Happy to Be at Your Cervix

February 8, 2013 § 9 Comments

I’ve been driving around for about a month with a Rubbermaid box full of specula in my trunk. Just in case you’ve never been to a gynecologist, here’s a definition:

  1. A metal or plastic instrument that is used to dilate an orifice or canal in the body to allow inspection.
  2. A bright patch of plumage on the wings of certain birds, esp. a strip of metallic sheen on the secondary flight feathers of many ducks.

I’m talking about #1. Who knew about #2? You see, my dad always thought he would re-open his medical practice, but he didn’t. He had a huge capacity for hope, maybe to the point of a belief in magic. It was some kind of faith I’m not sure I have. He could not imagine himself as anything but a doctor, even though he quit practicing six or seven years before he died.  He was his best self as a doctor, I think.

As the fourth daughter of a gynecologist, this Rubbermaid box in my trunk is some sort of awkward inheritance. What do you do with a box of specula? If you say speculum, the next word that pops into people’s head is vagina, so no one wants to talk about them. Or they do, with a chuckle. First, I thought maybe I would sell the specula on the Internet. I certainly had no use for them. Then, I thought maybe scrap metal? That would be a surprise for the guys going to buy used aluminum and stolen copper wire. Now, though, I’ve decided to donate them to Planned Parenthood. That’s what they’re doing in my car. I keep forgetting about them, until I slam on my brakes and hear them rattling around in the trunk. I think there is a part of me that finds comfort in them—probably the only way to find comfort in a speculum.

When my dad was dying, that last day, a hospice nurse came to sit with us. They’re incredible people, hospice nurses. This one used to work in labor and delivery with my dad. As we watched him get whiter and whiter, this nurse kept her hand on him and told stories of working with him. She even knew he told horrible jokes, like, “Hi, I’m Dr. Wagner, happy to be at your cervix!”  She knew how compassionate he could be. This was such a gift, to see the other side of my big, looming father, whose voice could thunder through the house and shake the walls. At the funeral, more than one woman came up to us and told us my dad had saved her life. A gynecologist is like a hairdresser: if you find a good one, you keep him or her for life. Turns out, you go to their funerals too.

My dad became a gynecologist, he said, because he didn’t like hospitals and didn’t want to deal with sickness all the time.  He loved “birthing babies.” (He had a t-shirt that said, “I don’t know nothing bout birthing no babies.”) Still, he knew what women’s lives were like, and he was pro-choice. He didn’t just talk the talk, either. This conflicted him–I know, though we never talked about it–but I am so proud of him. Who knows what he saw over the years? Who knows what choices he had to make? So, I think he would approve of my decision to donate the specula to Planned Parenthood. If they won’t take them, I’ll send them to a local sliding scale clinic. I think he’d like that too.

There are a lot of babies in the world, some of them now grandparents, that my dad was the first person on Earth to touch. This awes me. Maybe that’s why he had such hope, such belief. He saw the world begin new every day. That is some kind of magic.

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