Bioshock

My body is not what I thought it was. It isn’t less than I believed it to be; it isn’t weaker. If anything, it’s stronger – more durable, quicker to heal, more inured to pain – than I ever knew. I spent thirty years making assumptions about my body’s capabilities which, based though they were on the experiences of many other people, were quite seriously mistaken. As a result, I have spent the last month disoriented, living in a body I feel I do not know.

While I haven’t blogged much in the last year, a few readers may be aware that JNS and I just had our first (and possibly only) child. Artemis Mary Nelson-Seawright was born – that is, she was wrenched from my protesting body – at 4:10 a.m. on March 28. After an almost abnormally normal pregnancy, a veritable textbook case of healthy gestation, our daughter came into the world in as traumatizing a way as may be possible. My obstetrician called it the most difficult birth she’d attended in her decades long career: the cesarean delivery involved multiple incisions, and several dozen doctors and nurses assisted. My doctor has given us to understand that two generations ago, Artemis and possibly I would not have survived.

Here’s the catch: I wasn’t anesthetized. That’s right, I wasn’t numb.

Before the doctors realized that Artemis would never, ever fit through my pelvis, I labored normally. We’d tried an epidural when active labor began, but it kept wearing off. When I went into the OR, the anesthesiologist spent an hour trying to give me a spinal block; it never took. I never lost sensation. I finally insisted that they just start the surgery. It was an emergency, so they did as I asked. In the end, they did most of the operation except the bit where they actually pulled the baby out, and then they put me under.

It wasn’t that bad. My doctor said it should have been horrible. The hospital staff said the same thing.

The remainder of the surgery was apparently quite unpleasant. My doctor expected me to have sustained a lot of physical trauma. She told me my recovery would be normal, but apparently she told my husband it would be long and rough. I did spend five days in the hospital, but the nurses gave up waiting on me after three days – I really didn’t need much help, and I didn’t need much pain medication. In fact, my incision was almost healed before I left. I was tired for a week or so, but eventually I realized I was iron deficient – I took a supplement, and I felt almost normal again. When JNS finally realized that I was unaware of the magnitude of my surgery, he explained what had really happened. (Actually, he explained that the reason the hospital staff began formula feeding Artemis before I emerged from the recovery room was that they assumed I would be too ill to breastfeed. I wasn’t, though it’s taken a while for me to establish a proper supply of milk).

This experience has contradicted everything I believed about my body. I thought I was a slow healer with an unusually low pain threshold. I thought I was prone to complain about minor physical discomfort. I thought, essentially, that I was weak. I’m now faced with incontrovertible evidence that those things are untrue. As a result, I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking through every medical procedure I’ve ever undergone and realizing that I’ve always been this way – I got a friend to take me out for steak two days after I had my wisdom teeth out, and I didn’t really understand why he thought it was odd. I became severely ill several years ago – I had blood poisoning – because I didn’t recognize the symptoms of an initial illness. That is, I didn’t realize I was in a lot of pain. It didn’t seem that bad, after all; I thought my discomfort was a sign of overdramatic hypochondria.

The list of such incidents goes on and on. I see now that I have always misinterpreted my own physical experience. I feel like I have vertigo; it’s a sense of almost physical disorientation. How can I have lived so long in this body and have understood it so little?

Comments

  1. Taryn, is your brother called David Dunn?

    On a more serious note: wow. And, of course, another round of congratulations to you, J., and Artemis Mary.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    This reminds of Lex Luthor in Smallville, who as a young man suddenly realizes that he has some sort of immunity from sickness, and looks back on his life and realizes that, hey, he never even missed a day of school. The realization threw him for quite a loop.

    I’m glad our own Superwoman (and new Supergirl) came through the ordeal ok! I think it’s true what they say about how if men had to give birth the race would promptly die out.

  3. We are just happy that you and the kid are well. Thank heaven.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    I’m amazed at your recuperative abilities. Are you BCC’s answer to Wolverine? I don’t wish to find out! But it’s great that this experience has given you a new level of self-awareness. Let’s just hope you don’t have to test those limits again anytime soon!

