On the operating table, I was prepped for the procedure by a female nurse and a male doctor. When the nurse lifted the hospital gown above my abdomen, she exclaimed, “Look at that pretty flat stomach!”
I processed this statement for a moment. A medical professional had complimented me on my thinness, which was so extreme as to prevent me from having life-saving surgery, while prepping me for a procedure intended to help me gain weight.
To his credit, the doctor quickly snapped, “That’s the problem!” but her message couldn’t have been clearer.
We live in a culture that so values thinness, that values such extreme thinness, that I received a compliment about my body when I was on an operating table, when I was so ill and weighed so little that doctors feared I might not survive major surgery.— Amber Leab, guest posting at Shakesville
Planned Parenthood is the target of this legislation, and American women the primary victims. This isn’t about abortion — it’s about cutting access to health care for women. One in five American women has used Planned Parenthood’s services. The vast majority of care — more than 90% — offered at Planned Parenthood health centers is preventative. Every year, Planned Parenthood carries out nearly one million screenings for cervical cancer — screenings which save lives. Every year, Planned Parenthood doctors and nurses give more than 830,000 breast exams — exams which save lives. Every year, nearly 2.5 million patients receive contraception from Planned Parenthood — a service which prevents enormous numbers of unintended pregnancies and, by extension, an enormous number of abortions. Every year, Planned Parenthood administers nearly 4 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV — tests and treatments which save lives, extend lives, preserve fertility, and maintain reproductive health.
That’s what “pro-lifers” in Congress are against: Health care access for the poor. Health care access for women. This is not, and has never been, about abortion. It’s certainly not about affirming “life.” It’s about an ongoing assault on women’s lives, and the lives of lower-income women in particular. It’s shameful. Stand with Planned Parenthood.— Jill at Feministe.
On Not Being a Hypochondriac
Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.
—Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor
There is only one cardinal rule: one must always listen to the patient. For if migraine patients have a common and legitimate second complaint beside their migraines, it is that they have not been listened to by physicians. Looked at, investigated, drugged, charged: but not listened to.
—Oliver Sacks, Migraine
I’ve had frequent, gross headaches all my life. It’s just one of those things that is a constant bodily truth. A lot of people I know—my mom, my dad, my bff—also got frequent headaches, so I thought it was a normal part of life, and that most people just complained about it less than I do. I also felt sick a lot—little ailments, weeks of feeling like I was coming down with something that never quite bloomed—and Mr Machine and I would joke about my “hypochondria.” I’ve been diagnosed with chronic sinusitis and put on every decongestant known to man, and it sort helped but the headaches would always come back. If I were a Victorian, I’d think of myself as having a sickly character and leave it at that.
A couple months ago, though, I started having bouts of vertigo (which, if you’ve never had it, is fucking terrifying), and several doctor’s appointments, one long night at the ER, and four brain scans later, I got a diagnosis: chronic migraines. Suddenly, all kinds of moments of mysterious illnesses (like several fainting episodes unexplained by other factors), periods of serious inability to feel normal (fogginess, inability to read for more than 15 minutes despite being a writer and literary scholar), and chronic insomnia/nightmares made sense: I’d been having migraines all along. What I thought of as about a million tiny things wrong with me were actually one recurring thing wrong with me…and despite the dozens, maybe hundreds, of doctor’s appointments I’ve had in the last 15 years, no one even suggested migraines until the ER sent me to a neurologist because I was describing one of the worst sinus headaches of my life while a brain MRI showed that my sinuses were clear.
I’m not resentful of this whole thing: I’m amazed. Migraine is a common, known illness. Mine are worse than some people’s and a lot, lot better than others’. And no one noticed, even though I’ve always been diligent about going to the doctor when sick, following medical instructions, resting when I can, etc etc. The neurologist told me, “You walked into my office a person with sinus disease, inner ear infection, anxiety, and insomnia, and you are walking out a person with migraine.” I can’t describe how transformative that statement was. No matter how much we consciously reject the social stigma of illness, we all internalize some sense that poor health is a moral punishment. My sickly Victorian self felt weak, wussy, whiny, lazy, not in control of my body. Now I feel like a person who needs to figure out which meds work well and who can respond properly to a neurological event. And I like it.
PSA: The Girl’s Guide to the Girl’s Guide to Having an Abortion
Remember the kickass Jezebel post from earlier this week, The Girl’s Guide to Having an Abortion? My good friend (and friend of Shapely Prose) Epiphenomena put on her almost-doctor hat and gave me the following invaluable information. Please bookmark, forward, retweet this post in the interest of having more medically accurate, nonjudgmental information about abortion in the feminist blogosphere. The information below is an expansion and clarification of what you find in the Jezebel post.
Epiphenomena is an MD/PhD student and a member of Medical Students for Choice.
1. A positive home pregnancy test is very reliable, but a negative test is not. Tests can be negative because it is simply too early in the pregnancy for hormone levels to be detectable in your pee, especially if you’re well hydrated. The only definitive negative is your period.
2. It is especially critical that you be available for a followup appointment when you choose the medication method. Both medication and surgery carry a small risk that the uterine contents won’t be completely removed, however the risk is lower with surgery in part because the doctor will check to verify that the procedure is complete. Retained contents can lead to life-threatening infection, so around 2% of women who initially choose the medication method will have to have the surgery anyway, to remove retained tissue.
3. A medication abortion actually involves two prescriptions, mifespristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone ends the pregnancy and Misoprostol induces expulsion of uterine contents.
4. There is not medical consensus about how much pain relief to provide during a first trimester surgical abortion. Some clinics actually put the patient out; you should know the risk from the anesthetic is much greater than the risk from the procedure itself. Other clinics offer or require that the patient take a valium, which will require you to have someone to drive you home if the clinic is in a city with no public transportation. My own opinion: if you are offered a valium, take it.
5. There seems to be a wide variation in how uncomfortable the patients feel during first trimester surgery, but it tends to be reported worse among women who have not experienced labor. The pain comes from intense uterine cramping, which is your body’s method of stanching bleeding. You cannot feel the suction or the instruments. In any case the pain should last no more than about 2 minutes.
6. A terminology correction: D&C is the first-trimester surgical procedure. It stands for Dilatation (dilation of the cervix) and Curettage (removal of the uterine lining with a curette), but that is a historical misnomer because in fact curettage is no longer performed unless your doctor trained a million years ago and doesn’t keep up. A second-trimester procedure is usually a D&E, which stands for Dilatation and Evacuation. A second-trimester procedure is not a “late term abortion.” Those are for pregnancies past 20 weeks. But in the unlikely event you need one, you’ll have nearly or actually insurmountable obstacles to accessing that procedure anyway.
Thank you to Epiphenomena, Morning Gloria at Jezebel, and to pro-choice doctors everywhere.