When I was in Colorado I found myself with a good old fashion sty in my eye. It was extremely attractive and every time I left the house to get something (which is often in the suburbs), I was making friends left and right because people just love a scowling woman with a pus-filled, weepy eye. Even I was overcome with just how amazing I looked each time I passed a mirror.
By day three, it looked like the thing had made a permanent home on my upper eyelid and was content to stay there forever. While it did have its appeal in that I was the best looking on the block with the damn thing, I knew it might be time to get some antibiotics or, at the very least, an eye patch so I could practice my pirate talk in public and it wouldn’t seem strange to those who walked by me. You’re allowed to talk like a pirate when you have an eye patch to match. So off to urgent care I went looking for, with one working eye mind you, help for my situation.
Since moving to New York City I have had many different insurances. Even when I haven’t switched jobs, I’ve found myself at companies who just love to change insurance every year just to save an extra five cents on each of their 16 employees. It’s frustrating and aggravating, but since I’ve been lucky enough that my primary care physician and gynecologist have been in all those different networks, I can’t complain too much. Although I will complain about losing coverage for my acupuncture: it more than sucked. You mean now I have to pay out of pocket to have needles stuck in my skin in the hopes of reclaiming some sort of balance in my soul that probably never existed in the first place? Not OK.
But having been lucky enough to not change the major doctors in my life, I’ve also been lucky in that I haven’t had to list my abortion under the procedure/operation section of a new patient form. It never really crossed my mind that this might even be an issue for me until I sat in the urgent care waiting room in Colorado a few weeks ago and for the first time ever I was afraid to admit to the fact that I once terminated a pregnancy.
When I arrived to the office I was asked three things before being handed a form:
Why are you here today? Wonky eye.
Date of birth? September 25th
Religious affiliation? Come again?
I had never been asked my religious affiliation at a doctor’s office, either in person or on a patient form. I stumbled over my words and asked her why she needed to know. She explained that if something quite terrible happened and I found myself on death’s door with my sty, they’d need to know how to proceed. I’ll tell you how to proceed, lady, burn me to a crisp and scatter my ashes in the Atlantic. I answered that I was an atheist and she checked off some box that I couldn’t see from my angle. I then immediately tried to figure out in my head exactly how many miles we were from Colorado Springs, a town that has become synonymous with evangelical Christians, and how fast I could get back to my sister’s house to hide should the hospital hit an alarm to let them know a heathen was in town.
After some quick inputting into her computer system, the woman behind the desk handed me my new patient form and back I scurried to fill it out at an epic speed so someone could do something with my eye that was trying to break records with its rate of growth. But I paused when I reached the section about having had any operations. Until my abortion, the only one I ever listed was having had my wisdom teeth out because I was “put under,” as they say, for that. And based on what a doctor once told me, being knocked out, even for something minor, should be listed in that section. I was knocked out for my abortion, too, but there was no way in hell that I was going to list that one on the form. I just imagined the doctor reading it, judging me then coming at my eye with not just a scalpel but a dagger instead and going to town on it as some sort of punishment for my ungodly behavior.
I decided that I wasn’t going to let the doctor or anyone in that office know that I have one terminated pregnancy in my past. If a doctor was going to possibly be wielding something metal and sharp, then I was going to leave out a few details.
Within the hour, my sty and I had been given antibiotics, avoided being lanced by a doctor wearing bright blue Crocs and I was on my way out the door. I was also, after some minor pleading, given a patch for the light sensitivity issue and the fact that I had to go home and stare at my computer for the next three hours. My pirate-talking skills did not improve, much to my disappointment.
When I got home I spoke to my sister about my inner conflict to list my abortion on the form. I told her that I was saddened that for the first time ever I felt afraid to let a doctor (or anyone, for that matter) know the truth. There was no shame or embarrassment attached to the emotions I was feeling, just a fear of what some potentially overly-religious doctor who may not be able to separate his personal beliefs from his professional duties just might do to me. I couldn’t tell if I was being paranoid or reasonable; was I letting my pre-conceived notions of middle America influence my fear or did it stem from the moment I was asked my religious affiliation? And exactly how far is Colorado Springs from Boulder and do heathen alert alarms really exist? The answer is I don’t know.
The only thing I confirm is that I sat in an urgent care office in Colorado on a 99-degree day in July, and no one in that vicinity was going to be told about my abortion. Whether it was a procedure, an operation or something else, it’s still part of my medical history to which a new doctor might need to be privy. But it’s also a tidbit that no doctor with a scalpel outside of New York City will ever know, if I have anything to say about it.