by Ian Starttoday
It is the rare individual who can say they discovered a new body part on their person. But so it happened, one evening while I was brushing my teeth. As I was going about my business in front of the mirror, I noticed my good-sized potbelly– a somewhat new development brought on by an ill-advised two-beer-a-day liquid diet – and began to firmly press my left hand against it so as to flatten it out a touch. It was then that I felt something click somewhere inside of me. An instant later an appendage flew out of my “innie” navel like one of those floppy disc compartments for a desktop computer. I was horrified and after flashing to an image of my 4th grade teacher informing my parents during a conference that I was “certainly a unique specimen,” I promptly passed out. When I woke up and saw what was extended from my stomach, I passed out again, and the process repeated three more times before I finally was able to stay conscious while looking at what had emerged from me.
My new appendage was about 7 inches in length, and for 5 of those inches it was fairly narrow, but thick and tough. In the last two inches, it moved into a triangular shape with a sharp point at the end that seemed to be made of a brittle material resembling teeth. Under the point was a small, equally sharp square-shaped piece that extended outward. It occurred to me that the end of it resembled something very familiar — something I used on the daily — but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
In the days that followed, I did what any man might do if his stomach unearthed some sort of new human real estate. I drank a lot of alcohol. Of course, I also paid a visit to my doctor.
After a series of lab tests, Dr. Toback concluded that most of my appendage was made of cartilage, except for the last 2 inches of it, which was constructed mostly of calcium.
Eventually he sent me on my way, admitting that my new appendage was simply too disturbing to look at any longer, and referring me to a medical research institute operated by a university about an hour away. The institute scheduled me an appointment for a month later, on a Wednesday; apparently a man discovering a stomach-protruding appendage was not as high on a research facility’s priority list as one would think.
As I was on my way out the door, Dr. Toback gave me 2 pieces of advice: (1.) don’t touch it and (2.) for God’s sake, stop drinking!” I nodded my head, knowing full well that I would ignore both admonitions.
In the weeks before my appointment at the university, I spent many hours self-examining. I did learn something, and that was that the appendage could be coaxed back in as easily as it could be coaxed out. This proved beneficial to my social life, as I was no longer walking around with a thingamajig extending out of my stomach for about a half of a foot.
The researchers at the institute also ran tests, but theirs were more invasive than those of Dr. Toback. They knocked me out with anesthesia — and commenced to pull, prod, poke, pinch, and pierce for clues. Unlike my doctor, these folks were genuinely thrilled to have me. In mere days, famous scientists and medical practitioners flew in from around the world. In the midst of all of the excitement, one of the resident researchers took my hands in his own and looked at me with tears in his eyes before declaring I was “helping to put this research institution on the map.”
Still, after all of the inquiries and testing, nobody could yet surmise just what the hell my new part did, if it did anything at all. The popular theory was that it was some kind of self-defense tool, a-very-awkward-to-manage weapon, perhaps. One researcher proposed that it simply did not have a purpose, not unlike the appendix, the tailbone, and male nipples.
As it turned out, no one had it right. It was on a camping trip a year later that the answer revealed itself. My friends and I had just finished setting up a pair of tents in the buggy northern California wilderness. We were just settling down for the picnic lunch we had brought along, when it suddenly occurred to us that we had forgotten to bring a bottle opener for the beers. It was at that moment when everything became clear to me.
Without fanfare, I removed my shirt and pressed on my paunch, unleashing to everyone’s horror the much puzzled-over appendage. Then I picked up the Corona bottle in my left hand. With my right hand, I took the appendage in my grip, and brought it to the bottle cap. I made sure that the cap was in between the sharp triangular tip and the tiny piece under it. Then I pulled up with all of my strength — and — voila!
No one spoke for a full minute, as they took in what had just happened.
“It’s a fucking bottle opener?” one of my camping buddies finally said.
I blushed, shrugged my shoulders, and then grabbed another beer to open.
“An Ode to the Odd-Bodies”
by Lindsay Dykman
You know how dog owners start to look like their dogs over time? Well, that was Dr. Robert—except he studied parasites and was taking on an alarming number of worm-like features. He had long centipede-like fingers that would drum along the surface of his desk. His skin tone was an unusual pink and his eyebrow was a thick dark caterpillar living on his face. And I’m pretty sure he also had a heart the size of a worm’s.
