He was nervous about having his uterus and ovaries out. I had gotten on well with him in the surgical holding area. I didn’t get to ask what I really wanted to, instead skimming over shallower subjects like where he was from and who each person was who had to examine him before surgery.
He finally asked me if I had ever treated a transgender patient before. I told him that I hadn’t. I added that he would probably forget me in the haze of people while I probably would remember him for the rest of my life. I’ve been saying that a lot to patients lately, since each one is usually my first something.
“How do you feel about seeing me?” he asked.
Seeing him? I didn’t feel anything different, I said. This was true for him as an individual. On a larger level–seeing what he represented–I did. I have strong feelings about our national squeamishness about sexual orientation and gender identity. This was not the time or place to mention that, as he was getting drowsy from his first dose of medication.
Twenty minutes later, he was asleep in the OR and completely undraped, ready to be prepped for the incisions. All of a sudden, he materialized as an individual patient, allowing himself to be opened up and treated. No longer was he a political or social statement on society, or necessarily all of the qualities I wanted to project onto him.
About thirty seconds later, the resident said to me, “You need to find things to do.” It was rare feedback, because I am usually the one moving the bed to the hallway, putting boots on the patient to improve circulation, and taking apart the table. I looked up, and all of those things had been done in the half minute my mind had been undraped with the patient.
I get it. The OR is not a place to reflect, if only for seconds. Patient care depends on it. I get it, but on some level I think I resent it.
The rest of the surgery was no different from any other. His uterus and ovaries looked beautiful and healthy, and of course this was irrelevant.
Sometime during the closing of the incision sites, I thought of the Na’vi casual-yet-profound “I see you.” For some reason, I saw this patient when I looked at his body rather than into his eyes. Humanization and objectification entangled themselves in ways I’m still trying to sort out.
“How do you feel about seeing me?” he had asked, and I had answered.
Ask me again.