Saturday, February 16, 2008

Damaged goods

About a year and a half ago, I had a bit of a scare. When I went in for my annual mammogram, the radiologist saw an irregularity on the films for my left breast. A set of enlarged images were inconclusive; an ultrasound was ambiguous, so the doctor gave me a referral for an MRI at the hospital. I joked that they'd taken enough pictures that they could spare one for me to post on my refrigerator door, but when I left the place, I fell apart. I thought, this kind of stuff doesn't happen to me, as if I should somehow be exempt.

When I had a couple of hours to reason it through, I concluded that being referred for an MRI didn't mean I had cancer. People get them for hangnails these days, for Pete's sake. My logic told me that if I didn't have good insurance, the radiologist would have just told me to come back in six months for another round of uncomfortable squashes.

I had to wait about ten days to have the MRI, which, of course, gave me plenty of time to think, read up and rehearse all of the worst case scenarios. I figured that even if it came to cancer, they'd caught it early enough, I'd make it through okay and had plenty of years ahead of me. It was other stuff that got to me.

I wasn't very concerned about potentially losing the breast or having disfiguring surgery, despite the fact that many men have made much of that specific part of my anatomy. One of my friends long ago had even referred to the line made famous by Teri Hatcher in an episode of Seinfeld -- "they're real, and they're spectacular." I considered that there was a serious possibility that the statement would become only half true, but okay, that just meant that I'd have another funny line to toss out there from time to time.

I did worry about becoming damaged goods if the worst case scenario came to be. People I mentioned it to immediately assumed that it was about body image, but it wasn't. I wondered if anyone would want to be with someone who'd have the needs I'd have. I wasn't in a relationship at the time, and I doubted that anyone would want to get involved with someone who needed to be taken care of the degree I envisioned. Heck, I have a hard time asking a boyfriend to bring over a carton of orange juice when I have a cold. Who'd sign up to hold my hair back while I vomited from the chemo treatments?

Some people are actually seek out the prospect of being involved with someone who is in need of care. I find it both creepy and demeaning that someone would find me more attractive because I was sick or handicapped. I don't need a hero. Besides, I'd always suspect that it wasn't me they wanted -- it was the feeling of rescuing someone. And let's face it: that could be anyone.

And, I guess, I was looking at it from the other perspective. Until fairly recently, I've never been all that great about 'being there' for sick friends; I think I've always assumed that I'd be imposing on them, that I wasn't close enough to insert myself into such a private situation. Pretty selfish of me, huh? I suspect I might have actually lost a friend because of it.

I had the MRI (not the most comfortable experience, but tolerable), and it turned out everything was okay. In fact, my next mammogram was totally normal, and I'm half convinced it's due to a healing chod I attended, performed by Buddhist monks. (or as the radiologist joked, "Boobist.")

Still, though, it's made me think more about the concept of damaged goods, and the implications. Some people's grave limitations are visible in a handicap. Others don't manifest themselves until you've gotten to know the person well and you come to realize he or she has a serious emotional or mental problem. Having limitations and being able to attract others -- as I feared I wouldn't be able to -- is all in how quickly and easily other people can see the problem.

The irony of it all is that many times the people with the physical limitations are the healthier ones, the more positive ones, the ones who aren't going to create all kinds of head games.

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