“My assistant Alexandra will ask you some questions today. I have to go do something else.”
Oh, now I know why you went through 12 years of medical school: to go do something else. His eyes never even leapt off the page he was looking at to acknowledge me. I guess you can’t expect too much warmth from someone who studies bloodsuckers for a living.
If Dr. Robert was a worm, his assistant was definitely a rodent. She was intelligent and well-learned, spewing off medical terms like she was a textbook glossary. No matter how book-smart she was, she clearly had never learned people skills before; she had the social skills of a pop can.
I was asked all sorts of embarrassing questions that I wouldn’t want to tell my best friend, nevertheless an absolute stranger who lacked emotion. We covered all the basics of bowels, urine, and blood, and that old favourite, “Is there any chance you could be pregnant?” For someone like me, the questions were more like an interrogation process. Memory is not my strongpoint, so remembering all the exact medication from the past 6 months and what was done on each individual day in Paraguay lead to some serious performance anxiety. If my gopher had looked up from paper, her medical knowledge would probably inform her that I was having a heart attack. She remained strictly focused on her page and instead continued with the interrogation. With every answered question it seemed like a new test or collection sample bottle piled up. There was a genuine concern (on my part) that I could not produce that many specimens.
After what seemed like forever, the gopher went to call back Dr. Robert from his more important work. He barged into the room with the same I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude, making the paintings jump from the wall and me in my seat. He read over my questions and did some double-checking, asking what city I had visited in Paraguay. I told him Asuncion, which apparently was the only correct answer I had given at that appointment. Suddenly the man could not shut up, raving about the beauty of Asuncion and how he’d been there 12 times. It was the only flicker of life I’d seen in him all day, and yet I didn’t care. I wasn’t there to listen to somebody to talk about their dream vacation from a job they obviously hated. I guess I was as apathetic about his storytelling as he was about my health.
“Well Lindsay, after reviewing your folder I think there’s nothing wrong.”
“We’ll send you for lots of tests and samples, but it sounds like you’re still adjusting back to Canada.”
“Well, I was there four months ago for only 12 days. How long of an adjustment period do I need?”
“We’ll see when we get your results. For now, go back to your family doctor and if you get sick again come back in six months.”
Get sick again? I still was sick.
“But my doctor sent me to you because she doesn’t know what else to do.”
“Well,” he said, standing up, anxious to leave the room, “then I guess I’ll see you in six months.”
He left with a stupid glum smile slapped on his pink face. A smile that didn’t care. A smile that said I was just a stupid healthy girl who had wasted his precious time. If he were an actual worm, I would have squished him with my shoe.
Perfectly postured books stood on the shelves—not a single one out of place, not a single one slouching. The desk had three colour-coordinated piles, with notes organized obediently into navy, white, and grey. Bland but organized. There were no toys, magazines, or paintings, and sitting facing me was a neat pile of business cards—‘gastroenterologist, Dr. Urs Steinbrecher, VGH.’ With a name like that, you know this guy A) comes straight from the fatherland and B) means serious business.
A silent door opened and a silent man entered.
“Hi, Lindsay,” a voice behind me said.
“Hi,” I said, not wanting to take a guess at pronouncing either his first or last name.
Dr. Steinbrecher was a hilarious representation of the room—neat, orderly, perfected. Cleanliness is not something I would have associated with a man who had chosen to study bowels for his line of work. And to go with his perfected room and his lack of fun was a very noticeable lack of body hair. His head shone with the magnificence of a cue-ball, his face would’ve made babies envious, and you could’ve eaten dinner off his forearms. Even the undone top button of his shirt bared only skin and no hair. He probably didn’t even have eyebrows, but I didn’t notice because of the glare reflecting off his head. The man had shaved himself bare. He was neat, tidy—someone has to say it so I’ll just do it—he was an anal gastroenterologist. And I had a sneaking suspicion that his baldness was to compensate for the horrendous amount of down-there hair he’d seen in his lifetime.
