ColumnsHealth & Wellness

OutLoud: In the Waiting Room

by Sally Sheklow

Colonoscopy. The blue sign’s crisp white letters are medical, unflinching. A bold arrow pointing down the gray-carpeted hall leaves no guesswork about which way we need to go. Go may be the wrong choice of words, considering that’s all my sweetheart has been doing since she drank the required bowel-cleansing potion at 5 last night—that after a day of fasting. She followed all the prep instructions for her colon exam, bravely downed the broth, filtered apple juice, and endless glasses of water. I felt callous munching on my after-dinner Fig-Newmans.

My unlawfully wedded wife and I arrive at the clinic 10 minutes early to allow for bathroom time. For months she’s been dreading this, her first colonoscopy—or, as we’ve been calling it, her Butt-o-Scope. She’s nervous even though it’s only a routine exam, diagnostic care for the well insured. Her employer doesn’t offer domestic partner benefits—and we don’t live in California, Vermont, or Belgium, where the law requires employers to be fair—so I am not covered by her health-care policy. Like every other lesbian and gay couple we know, we are rooting for Massachusetts, eagerly awaiting marriage equality and the equalization of benefits. We expect to see these changes follow a positive ruling in The Old Bay State, but for now, no Butt-o-Scope for me—a privilege that at the moment I am relieved to forego. Although I don’t dare say relieved.

The clinic’s automatic doors open for us, just as they do for heterosexuals, I might add. I’m fired up these days about the injustice and stupidity of the Federal Marriage Amendment and am prone to get testy. But today’s priority is to get my girlfriend through her procedure with as little trauma as possible, and I must stay on task. We quickly find the elevators. Sweetie gives a pained look. The elevator takes its time. She leans on me and whimpers, “I feel like shit.”

I recognize a pun when I hear one, but I keep it to myself. She’s in no mood for joking. She hasn’t eaten in more than 24 hours, and her innards are in overdrive.

The clinic’s anti-discrimination policy hangs on the wall in front of us. The phrase sexual orientation catches my eye. Nice to know the great queerasaurus wandered this sterile land before we got here. Activist clinic employees who roamed these polished floors in years past agitated for a policy change to include people like us. I’m grateful and recognize the risks they took in the struggle for equality. Thanks to them we’re free to focus on our more urgent concerns, which, gauging by my honey’s expression, are getting more urgent by the minute.

I think about the doctor and staff who will be handling my tender baby today and hope they are up on the policy as well as their colon-examining skills. I hold my finger to the glass-framed document. My sleep-deprived partner, bleary from a gut-rumbly night, reads the words affirming our entitlement to equal treatment. She cracks her first smile of the day. (Perhaps crack is the wrong word considering the tender state of hers after flushing all that liquid through her guts. I suppose you can’t blame the doctor for wanting an unobstructed view. Won’t it make his day when he finds my darling’s GI tract clean and clear as the Olympic luge?)

On the third floor at last, the receptionist greets morning appointments with magic words. “They’ll come get you in just a minute and make you real comfortable.” This is the talk of legal drug pushers.

Wifey smiles faintly. She completes the paperwork. The receptionist wastes no time in pointing out the restroom around the corner. My darling heads right for it. (I guess it’s OK to say head, now that one is available.)

My gal and I take a seat on an upholstered bench. It is hard and unaccommodating. This waiting room was not designed for people to kick back and relax. Nobody sits still here very long.

For months my sweetheart has been worried about going under the anesthesia. She read somewhere that sometimes you don’t wake up, an idea she hasn’t been able to shake. She’s been anxious, imagining the worst. But now her angst has been dulled by the prep ordeal. She mumbles, “I don’t care what they do to me.” Wiped out as she is (I can’t say wiped,) she has the presence of mind to tug off her wedding ring and hand it to me for safekeeping. I slip her ring onto my finger, where it clicks softly against my matching gold band. We hold hands. She rests her head on my shoulder. I stroke her hair. There’s no closet in this waiting room.

A woman wearing a nametag lanyard strides over and introduces herself. “I’m Mattie,” she says and holds out her hand. I’m thinking about that nondiscrimination policy. Mattie clutches a clipboard, glances at it to make sure she’s got the right patient. She sure is chipper at this early hour. Peristalsis hasn’t kept her up all night.

“What relation are you?” she aims her question directly at me. My beloved is too groggy for answering complicated questions. Please God, or whatever force governs these things, don’t let this be a difficult moment. Could we just for once be a normal couple, no raised eyebrows and no weird energy? I am not in confrontation mode, so I put my trust in that sign.

“We’re married,” I say, trying not to sound defiant. In any other situation I might launch into a tirade about discrimination, bigotry, and homophobia. I’m used to explaining our entitlement to equal rights. But I’m in tender nurturing mode and in no mood for politics.

“Great!” Mattie grins. “OK if I put wife on her chart?” She is downright eager to invoke the nondiscrimination clause. Colonoscopy: the great equalizer.

Sally Sheklow was born and raised in Palm Springs. She and her partner of 16 years accompany each other through life in Eugene, Oregon.


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