What Lurks Beneath (the Hospital Gown After Surgery)

by Tekla, who tweets about feminism, history, and jokes under @alketrolyat. And is very, very professional and serious.

[Content Note: Hostility to consent; discussion of illness and surgery.]

Frankly, this is kind of a story about pubes. I'm super embarrassed to even write that to you! But shouldn't we fight to talk about our bodies as normal? It still feels like a feminist act to talk about women's bodies in ways that would make dudes go "groooossssss" and say whatever, dudes! The grownups are talking!

So a week ago I went to the hospital and got operated on. I have Crohn's disease and a recalcitrant section of intestine was slowly losing its grip and not meeting ANY of its quarterly performance review goals (like: stop necrotizing, already). After like two years of feeling really sick every single day, I caved. Slice me! Do it already!

This particular slice was only supposed to be about five inches long, which it is. The incision starts in my belly button and extends downward about 4-5 inches and then stops, kinda right below the curve of my belly. Therefore, I didn't think this would involve any shaving of any hairy areas. Or anything. (dun dun dunnnn)

I woke up from surgery in the blissful cloud of Our Lady of Intravenous Opiates, so I didn't notice anything weird for like a day. But on day two, I was hobbling unassisted to go pee, and when I arrived in the restroom, I discovered someone (HOPEFULLY A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL) had shaved, like, half of my area. My lady garden. WHATEVER. This gave me, essentially, a labial mullet. It was horrible. I didn't sign up to have my downstairs styled after what's his name in the Breakfast Club.

I guess this was done in case the incision had to go lower, though it would have had to go several more inches in length before said shaving became relevant. But okay, I get that you might have to do that just in case.

My problem is that nobody TOLD me. When you have surgery they tell you a billion things to watch out for, like there's a .0001% chance they'll accidentally leave forceps inside of you or something. But you shave an intimate area of my body and you don't even let me know? Like, "hey, we might have to give you an extremely dated hairstyle on your sex organs!! Just FYI!!"

Seriously though, this may seem frivolous but I think there's a lot to be said about how this was treated so cavalierly. Like, if there was any chance at all they were going to shave half my HEAD, I think they would have absolutely told me and probably made me sign a dozen consent forms. But because it's my vulva, nobody says anything?

Did they think I wouldn't care, like they already thought these millennials all shave down there and they would be doing me a favor? But I'm supposed to have control over that. Any hair on my body should be subject to MY choice for removal or glorious hippie growth or any maintenance level in between.

And there's endless wrangling over body hair, mostly by anti-feminists who want to act like all feminists do is sit around and talk about plaiting Gloria Steinem quotes into their pits. It's not like it's "more feminist" to adhere to one grooming ideal or another, but it's feminist as shit to make sure any body modification is subject to my informed consent.

After a major medical intervention, I should never wake up to any surprises about my body. I've had severe chronic illness since I was eighteen, which equates to seven years of trying desperately to control the rights to my body. Having that control means everything to people with disabilities and chronic illness.

And even in seemingly small ways—it's not like hair doesn't grow back—it's still important for health care providers to respect every part of the patient. And I'm allowed to be mad as hell that you interfered in my personal biz.

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