Have you seen my bare ass this week? No? Then you’re probably in the global minority. At least that’s how it feels.
It was just over a week ago that the eyes of a total stranger first gazed upon my exposed derriere. I’d been having unexplained coccyx pain so I went to the doctor who wanted to ‘have a quick look’, despite my confident assertions that there was nothing to see back there. Turns out that indeed, there was nothing to see, but a quick poke around at the base of my spine revealed there was in fact plenty to feel.
It was a morbidly embarrassing moment. Apart from boyfriends, my parents (when I was small) and one or two very close friends (when we’ve been rip-roaringly drunk and silly), no-one has seen my naked bum. And then there I was in a sterile, strip-lit room, lying on a weird-smelling table and facing the blindingly white wall with the goods hanging out. The very definition of exposed. And it was awful. My feminine modesty!
Fast-forward a week, the condition escalates to the point of hospital admission, and now I’m basically as comfortable dropping trou in front of total strangers as I am buying fags in that horrendous new packaging brandishing images of dead bodies and amputated legs – it’s not ideal, but here we are.
Your sense of dignity goes straight out of the window when you’re in terrible pain. After 14 hours without eating or drinking (doctor’s orders) I was still waiting for a hospital bed when a nurse wheeled a sandwich trolley past and I exploded into huge guttural sobs, like a child. I ugly-cried for the best part of an hour. Hilarious in hindsight, but at that moment a simple sandwich was, to my mind, the key to the end of all my suffering. I like to think I’d hold it together during torture, but the fact is, if I can be taken down by a sandwich I probably need to revisit my parameters of expectation. The denial of such a basic need resonated furiously in me at a very primordial level.
I was kept in for two nights. It was hot and stuffy and I had to wear decidedly-unattractive surgical stockings, so I slept in my sexy hospital gown and nothing else. But hooked up to various machines with wires poking out of me, plus brain-frying medication and already-limited movement meant getting up to go to the loo was a laborious undertaking. Adding pants or shorts to the mix was just an unthinkable complication, so as quickly as my intentions of keeping my hair neat and my face clean went down the drain, so did my butt modesty. Never in a million years would I parade through a public environment with my ass on show, but again, pain does funny things to you, so very quickly I didn’t give a crap. Apologies to the women on my ward who got a visual demonstration of this epiphany.
Of course, as a woman I’ve been taught to keep my natural bodily actions to myself. We’re not supposed to fart, or poop, or burp – hell, we’re not even allowed to sweat – and let’s not even talk about periods, so up until my hospital admission I’d been rather coy about the whole thing. “My back hurts”, I’d tell people. “I’m taking codeine but you know how that *makes a weird face and gestures downwards* can affect things.” Later, “The doctors have found an internal cyst – bit of an awkward position, chortle chortle!”
Again, this glossy veneer of social acceptability went straight to hell when the pain got too much. “Is this gonna affect my ability to poop?” I asked the surgeon dead in the eye before surgery. “I suffer from bad period pain and am due on soon, how can I manage both issues comfortably?” I was being pumped with fluids: “Excuse me, nurse, could you please tell me when I’ll stop pissing like a racehorse?” And I used the word ‘pus’ a lot. Yeah, it’s gross, I know. I danced around the reality of that for quite a while before the pain drove me to tears and by then I wasn’t fucking about. “WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT ALL THE PUS?” I’d slur incoherently in my drug-addled state. Or on the second night, when I woke up and found my wound had burst open and I was lying in a pool of my own gore and the nurse – who also had human eyes – asked me what was wrong when I called for him at 4am: “I AM LEAKING GOO. THERE’S GOO EVERYWHERE. PLEASE GET THIS GOO OFF MY ASS” and then (slowly and with great effort) I flipped over to expose my goo-covered butt, pointing indignantly at it for even greater emphasis. LOOK. PLEASE LITERALLY LOOK AT MY ASS.
And now I’m home, and my hierarchy of needs, according to Maslow, has largely been reinstated. But every day a different nurse comes to the house to look at my ass and change my dressings and so even now any social decorum I’d previously had over such matters is long gone: the nurse isn’t just ‘changing my dressings’ *blush*, she’s unpacking a golf ball-sized wad of gauze from a wound just below the start of my bum cheeks and shoving a new one in and it’s gross and painful as hell, and I’ll have to deal with this every day for the foreseeable future. Tremendous.
Being coy about nudity and bodily ickiness is just another socially-manifested ideal designed to make everyone feel less uncomfortable about things, while simultaneously making a lot of people feel very uncomfortable about things. Perhaps if I’d been less entrenched in the accepted social ways of talking about RUDE BUM THINGS my grim ordeal would have felt a little less hideous, but here we are. At least now both myself and my bum are liberated.