I have had three colonoscopies in less than a year; first as a preventative measure based on my age, next to remove a growth found during the first colonoscopy, and the third to ensure that the removal of that growth was successful and it wasn’t returning. While the prep procedure is a bit annoying, I don’t really mind the experience; I count myself as incredibly privileged to be able to access this level of medical care. And while it wasn’t great news hearing that I had a growth the size of a quarter in my large intestine, it was welcome that it was found before it turned into anything more nefarious.
All of this to say that I have also experienced the colonoscopies of 10 other random people that were in the beds next to mine over the past year. With only a couple of feet and a curtain to separate us in the prep and recovery area, there is the illusion of privacy where there is, in fact, none. Especially when anesthesia is involved.
My first two procedures were like clockwork, so I have very minimal information about the experience of the prep/recovery area. However, the one that I had last week was significantly delayed, and so I was waiting, totally coherent, in the area for nearly four hours. It gave me the opportunity to experience the behavior of several people before and after their procedures; many of them were quiet beforehand and mostly just groggy and sleepy after. Save one.
Now, I don’t want to make too many broad generalizations or assumptions, and I know that we’re all unique little butterflies … and perhaps that is ultimately my point. But middle aged, White male Michiganders seem to be essentially encased in an armor that serves as a defensive mechanism against the trauma within which they have been raised. A trauma that they leave unexamined. A trauma that hurts all of us.
Next to me in the prep/recovery area was an almost textbook example of a White Midwestern Man, all bravado and independence; sexist jokes and pseudo-self-deprecating humor designed specifically to establish rank. I’m making this joke about how powerless I am because we both know that I should have all of the power, and also I actually feel powerless. He refused to go to the bathroom for over an hour because he could hold it, yet when he couldn’t actually maintain any longer, he, rather ashamedly, admitted that he wasn’t sure he could do so and not literally show his ass because the gown was a bit too small. He couldn’t ask for help until he was in so much pain and at risk of an even deeper level of embarrassment that the fear of the former was overruled by the latter.
His procedure did not go according to plan. He was the case before mine, and it took nearly three times as long as scheduled. When they wheeled his bed back into the recovery room next to me, he was sobbing silently; and then he began cooing like a baby.
He continued like this for awhile, gently rocking and cooing. The nurses discussed his condition, and that they had had to give him ketamine in addition to the propofol, and that the procedure had been far more difficult than they had planned. All the while, he cooed and rocked, gurgling a bit here and there, but mostly cooing; then he began to speak.
And he was effusive.
Everyone was so beautiful. But not in a sexy way, not in a physical way. No, in a spiritual way. Their souls were beautiful, and he was so sorry that he hadn’t noticed before, that he hadn’t seen that in them before. He was crying and professing, and just deeply connected to a part of him that, as it seemed to me, was able to see others in a way that he often did not allow himself to perceive. He was overcome with emotion.
The nurses kept thanking and dismissing him … “Why, thank you, sir, but that’s just the ketamine talking.” It was such a practiced response, it seemed that this reaction was far from unusual for them.
In sharing this experience with my friend Liz, she reported having something similar a couple of decades ago; lying in a recovery room hearing a hypermasculine construction worker recovering from having his arm rebuilt spout his absolute love and joy for everyone, and also cooing like a baby.
The idea that this happens all the time, this Jekyll and Hyde, brings me great sadness.
Listen: These two men, generations and thousands of miles apart, had developed such an advanced state of armor, designed to defend and protect them from their community, that when they were given the opportunity to touch into who they are, how their soul speaks and feels, they channeled a level of gorgeousness that probably most of the people who know them in their day-to-day life might never know existed. It is heartbreaking to me that they live in such a state of armored defense, and that their tenderest bits rarely have the opportunity to feel the sunlight.
But it’s even more so because that very same armor that they have developed to protect themselves, that is likely a response to our society’s specific demands of male-presenting people, is used as a weapon against others. These suits of armor have spikes and they pierce, scrape, and damage all of us.
What would it be like if we could allow for, nurture, and build upon the cooing babies deeply present in these men? What would our world be like if we didn’t demand that male-presenting people divorce themselves from their emotions, so much so that the only strains they’re allowed to experience are as mechanisms for oppression — anger, jealousy, hatred?
We are, all of us, multidimensional and ever deeper than even we will know ourselves. Excavating those depths can be terrifying; and I understand why doing so is not for the faint of heart. So I will never judge anyone for choosing not to explore those elements of themselves. It is a rare privilege to have the opportunity to do so.
But I will judge, critique, and call out a society that continues to rob its members of their basic humanity. Because once one person is dehumanized, it makes it that much easier to dehumanize another. It’s the basis of all of cycles of abuse, oppression, and violence that we see in our communities.
It was a deeply moving and enlightening experience, and it has given me added empathy for even the most abusive among us. No, their abuse should not be tolerated, but rarely is someone utterly irredeemable. Sadly, most of us must live with some level of armor in order to survive, but let us not let it become impermeable.
In porousness, there is love.