The scene: It’s early March of this year and I’m sitting in a doctor’s office for the third time in three weeks and we’re talking about surgery. Specifically, we’re talking about her performing surgery on me.
Doctor3: The good news is that this surgery has the highest patient satisfaction rate of just about any procedure. The bad news is that it has one of the hardest recovery periods.
Me: I know. I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve done this.
Doctor3: It takes about two months before you can return to your normal activity levels. And many find the recovery very painful.
Me: I’m not really afraid of pain. I’m in pain all the time. That’s why I’m here.
The scene: I’m twenty years old and standing at the registration desk of a pediatric hospital. I’ve got an overloaded backpack hanging off my right shoulder, ratty cargo pants hanging off my hips, and I’m looking a bit fuddled because I don’t exactly wander off to children’s hospitals in the middle of the day as a normal thing.
Receptionist: Where’s the patient?
Me: Right here. It’s me. I’m the patient.
Receptionist: (Clearly skeptical) Oh. Are you sure?
Me: Pretty sure, yeah. I don’t think I had a kid and forgot about it.
The scene: I’m thirteen and meeting physical therapist in their professional capacity for the first time. Other recent firsts? That chronic nagging pain I’ve had in my left shoulder since I was seven turning into my entire left side locking up so badly I can’t turn my head or torso. Also, adults believing me about there being something wrong with my left shoulder. That’s new, and also exciting.
Physical therapist: Your problem is probably that you carry your backpack on one shoulder.
Me: No, that is not the problem.
PT: I know you kids want to look cool, but it’s terrible for your back.
Me: I started carrying my backpack entirely on my right shoulder in fifth grade because my left shoulder was getting so bad I wanted to take the strain off. How I carry my bag is a response, it did not cause this problem.
The physical therapist gave me a lot of exercises. I did them faithfully for about two weeks. I also had muscle spasms for the first time. Every day for two weeks. I decided the PT didn’t know what she was talking about and stopped doing the exercises. The muscle spasms went away. My left side still locked up on occasion, but not often.
The scene: Me at 20, having successfully checked in for an appointment at a children’s hospital and convinced not one but two receptionists that yes, I am the patient and yes, I do know what kind of facility this is and yes, I am aware that they generally don’t see people over 18, but this is who the orthopedic referred me to when I pointed out that her diagnosis didn’t account for any of my actual symptoms so yes I would, in fact, like a second opinion. The specialist I’ve been sent to is a very nice older man with a salt n’ pepper beard and a teddy bear hanging off his stethoscope. He’s been chatting with me about my symptom history while he twists my hands and wrists and fingers.
Dr. Teddy: I bet you can put your hands flat on the floor without bending your knees.
Me: Well, yeah. I do martial arts and I am, in fact, baseline physically fit.
Dr. Teddy: That’s not baseline. Not at your age. You are abnormally flexible. I’m going to describe some things. Tell me if this sounds like you.
Then he proceeds to tell me the story of my life.
Turns out my ligaments don’t do their job very well, so my joints are constantly sliding out of place, and the surrounding muscles take a beating as a result. Usually it hits people in their knees and hips first, but shoulders aren’t unheard of, especially not since kids started carrying such heavy backpacks. But, my ligaments will naturally tighten as I get older, so I’ll age out of it. Eventually. Probably.
My hips started to go the next year.
I can’t do martial arts anymore.
The scene: I’m coming home from sixth grade. That’s after I adopted single-shoulder carry but before I visited the PT. It was hot. My shoulder was in the “sentient-knot” stage, so I dressed accordingly. I walk into the house and mom has just taken her first look at me for the day.
Mom: You will not ever leave the house like that again. Do you understand me?
The scene: I’m getting my third ever massage. I’ve got nifty health insurance that’ll pay 50% once a month as a perk, and I basically can’t stand up straight or walk anymore, so massages are great. Also, they’re undoing a lot of the perma-locking most of my muscles have settled into.
Massage Therapist: What was that?
Me: My rib just slid back into place.
MT: Did that hurt?
Me: Yeah, but it feels better than having it out of place. Thanks.
MT: Does your bra do that to you?
The scene: Last Monday. Pre-op appointment with the doctor.
Doctor3: Nothing that raises your heart rate. Nothing that will raise your blood pressure. Don’t drive. Don’t sign contracts. Don’t…
Me: I’m a real estate broker.
Doctor3: Don’t give people advice about contracts. You can resume a desk job after two weeks. Maybe one if you’re doing it from home but don’t count on it. Don’t lift anything that weighs more than ten pounds. Don’t submerge in water.
Me: I’m getting to be a fanatical swimmer. It’s about the only thing I’ve found that helps with the pain without also damaging something.
Doctor3: Don’t submerge in water.
Me: (Aside) I’m going to die.
The scene: I’m 25 and following a friend who has gotten a little fanatical about a new shop she’s found. We go in, and the place is depressing. Like, clinical depressing. It’s that way on purpose. Among other things, they do specialized bras for mastectomy patients.
Shopkeeper: You’re wearing a 36DD from Victoria’s Secret, aren’t you?
Me: Yes? That’s my size.
Friend: (Who is significantly more endowed than me, sniggering) They told me that, too.
