Sunday, February 1, 2015

Groundhog Day 2006

It was February second, Groundhog Day, the day when some poor groundhog named Phil in a place called Gobblers Knob comes out of his hole and then goes back in again, and in the process somehow foretells the weather for the rest of the winter. On this day, my metaphorical groundhog was coming out of the hole and it sure as fuck wasn't going back in again.

The first thing I noticed, once I got inside the Planned Parenthood on West 33rd Street in Manhattan, was that every single woman in the waiting room wore a black jacket or coat, including me. I distracted myself by trying to think about our black coats in a post-structuralist context – are the black coats a symbol of mourning? Are we like shadows, trying to will ourselves to disappear? Are we simply in New York, where everyone wears black? I was probably over-thinking it.

In most abortion clinics, you feel like cattle as you are pushed from one waiting room to another for several hours. The procedure itself takes only minutes, so the majority of the 4 to 6 hours you're in the clinic is just spent waiting. The first waiting room is the big one, where the guilty looking partners shift in their seats uncomfortably. When each woman's name is called, she leaves him behind, gets checked in, and ventures into the bowels of the clinic to get blood drawn. All the waiting rooms from there on out are patient-only. There's no one to hold your hand, distract you, or comfort you. You wait some more. Then you are called in for an ultrasound. The lady who gave me my ultrasound was cranky because she couldn't get a good view of my uterus. She told me in an irritated voice that my pelvis was wonky – she didn't use that word exactly, but I got the point – and she was going to have to use the transvaginal wand to get a better look. Oh, the transvaginal wand. If only you actually
had magical powers! But you are cold and covered in lube and the lady is pissed off because there are 40 patients outside waiting to get their ultrasounds too and my wonky uterus is holding up the queue.

Ushered into another waiting room, I received “counselling”, which really was just to make sure I understood the procedure, was doing it of my own volition, and didn't have any questions. Yes, yes, and no. I have already googled this shit to death. All my questions have been answered. Questions I didn't know I had have been answered. Let's do this thing.

You get a plastic bag to put your stuff in, and you are given a one-size-fits-all hospital gown to put on. I'll tell you right now, one size does not fit all. One woman declared, “This gown isn't big enough to cover my ass!”, but the medical assistant didn't respond or even look her way. You have to take off your socks and shoes, and you're given these paper slippers that are the colour and texture of dried out corn husks. My feet looked like big tamales as I shuffled from the bathroom to the next waiting room.

This next bit is where you wait the longest. This waiting room is the abortion version of Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist play, No Exit. And you are so, so hungry. The ladies in the room started talking in great detail about what they wanted to eat: a nice, big, juicy steak with gravy; a plate of Fettuccine Alfredo; and a big red lobster with melted butter in a cup for dipping. I listened quietly to the conversation, but I didn't join in. Anyone who knows me will find that hard to believe, but it's true. I was the only white woman in the room and I felt out of place and timid, so I kept my mouth shut. On the topic of food, they talked about how produce and fish where black people live sucks compared to where white people live. “No disrespect,” a woman said to me. “None taken,” I said. They talked about how, “thank god everyone in this waiting room is clean, cuz my sister was here once and she said it stank to high heaven.” There were lots of nods and someone remarked that you gotta make sure you're clean down there whenever someone is going to be going down there. Then someone else said, “They make those portable wet wipes now so you don't have to go home from work to wash your ass.”

There were a few lulls in the conversation. We looked at the floor and our tamale slippers. My feet didn't touch the ground and I felt like a child. “They sure did a shitty paint job in this waiting room,” one woman observed. “Just look at the window panes. So sloppy! I guess they didn't know that Rhonda was gonna be sittin' here lookin' up at these walls.” They discussed which dollar store products are as good or not as good as some brand-name products. How some kids eat like crazy and don't gain weight because they have a fast metabolism. How it's ok if you want to sit on your ass and drink your forty-ounce bottle of malt liquor, but “go do it in the park so the kids can run around and climb a tree or something and get some exercise.”

But if there's one bit of advice I'll always remember from my time in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood, it's this: If you have a complaint about a restaurant OR abortion clinic staff, you should voice those concerns AFTER you receive either your food or your abortion, respectively. I have never sent food back since. As Rhonda said, "Cuz you don't wanna come in here with an STD you didn't walk in with, know what I'm sayin'? People will fuck with your shit -- spit in your take care of 'em, but make sure you do it AFTER you get your food! I don't want nobody with a finger up my ass, fuck that shit."

My name was finally called for the procedure. I got IV sedation, which is stronger than local anaesthetic, but you aren’t completely knocked out...unless you're me and you are sensitive to anaesthetic. I woke up in a reclining chair, surrounded by other women like me in a line of chairs along the wall of the room. I've had a lot of anaesthesia in my life, and it always makes me cry. This time was no different. I was sobbing before I'd even properly woken up: dry, tearless, breathless sobs. “Now, now,” a medical assistant scolded me, “I thought you were tougher than THAT.” And I thought, you know what? I am fucking tougher than this. I pulled it together. I stopped crying and sat stoically, thinking about how happy I was that it was over. I didn't have to wish that this problem would be solved; it was solved and I could get my life back. I could go back to school on Monday and finally be the only one living in my body.

But there was still that queue of women behind me, waiting. I needed to make room for the next person. I was ordered to go into the bathroom with my plastic bag and change back into my clothes. I wasn't 100% out of the anaesthesia, but I wanted to get the hell out of there. I held myself up with the edge of the sink because I was still so dizzy, I nearly fell over. But I was ok. And when I stepped outside into the cold February air in my black coat, I left that clinic behind and I didn't look back.