“The Following Patient…”

"They don’t peddle me the puritanical shaming bullshit that they’re required to torture women with elsewhere."

It’s not like how they portray it on TV. We must all be thinking that, sitting for hours in this quietly packed waiting room in this white, Church-like building that seems too inconspicuous to be a clinic. But here we are.

We’re an assortment of ages, races, ethnicities. Some of us are here with partners, while others are here with our mothers. Few of us are here alone. None of us are speaking—it’s an absurd experience to carry the same secret that everybody else in the room is carrying. I notice one teenage girl in particular who seems about four years younger than me. She wears gray sweatpants, a small golden cross necklace, and cheetah print shoes. She fidgets with her hair. We make quick eye contact. For a brief second, an air of camaraderie breaks through the existential, guilt-ridden nervousness.

After I pay the $400 cash and pass through my initial examination, the doctor and nurse talk me through the procedure. They don’t peddle me any of the puritanical shaming bullshit that they’re required to torture women with elsewhere.

They offer me two Valium in lieu of anesthesia. I’m struck by how cramped the office is, how understaffed they are, how overwhelming the environment must be for them. The clinic is beyond capacity. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I am brought into a smaller, darker, makeshift waiting room, the size of a small hallway. As I am seated, I stare at the floor, spiraling about how I am going to cope with the pain. Angry that I have to bear this burden and he doesn’t. What if they make a mistake?

An older woman, post procedure, is resting in there, with a heating pad on her stomach. Her eyes are closed, but she bears a closed-lipped, relaxed smile. This gives me hope amidst the inner terror that I’m trying to numb.

Twenty minutes later, I’m on the operating table, clenching the nurse’s hand. She is helping me to breathe through my fear. I do not feel the pain that I anticipate.

“Is it over?”

“That was it, honey. That’s what all the fuss is about. You’ll be bleeding for a bit, but that was it.”

They give me large cotton pads, make sure I’m able to put one on, and escort me back to the small waiting room with a blanket, a heating pad and aftercare instructions.

The teenage girl with the gray sweatpants and cheetah print shoes is there waiting. I am seated across from her. I am drowsy, and a little crampy, but I am not experiencing the pain I’d forecasted. She is staring down at the floor, as I was not even an hour ago. She looks up at me, teary-eyed. There is an intimacy between us now, a mirroring. I need to say something:

“…I like your shoes,” I tell her.

She musters up the words she can manage: “Is it bad?”

“No,” I tell her, “you’re in the worst of it now. The waiting.”

“But what does it feel like?”

“It’s kind of like the dentist, like when they suction the moisture out of your mouth…you know what I mean?”

The look on her face tells me that she does not know what I mean. I lean in like I’ve got a secret.

“Honestly,” I continue, “it’s really not that big a deal.”

She takes a breath.

“I’ll just think, ‘Vagina Dentist.’”

“Sure!” And then, finally, laughter.

Shira Gorelick is a writer and visual artist who lives in Los Angeles and New York City.

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