Friday, March 8, 2019

SOL19 - Slice #8 Response to sickness, part 2

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOL19)
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, every day for the month of March 2019.

A big thank you to Two Writing Teachers for providing this unique opportunity
for teacher-writers to share and reflect.

I know this isn't a very upbeat topic, but I'm going to share part two of the story of my breast abscess as a teenager (see yesterday's post). Looking back, I realize this is when I began to realize how ill-equipped my mother was to handle any issues big or small in our lives, how mentally ill she truly was. It was a very painful experience, and yet it helped me to begin to stand strong apart from her. Let me share the remainder of the experience.
Once I finally got my mother to actually look at my body and see the swelling and infection on my breast, we began the pursuit of a doctor. Mom did not want to take me to Navy doctors, because she’d have no control over who would see me. She wanted me to see a female doctor, but we did not know of any. She called her friend, the mother of my classmate from my elementary school days – a civilian friend. The friend insisted her doctor – although male – was the very best, and, somehow, her advice reigned. The next thing I knew (day four or five?) we were in downtown Norfolk (Virginia, where we lived at the time) at the male gynecologist’s office – Mom, the friend, and I went together to this appointment. 
I remember a nurse (female) telling me to change out of my clothes and put a gown on. I remember vague tension at my mother staying in the room, how I turned my exposed breasts away for modesty as I undressed, averting her eyes. I still see my mother standing there, purse in hand. The exam room was pretty spacious. I laid down on the examining table, at the nurse’s direction, and the doctor came in, to the side of the table. He acknowledged my mom and said,
Mom, you can wait in the waiting room. Your daughter is 14.”
She snapped, “I am staying right here.”   
The doctor, with a more insistent voice, said, “Ma’am, I need to examine your daughter alone. The nurse is here to assist. Please go to the waiting room.
Mom’s voice raised, “I have no intention of leaving this room. That is my daughter.
And he, the doctor, was miffed.
I whispered to him, “Please, let her stay, it’s okay.” I had had years of practice at placating my mother, recognizing her escalating moods, how to broker peace and calm.
He declared, “I cannot examine your daughter with you in the room.”
Mom, to me (ignoring him!), angrily said, “Maureen, get your clothes on right now, we are leaving.” How dare he think he was going to paw over her daughter! Under no circumstances would she leave the room. Under no circumstances were we staying.
I remember commotion...the friend rushing in, to placate my mother, to convince her to leave the room and let the doctor examine me (to which Mom snapped at her, derisively, “Like hell I am letting that man paw my little girl!”)...the nurse helping me at the examining table, to find my clothes, to re-dress; she, having seen my breast – unlike the doctor - dared to insist to my mother, “You must let your daughter be seen by a doctor, it is urgent that she get help,”...and the doctor – first – making a fast and angry exit, as if this had been a ridiculous waste of his time.
[Sidebar -Why did that doctor refuse to compromise? Refuse to allow my mother to stay? What was that? Ego? What was the real problem? Did he suspect abuse and wanted to talk to me privately? How did that help me, to not be seen at all? Or did he sense a woman ‘on the edge,’ and feared allowing her to stay in the room? Really odd! All these years later, I wrestle with thoughts about that doctor.]
I did as I was told, and we left right away,...through the waiting room, faces looking up at me and she exiting; Mom, head held high in righteousness; me, eyes lowered, absolutely and totally mortified. There had been anonymous witnesses to this painful scene, outburst, resulting in stunned faces on all.
There I was, with swelled, inflamed, and reddened left breast, a huge, obvious, golf-ball size sore  - ‘the abscess’, so uncomfortable, with non-stop hurting, feeling worse wearing a bra than not (I had outgrown the dang cup!), and, yet, I was dressed and going home, unseen, undiagnosed, uncared for.
What the hell?
Back in our car, I burst into tears and yelled at my mother. Yes, I lost my cool. I felt so miserably stuck and trapped. “Mom, what are we going to do now? I am in real pain! I must have this looked at! I need a doctor! You must let me see a doctor!”  I cried. 
Well,” she explained, “if we are going to just let some male doctor put his hands on you, we might just as well do it for free with the Navy.” And without further ado, we drove to the Little Creek emergency room. To avoid any possible scene, I quickly insisted to the Navy doctor that he let my mother stay in the room with me, that I needed her to be with me; thankfully, he was fine with that. Probably, as the wife of a Navy Captain, she was entitled to insist on this. Other than this initial interaction, I have no real memory of the doctors or nurses who worked with me, just a sense that everyone was kind, conciliatory, giving. Mom remained very tense, but no one reproached her or argued anymore. Rank does have its privileges – when you are somewhere where rank matters. The civilian doctor, obviously, didn’t care one bit.
It turns out that I had a breast abscess. I was checked into the hospital, and scheduled for anesthesia and surgery immediately the next morning. I know that doctors often do a simple in-office needle aspiration for this same problem [I know because I had one just recently - yes, this returning drama is what sent me down memory lane in the first place]. Perhaps breast abscesses weren't handled this way back then? Or did the doctors think it would be too traumatizing for a 14 year old girl to have this procedure? Or maybe it was because the abscess had progressed to near rupture? Not sure. I know I spent a couple days at the least two nights. There I was on the women’s floor, by myself! Honestly, it felt like a gift. I was – until this medical emergency – constantly under my mother’s watchful eye and paranoid supervision. I thoroughly enjoyed the independence of the hospital.
I know both the civilian doctor and the military doctor asked why it had taken so long to bring me in. I believe I made excuses – “I didn’t show her, I didn’t tell her.” I knew how much my mother hated being wrong about anything, how insulted she felt by such questioning.
My father returned from travel (sea trials) by the time my surgery was complete – he and Mom came to visit me at the hospital. Did he come home sooner because I was in the hospital? Doubtful. Would Mom have been able to get word to him? I doubt it. Dad never spoke to me about what was going on – this was ‘women’s stuff.’ He just breezily commanded, “Get better!” and that was that. 
And so, I did. Get better, that is!


  1. I’m mortified reading this. What happened to your mother to cause her to react this way toward a doctor? Did her mental health improve? Did she get help?

    1. My brothers and I have always wondered if something horrible happened with my mother and a doctor when she was young. She had terrible fear/resistance to all things medical, always. She was bipolar, suffered from anxiety and depression...and never accepted any treatment. There were several forced hospitalizations, but no continued care. Yes, it was hard on us kids! Thank goodness for therapy. Thanks for commenting on this bleak post!!