“I have to have back surgery,” I told my friend over dinner one night. The words tasted like mentholated arthritis cream in my mouth.
She didn’t have to ask why, or what happened. Everyone who has a bunch of children knows exactly why and what happened. They break you.
“Who are you going to?” she asked. “Dr. Weaver did my knees two years ago, but Jamie really loved Dr. Berry when she had her shoulder fixed the second time.”
“Dr. Love,” I said, ripping into my fried chicken. “I’ve heard he’s super liberal with the pain meds.” She raised her eyebrows and made a mental note.
And just like that I was initiated into a new club: Old and Broken. The breezy talks with my friends about bassinets and breast pumps have slowly but surely morphed into kidney stones and female mustaches. One by one we’ve graduated from young, spry women of childbearing age to women whose medicine cabinets are filled with a bevy of reverse-this and pluck-that.
Pluck that, indeed.
Of course none of this truly sank in until I checked into the hospital for surgery. Slipping the gown over my head, the familiar smells of industrial-strength detergent mixed with faint notes of stale vomit and terror conjured up memories of delivering my three babies. The delivery part wasn’t anything that I cared to remember, but the hospital stay was great—warm cookies delivered to me every afternoon, droves of visitors bearing flowers and sweet baby gifts steadily streaming in. A sisterhood of women on my hospital floor.
Back surgery patients do not get warm cookies. We get shoved in the Tower of London wing of the hospital with gross old men who don’t bother with shutting their doors, even when they’re sitting on the edges of their beds shirtless in tighty-whities. This was a whole new level of not caring, and it made my eyes want to bleed.
I was surrounded by a steady chorus of hacking coughs and beeping machines. My floor mates and I shuffled up and down the hall, grimacing as we gripped our IV poles like Moses parting the sea. The fluorescent lighting transformed us into something zombie-like: a parade of the old and infirm, with nary a flinch when we felt a cool breeze whisper to our bare ass cheeks. Our new mantra: “They’ve seen worse.”
Maternity patients are treated like rock stars. Anything I wanted was delivered with a pink and blue bow on top. This time I got into a fight with food service because they would only bring me one entree at a time. “But I’m an emotional eater,” I tried to explain to the terse woman on the other end of the phone before she hung up.
There were no photographers stopping by to take commemorative pictures; this was an experience that needed to be wiped clean from memory as quickly as possible. No presents, only nurses walking in with medicine, asking why I’m crying.
Finally, I’d had enough.
My night nurse appeared out of nowhere and quickly stepped between me and the door.
“Please! I have friends there! I’m sure they’ll remember me!”
“Ma’am, I know what you’re trying to do. You think you’re the only first-timer we’ve had in here? The maternity ward is only for women who have delivered babies.”
“No, you don’t understand. I don’t belong here! I’m not ready for this!”
“Oh, you’ll be just fine, sweetie!” she said cheerily, patting my shoulder and leading me back to the bed. “Now lie down, roll over and let’s see if that feeling has come back in your rectum.”
Being wheeled down to the lobby after I was discharged with only my stack of prescriptions and my suitcase, I had a strange sense of relief.
“How are you doing, honey?” my mother-in-law asked as I slid from the wheelchair into her car.
“Well, my vagina isn’t shredded, and I’m going to sleep a full eight hours tonight.”
She nodded knowingly as we drove away. Because every once in a while, there’s a spectacular view from the back side of the mountain.
This post originally appeared on Club Mid; republished with permission.