  5. Latter-day Guy says:

    Congrats on the baby. It would appear that you are superwoman. (Seriously, the surgery story was about too much for me. I definitely won’t be sharing that with my sister who’s due to deliver by c-section in a few months.) Glad that you’re doing well now!

  6. StillConfused says:

    Likewise, I thought I was sickly… I still do. yet I seem to do everything just fine. My extremely athletic best friend takes me on long crazy hikes and while I protest a little at first, she ends up tiring before I do. Our bodies are quite amazing… especially when we don’t know we are supposed to need a long recovery.

  7. The body is truly a magnificent creation and one we still don’t fully understand. Congratulations on your girl and that you both made it through.

  8. Wow, that’s quite a story! But I’m very glad to hear that you’re doing so well. And congratulations to you and J.!

  9. StillConfused,

    Yeah. The thing I can’t figure out is what this means for my ideas about the soul. If I am the unification of my body and my spirit, what does it mean that the two aren’t communicating all that well? How seamless is the merger between them? Is it incomplete? Will that change in the future? Is this something to do with mortality? How incomplete is our theology of the soul, if it’s incomplete?

  10. Latter-day Guy says:

    Well, I am hopeful that pain is only a mortal phenomenon. (I will be quite put out if it is otherwise.) So, I assume that you will only become even more of a superhero in the resurrection.

  11. Congratulations on the healthy birth of your baby and your own strength and wellness!

    You’re amazing and I doubt if many of us could have gone through what you did. The idea of surgery without anesthetic is really super-human! I would probably be just about now starting to cut back on the vicodin… Maybe.

  12. Wow! Congratulations! A living sacrifice indeed!

  13. Congratulations! That’s an incredible experience. I’m really glad to hear you and the baby are both all right.

  14. Here’s the catch: I wasn’t anesthetized. That’s right, I wasn’t numb.

    Incredible, Taryn. I can’t even imagine going through an ordeal like that. Glad you and your baby made it through okay.

  15. “How can I have lived so long in this body and have understood it so little?”

    This is one of the most profound questions I have read in the Bloggernacle, Taryn. Thank you for making me think; I’m sure it will take a long while.

    and, Congrats!

  16. Congratulations on the birth of your daughter. It never ceases to amaze me how amazing our bodies can be. Surgery without medication-wow! And you are both thriving. That’s wonderful!

  17. capt jack says:

    Congratulations to you both.

  18. Congratulations!

  19. Congratulations!

    You should consider yourself specially linked to that noble woman who bore an ancestor of Julius Caesar (and thus gave the surgery its name). There are those who claim there is no truth to the story, but it was good enough for Pliny the Elder in the 1st Century, and that’s good enough for me.

    She wasn’t anesthetized either.

  20. Hooray for babies. Super hooray for strong mamas. Congratulations again- and I’m glad you are healing and your sweet baby is nursing well.

  21. Congratulations to you and J. I cannot even imagine how painful that must have been. You are amazing.

  22. Endorphins. Adrenaline.

    The human body is an amazing thing.

    Maybe making the jump to immortal won’t be as big a transition as we think!

  23. Reading this story is amazing to me–Wow. Just wow. I’m so glad that you and your baby are well–congratulations. And thanks for a thought-provoking essay about bodies and souls, too. I’m amazed you have such profound thoughts so soon after having a baby (much less in such a manner)–I think my first coherent thought after giving birth to my first was probably three months later!

  24. I have something to add to comment 22: Endorphins. Adrenaline. Divine Intervention. I had a very similar situation; after multiple anesthesia options, including extensive labor, epidurals and several spinal attempts, which worked at points, 15 doctors in my room, they finally put me under at the end of my emergency c-section. I’ll save the gory details and desperation, but it makes me thrilled that you did not have my experience and are able to enjoy your baby girl. My body eventually recovered, but I learned I’m not elastigirl, and that its a good thing I’ve never done drugs–anesthesia, massive doses of morphine, etc. have little effect on my body.

  25. Randy B. says:

    An amazing story. Thanks for sharing, and let me add to the chorus of well-wishers who are glad mom and baby are okay!

    I think this is a fascinating idea — the notion that we may have no real comprehension of our strengths, or weaknesses for that matter, despite extensive prior experience. Interesting stuff.

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