For a girl who's not really dating much these days, it's amazing how many times I've ended up with my top off lately. In a way, you could say I've been having a pretty hot and heavy relationship with Beth Israel; I'm seeing some doctor, nurse, or technician (and boy are they seeing me) just about every week. More often than not, I wind up in some various state of undress before it's all said and done. You'd think one of them could at least take me out to dinner first or offer me a nice, stiff cocktail when I sign in for my appointment to help break the ice.
Instead, it's really so unromantic. They get down to business so quickly. 'Hello,how are you feeling today?Great,now take off your top.' Gee. Well, OK. Now, I've never been one to consider myself a prude. I work in contemporary dance, and dancers have to be some of the least self-conscious people you'll ever meet. Half the shows I go to see involve nudity. I'm also a yoga teacher, so I'm used to confronting the human body from an objective, anatomical perspective. In other words: I get it. The body is not a big deal. Nonetheless, when I'm told to suddenly disrobe in a cold, fluorescently-lit office in front of someone whose name I don't even know, I find I'm a bit shy and reserved. Go figure.
To them, I know it's just routine, blah blah blah. Some of these nurses and technicians probably see a million breasts a day, among other things, but often, as I've lain on a table staring up at the ceiling while little electrodes were being stuck to the undersides of my breasts and ribcage, I've wondered if it's awkward for them, too. I'm not sure how comfortable I'd feel having to probe around and stick electrodes onto the boob of someone I just met for the first time, either.
One time, when I was going to have X-rays of my spine done, I ended up feeling badly for the slightly-older gentleman who was the X-ray technician. He seemed very embarrassed when he had to lead me into a small room and tell me to take off all my clothes, except for my knickers, and put on a puny cotton gown before meeting him in the other room. At times like this, I'm pretty sure they feel way more awkward than I do about the whole naked body/stranger issue. Other times, such as with the nurse who was having a hard time getting those damned electrodes to stick since I'd put lotion on my chest, I get the feeling that this is a really annoying part of their morning.
The only time I felt downright uncomfortable was when I went for my echocardiogram. Now, silly me, I'd been looking forward to this for some reason. I suppose I thought it would be cool to see my heart on an ultrasound, and thinking it might be fun made the fact that I had to have one to begin with a little less scary.
As I sat in the cardiology waiting room, noticing, among other things, that I was the only person under 30 in the room, I started observing the different nurses and technicians calling people back for their tests. There was one older woman who seemed a little brisk, but efficient and down to business. That would do. There was a superfriendly, smily, doughy-looking woman who seemed like she would definitely have some bedside manner and make one feel at ease as she poked a jellied-wand around your heart. I hoped I'd get her. Instead, I got the one dude who was older, very gruff, and large. He barked my name out like he was giving orders at a boot camp. Fan-f******-tastic, I thought to myself. This did not bode well.
Into one of the back rooms was I ushered. He handed me one of the lovely little robes that opens in the front, which is never a promising sign, and told me to go into the little bathroom in the corner to change. I came back out into the dimly lit room with countless machines and instruments humming away menacingly and just knew this was not going to be the fun little echo-adventure I'd planned out for myself.
I laid down on my left side on the narrow bed, but before I could even get settled, Mr. Bootcamp roughly scooted me back into a better position for him (he really could have just asked). This made me feel cramped and put my ailing neck in an uncomfortable position. By this time, my poor little heart was racing. I was a bit nervous and not feeling, I don't know. . . calm and peaceful. He then commanded that, NO MATTER WHAT, I had to keep my breathing shallow and not move at all, otherwise he wouldn't be able to get a clear picture of my heart. Great. As soon as I heard the words 'breathe shallowly,' all I could do, all my poor lungs CRAVED, was a really deep, satisfyingly full breath.
Mr. Bootcamp took the cold, slimy ultrasound wand and reached around to poke it into my left under-rib, causing my left breast to unavoidably hang over his wrist. (There is just nothing delicate about this, folks.) Apparently, my breathing was nowhere near shallow enough for him. He bluntly asked me in a smug tone that suggested he already knew the answer: 'I bet you do yoga, don't you?' Busted. 'Yes,' I muttered. I immediately tried to stop breathing all together, figuring maybe he could get it all over and done with before I passed out. That was no good either. Clearly irritated, Mr. Bootcamp started to tell me how breathing deeply was, in fact, horrible for me and how Angelina Jolie's dad had asthma and came up with a shallow breathing technique that cured it, and now he can jog long distances, and other people should really be following this technique and not all that deep yogic breathing hullabahoo, etc. (I did not make a single bit of this up, though he may have.) This tirade continued for about ten minutes.
As you can imagine, this did not improve my breathing situation at all, not to mention I was pretty sure I was going to be bruised from the damned wand lodged between two of my ribs. Somehow, I managed to steady my breathing to a rate that was passable, so Mr. Bootcamp/yoga-hater got the images he needed, and I got myself dressed and then got the hell out.
In hindsight, I wonder if maybe he felt very uncomfortable about the situation, too, and maybe that's why he was inappropriately possessed to lecture me about how yogic breathing was ruining his echocardiograms (mine, specifically), while I was half-naked with one of my breasts draped over his wrist having a heart procedure.
I don't really know, or care. What I do know is that instead of lying there quietly like the good girl I've always been, I wish I had had the wherewithal to sit up and tell Mr. Asshole-Bootcamp to lay off, to quit lecturing me about how I was breathing all wrong and talking smack about yoga. That none of that was helping me to breathe any more calmly and was just making it worse, in fact, and to shut up and do the echo so I could go back to work.
I know for most medical professionals, dealing with partially or completely naked bodies is run of the mill and just a job, but for those of us on the other side, it is most often incredibly vulnerable, especially when the reason you are naked to begin with is because something is wrong with you and not because you're having a really great date. To the many nurses and technicians who have been sensitive and polite and kind while doing your job, I really thank you for remembering that you are dealing with people who would like to retain as much dignity as they can while going through all of these procedures which aren't run of the mill to us.
And to Mr. Bootcamp: lay off the lecturing. And maybe try some yoga- it might help you relax a little.