It had been five months since I’d seen a specialist and the phase of suspecting parasites was over. I had now moved into a possible diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder, although most of the questions the gopher had once asked me were repeated at this appointment. But this time there was an acknowledgement of my existence and my pain from the doctor. He remained concerned yet thoroughly professional, which somehow made the questions less personal. And unlike with Dr. Robert, I actually got a response.
“We’ll schedule you for a scope in 3 months time.”
Oh great, another 3 months of waiting, of pain, of not knowing…Wait, did he just say a scope?!
“Yeah, a colonoscopy. It’s a very simple procedure that takes about an hour…”
The rest of his words faded away like in those awful scenes from all the movies. Turns out that getting a response was about as bad as not getting one.
Another day, another waiting room. Except this waiting room was inexplicably filled with pregnant women, sweating while sitting or waddling around the room like penguins in summer dresses. I felt more out of place than when I was in the waiting room for my colonoscopy, surrounded by 65-year old men in scrubs with very conveniently placed openings. However, I was just as nervous as I was then. It was my first visit to the gynecologist and images of limbs flying in stirrups haunted me.
“Lindsay Dykman.” The only other non-pregnant lady in the room called my name and led me to another room. The bottles of lube and diagrams of ovaries on the wall were extremely…quaint. They were not the most comforting companions as I awaited my fate of meeting the doctor.
“Hi, Lindsay!” The door opened to an explosion of 5’11 happiness. “I’m Dr. Tuffnell.”
“How are you? Don’t you go to Trinity Western?”
Ummm, does it say that on my medical record?
“Yeah, I do.”
“Yeah, and you play volleyball there, right?
Did this guy Facebook creep me before our appointment? I mean don’t get me wrong: I appreciate a doctor that is caring and concerned as much as the next person in the waiting room. But there are certain friendliness limitations to the patient-doctor relationship, and there are just some people you don’t want to be too friendly with in life. Like, your dentist. Or your plumber. The last thing you want when someone is inspecting your mouth for shameful cavities, or digging something embarrassing out of your toilet, is for them to be a friend. You want them to be at a nice distance so that you’re just another stranger in case something wildly humiliating happens. It’s safe to say the same definitely applies when it comes to your gynecologist.
“Yeah, I’m a middle there. In my fourth year right now.”
“Oh, awesome. I used to go there actually. And I played volleyball there too!”
Worlds were officially colliding. My small, liberal arts, Christian university Trinity Western was never mentioned in the same sentence as gynecology, and certainly no pre-med students would be caught dead going into the industry. You don’t expect the naïve, innocent first-year taking part in the banana challenge to grow up to give pap smears for the rest of his life.
Dr. Tuffnell was a man of hums and no awkward silences. He was a fast-paced man, like his words were in a hurry and he moved in a half-jog. His plan of action was as quick as his pace of speech—begin with meds, and if those don’t work we go to surgery. The issues were still digestion-related, but apparently I had underestimated the interconnectedness of all the systems packed into our little frames.
Little did I know that within 7 months time, I would be going under the knife—no stirrups needed—to the sounds of anesthesiologists and doctors discussing volleyball. It made the whole he-somehow-knew-me before-I-knew-him thing a lot more okay with me.
He doesn’t like letting me go out of the house. And when I do go out, he makes things absolutely miserable. He never lets me eat at restaurants, and he certainly never pays. He hates pools, and he has a nervous breakdown if I go to the gym, where there are other healthy bodies I can compare myself to. He even forced me to leave a theatre halfway through a movie because he was so grumpy.
Steve has been with me for about 3 years now. Back when everyone was thinking I had a parasite, a friend and I decided to name it. Steve was the perfect angry name, with that lovely long ‘e’ and the vicious ‘v’ that make yelling it so cathartic. (If you’re reading this and your name is Steve, I’m sure the fact that it’s a good angry name is not why your parents gave you the name…I think.) And after all the bizarre, perfectly human and knowledgeable specialists and doctors, Steve has simply remained just that. There has been no diagnosis, no answers, and no possibility of a break-up. He is clingy and needy—taking my food, demanding attention—and for some reason I just can’t get rid of him. He simply stays and lives with me, and at some point soon I’m sure we’ll go for couples counseling. This is the worst long-term relationship ever, and ironically enough my only one ever. I somehow always knew commitment would be the death of me.