Turns out 32J is a size. Mine, specifically. And they start at $60/each.
But hey, now my ribs only slide out of place some of the time.
The scene: In a senior in high school, getting fitted for a costume. I’m playing Louisa May Alcott which is hilarious because Little Women was the very first book I ever put down with no intention of picking it back up.
Costumer: Good god, your tits are huge.
Me: Yes. I know. Everybody has been telling me that since sixth grade. (Especially my mother.)
Costumer: Yeah, but they’re bigger than I realized. You carry them well. Do you like them?
Me: I guess? I don’t know. They’re fine. If they get any bigger though, yeah, I’m cutting them off.
The scene: Very early March, a week before meeting with Doctor3. It’s the same meeting, but at a different hospital with a different doctor. This is the first time I’m talking to a surgeon about this and I’m not sure it’s a good idea, or that my insurance will pay for it, or that doing a thing that will inevitably mean being couch-bound for at least a month, and maybe two, in the middle of the summer is a good idea for somebody who makes her money selling houses.
Doctor2: What is your goal for this surgery?
Me: I would like to not be in pain all the time. But I’m concerned about losing sensation in my nipples, and generally suspect my expectations might not be reasonable.
Doctor2: And it would be nice to be able to wear button down shirts.
Me: Uh…yes? What? Were you listening when I mentioned that the ribs under my bra strap slide out of place and my shoulders frighten massage therapists?
The scene: The week before Sasquan. I’m the only one from Strange Horizons who’s going to be there and we’re up for a Hugo, so if we win, I’ll be on stage. Which means I should wear something nice. I’m trying on a dress I haven’t worn since high school.
Roommate: What? Does it not fit?
Me: No, it fits. Except it’s mashing my boobs.
Roommate: You’re probably wearing a different style of bra from what you wore then.
Me: I am. But this is more mashed than that.
It would be hard to find a clearer practical demonstration for “yes, your boobs have gotten bigger than when you were Louisa May Alcott.”
The scene: I’m rambling at my poor, put-upon roommate after meeting with the first surgeon. They’re nodding supportively and periodically grunting to indicate attention.
Me: And then he was all, “But if I get you on the table and decide that won’t look good, we’ll do something else,” and I’m a little bit, “Er, no way do I want to be unconscious while you’re making those decisions.” Also, this is probably incredibly shallow of me, but the look of him was disconcerting. His hair was too perfect, he was tanned suspiciously well, and I’m pretty sure he’s had his coworkers doing work on his face. Are surgeons like drug dealers, where you should avoid the ones who use their own product? I dunno. I shouldn’t even bother. I don’t have time to do this anyway.
Roommate: Are you ever going to have time?
Weird facts about me and my boobs:
- Contrary to the story I tend to tell, I did not in fact go from 0-massive overnight. I had about eighteen months at “small enough that nobody but me has really noticed” and then sprouted to massive in about six months.
- My parents started telling the family not to talk about my boobs because I was self-conscious about them. I wasn’t self-conscious. I was just confused about why anybody was talking about my boobs, let alone all the time, and why it was suddenly gross for me to leave the house without wearing a garment nobody could see and which was extraordinarily uncomfortable. My problems with puberty weren’t so much the changes in my body, but the changes to how everybody else thought I should exist in my body. Also, everything started to hurt more.
- I get hits to my website from people searching anaea, boobs, without having blogged about my tits. This is monumentally strange since the most common anaea other than me is a kind of butterfly and invertebrates don’t have tits.
- I’m weird for getting a breast reduction in my thirties; too old for the women who got too big during puberty and too young for the women who got too big after having children, or have put it off until they were done breast feeding, or had to get over baggage around appearances. Which I guess makes sense since I’ve met a metric ton of women in their forties who’ve said, “Best thing I’ve ever done. Wish I did it ten years ago.” Hi. I’m ten years ago.
- I would cut both tits clean off, myself, then joke about Shylock, if it meant my shoulders stopped knotting up so badly that I routinely traumatize massage therapists who haven’t had a patient like me before.
- Almost every fucking thing on the internet about breast reduction surgery is obsessed with talking about how much better you’ll look and the scarring isn’t so bad, really. WHO CARES? (Everybody, apparently.)
The scene: Back to the pre-op appointment last week. This doctor is a pretty big contrast to Doctor2. She doesn’t tan, or wear makeup, or bother to smooth her hair to prevent flyaways. (Me either!) She started the interview by asking for a pain rating and a symptom history, and other than calibrating how much of a reduction I want (as small as you can go without significantly increasing the risk of nipple damage) hasn’t talked about the aesthetics at all.
Doctor3: Doom, gloom, disaster, misery, and three days after the surgery we’d like you to start taking frequent short walks.
Me: (perking up) Wait, stop. That’s the first good thing you’ve said this entire appointment. I must be misunderstanding something. Please define “short walk.” Is that, “Three blocks to the library?”
Doctor3: Around your living room.
Me: No really, I’m going to die.
Which makes this the world’s longest out of office note. Surgery is tomorrow. I’m told I’ll be out of commission forever. I don’t believe them. But I am ignoring everything that isn’t critical day job stuff, a book, or DVDs of The Americans, until after Memorial Day.