Thursday, August 4, 2011

In which I get my bellybutton pierced so I will have a flat tummy but it doesn't work and all I do is pass out

Have I ever told you guys about the time I got my bellybutton pierced?

I was 39, I think, and saw my youth flashing before my very nearsighted, astigmatic eyes. I also saw photos of young women with pierced bellybuttons and flat, smooth bellies.

Obviously, the piercing caused the flat, smooth belly. I didn't get an A in probability and statistics for nothing. Correlation and causation are the same thing, right?

But I am not big on getting shots or being stuck. Almost every time I have ever had blood taken, I have passed out. This might have something to do with the fact that at the blood drive during my freshman year of college, which was the first (and the last) time that I gave blood voluntarily, I ignored the blood peoples' warning to eat breakfast before I had a pint of my precious bodily fluid withdrawn from me.

Oh that! I thought. They mean other people! I'm special. My blood sugar doesn't work the way everyone else's blood sugar does.

I merrily lay down, extended my arm, and then watched and felt as my O- blood passed through the tube lying on my forearm.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

That was the pulse of the warm blood. Passing out of me. Over me. Away from me.

I am getting a little lightheaded just writing about it. And this happened in 1982. Which, for those of you who are bad at math, was a long time ago.

I passed out.

When I came to, I looked up, panicked. I didn't recognize any of the faces. I didn't know what had happened. But even as the words left my mouth - "Where am I? What happened?" I thought, Don't say it! It's a cliche'!

That's exactly how I felt. Maybe that's how clich├ęs get started: because they describe how something really is.

Ever since then, my body has reacted the same way almost every time, even with just a tiny amount of blood to be taken.

Blood goes out, so do I.

When I had blood drawn as part of my Peace Corps physical, I didn't pass out until 15 minutes later, as I was walking down the hall to the next exam. I stopped, leaned against the wall, then slid all the way down to the floor, my head falling down between my legs.

OK, not really because I am have no flexibility at all. I am hoping my yoga class will take me to the point where I can actually touch my toes without bending my knees. My head rolled down and I was slumped over, but I didn't look like a rag doll. I probably looked like a wooden puppet - bent over in some places but no graceful, elegant, flexible fainting.

I had a minor thingy done in my doc's office a few years ago. No blood involved, but cutting and scraping. I warned him I might faint.

I did faint.

He told me I had a very good vaso-vagal response.

I was quite proud.

I also fainted when I had my eye exam and they did the part where the machine touched my eyeball, but you can understand that: A MACHINE TOUCHED MY EYEBALL! Now I refuse that part of the test.

I faint. I am not squeamish about blood in or on someone else - if there is an accident, you want me around because I am the one who will perform CPR or call 911 or keep the motorcyclist with the head injury from wandering out in traffic.

That happened once: my boyfriend and I were stuck in traffic on Lamar in Austin and I noticed that the guy on the motorcycle next to us had just been knocked over. I jumped out of the car, ran to the guy, got people to help me lift the bike off him, yelled at someone to call 911, and then kept the guy from wandering off. I snapped at my boyfriend to do something and help me because the biker outweighed me by 80 pounds.

Do what? my boyfriend asked.

You're a doctor, I said.

I'm an optometrist, he answered. What should I do? Check his eyes?

Back to the bellybutton.

I had a little fainting problem.

But there would be no blood here! And the bellybutton was before the doc's office and the eye exam. I had no evidence that non-blood related pokings could cause loss of consciousness.

And the truly important thing was that I wanted a flat tummy that could be shown in public without fear of ridicule. If I got a belly button ring, my belly would be flat. It would not be slightly fluffy as it is now and was then. Flat, maybe even with some rippling abs.

A girl can dream, can't she?

My friends Leigh and Ilene accompanied me to the tattoo/piercing salon a mile from my house. The parlor was in an old Queen Anne in Cooper Young. Black light posters. Black lights. Tattoo designs hanging from the wall. Knick knacks on the mantel. Purple doors and trim. Not my taste, but not my house.

Leigh drove. Ilene provided the medical expertise, evaluating the cleanliness of the operation and giving me her doctor opinion of it. She and the piercer discussed piercings in places I had never heard of being pierced and really did not want to think about but ouch. Really? REALLY?

The piercer prepped. Washed his hands, put on gloves, got the needle and the ring out of the autoclave. I hope there was an autoclave. I don't think Ilene would have let me proceed with unsterilized equipment.

I lay down on the stainless steel exam table, lifted my shirt. He pierced. It hurt a little. But I was fine - on my back, looking at the black light posters on the ceiling. If such posters weren't there, then they should have been. Why don't docs put something interesting on the ceiling to read? Patients do spend some time on their backs and a little bit of distraction would be nice, although in my current doc's defense, he is pretty good at the small talk and launches straight into the Packers as his hands are messing around with my hoo-hah. I'd rather talk about football or any kind of sport than keep a "I'm not really noticing that a man who is not my husband has his hand up my hoo-hah" silence.

I sat on the piercing table for a while. Ilene and Leigh looked at tattoo patterns and talked to the piercer. I decided I was OK so we left. Got into Leigh's car. Three minutes and three blocks from the parlor, I fainted. Almost fainted.

"I think I'm going to pass out," is what I said.

Leigh stopped the car. Doctor Ilene jumped out of the front seat and opened the back door so she could see me. Did her doctor stuff and revived me.

Later told me she had never dealt with a fainting before. She's a pediatrician and I guess sick kids don't pass out so much.

Ilene insisted I take the front seat so I could recline. She got into the back seat. Leigh started the car again. Two minutes and two blocks after that, Leigh said, "I'm getting television."

"Tunnel vision," I corrected her. Didactic and a pain in the ass, even post almost fainting. Don't you love being around people who correct your grammar and word choice? Even when they know what you meant? But just want to point out that you made a mistake? Yeah me too. My only defense is that I was still a little woozy. I usually make corrections only in my head, not out loud. I have been working on it for years and am a lot better than I used to be. I'm surprised nobody ever slapped me before.

"Stop the car!" Ilene said.

Ilene can see the big picture.

"No, I'm fine," Leigh answered slowly as she waved Ilene away.

I thought about what Leigh had just said - the television/tunnel vision part - and realized what was going on.

"Stop the car!" I said.

"Yes, stop the car!" Ilene yelled.

Leigh stopped.

"I can make it home," she insisted. "I'm just a little dizzy."

Leigh was having a sympathy faint with me.

Ilene did her doctor magic and then threw Leigh into the back seat. "I'm driving," she announced.

Two fainters, one doctor. Pathetic.

The bad news - other than my inability to stay conscious - was that the piercing wouldn't heal. The waistband of my skirts rubbed against it. Every time I hugged my boyfriend, the ring hurt. I couldn't hug him close.

The baddest news is that my belly did not get flat, taut and smooth.

It stayed fluffy.

All that effort to no avail.

After six months, I climbed up to the attic where I kept my toolbox, found a needle-nosed pliers, and pulled the ring out.

I still have a fluffy tummy.