it together.  I appeared much stronger than I was internally, like always.  I also knew that just a few hours from now, a new group of women would be staring at them as they were at me, when they made their final walk.

On November 19, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against an emergency application designed to stop a Texas abortion law that put one-third of the state’s abortion clinics out of business.  Clinics without nearby hospital admittance rights will remain closed, indefinitely, forcing women who live close to these facilities to travel many miles for the procedure.  The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hold a hearing in January to review the lawsuit.

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