Thursday, March 03, 2005

Regular Colonist: Birthday pain

There has been a hiatus, caused mainly by the invasion of 16 five-year-olds with attendant panic, over-production of sandwiches and a 3-day constructive papier mache effort called a pinata (couldn’t face spending 20 quid on something they were going to destroy). A frustrated surgeon taking up crafts – it’s better than more DIY shelves perhaps. After all, you get to cackle with well-deserved satisfaction when they finally break through the unnecessarily reinforced hide of this bloated donkey and suddenly the floor is full of sweets and screaming kids in a big pile. Instead of a more negative reaction when your shelf falls down and the floor is similarly scattered. All in the name of that festival of individuality we call a birthday.

It’s his now, this festival, but for years we have been anointing a nonplussed toddler with presents, fuss and cake much to his vague interest, before he just carries on playing with his old toys. It made me realise, perhaps obviously, that the celebration of birth was what birthdays had always been about – they are about me, becoming a mother. My only memory of birthdays was that they were about me, the child. No, it is those 26 hours of pain and effort with their surprising almost anti-climactic result that is worth remembering. I was a/ glad it had stopped then b/ noticed the baby and c/ noticed my partner and two sisters had erupted into tears of joy and emotion when all I could think was Thank God that’s over.

The endorphin high lasted for days, until abruptly switched off on day 3 just when your relatives are descending and the lack of sleep for (first, in labour; second, too excited; third, mastitis) nights is kicking in. I think endorphins erase your memory of uterine pain too: a species survival factor as you’d be mad to have another one if you could remember how much the first one hurt. All I can remember is the pain of perineum ripping. Extreme somatic pain. The kind they use for aversion techniques on monkeys and prisoners. I would write, “used to use”, but no longer trust that torture is in the past.

So yesterday, I had to have a blood test. For someone who had only an 80% success rate on my venflons at work this week – getting both misses second time, and the smallest possible calibre needle – I was a coward. I saw those people squirming, I saw them being brave and I could not manage the same when faced with a needle. Once again, that pointed contrast between which end of the needle you stand: at work, I smile blithely, apologise kindly but not too empathically (avoiding too much eye contact) and inevitably approach again, needle-armed. Give them a choice, and they’d bolt. Just the look is detected by initiated kids, even sans needle and white coat: they can detect the essential duplicity of one who will hurt.

After my son had a blood test for his groin lump which turned out so typically to be an incarcerated femoral hernia – single-handedly re-writing the textbooks in the process – we came back from the hospital and played the most sadistic game of doctors and nurses I have ever witnessed. Tying up his large Tellytubby Po with her great innocent eyes we sidled up, hiding syringes behind our backs from his medical kit and then jabbed her viciously after shouting, “this won’t hurt!”: bang bang jab. I think it made him feel better. Certainly helped me.

Perhaps we should provide Po and venflons for my patients to wreak their politely-restrained anger on. I’d have happily stabbed her in the eyes after that guy missed my obvious vein and the hole didn’t even bleed. I think I scared him. Told him I was a doctor and my brachial artery was aberrant. Or perhaps it is better to shut up and be a patient sometimes.

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