I sometimes forget it’s there. My lip piercing. I’ve had it for years and I’ve never taken it out. It feels a part of me now, so sometimes I forget until other people notice.
Oh, the nurse says, oh, you’ll have to take that out. You need to wear a mouth guard, so you’ll have to take that out.
And I was taken by surprise, because sometimes I forget.
I’d rather not, I say. If I don’t have to, I’d rather not.
Well, says the doctor, I don’t mind. It’s up to you. If it gets dislodged, it gets dislodged. I don’t care. It’s up to you.
Fine, I say. I’ll leave it in.
And the nurse stands there, blinking. She holds a cup out to me, looking plaintive, like she’s begging in the street. It’s as if the exchange with the doctor hadn’t happened.
No? she says.
No, I say, shaking my head. I’ll leave it in, it’s fine.
OK, she says and shrugs, but gives me a look.
The doctor begins to tell me what the procedure will involve, and halfway through the other nurse exclaims in surprise.
She’s leaving it in?
The doctor stops mid-sentence. He’d forgotten about it. It no longer mattered to him.
What? he says. What was that?
He gets no response and shrugs. He struggles with words, having lost his train of thought.
The other nurse mumbles – So she’s not taking it out?
I turn back to the doctor who’s started his speech again.
I nod and nod. Yes. Of course. Yes, I understand.
But I don’t. Not really. I thought about what the nurse had told me, the one who greeted me at reception. She’d sat down with me and ran me through the procedure. Most people find it easier, she said, if they concentrate on their breathing. Just deep breaths, and think about something else. Or count, just keep counting. Those are the people that get through it well.
And I nod. Yes, yes, of course.
It’s unpleasant, she said. It’s not what you want to do, is it? It’s like putting your fingers down your throat. It’s not what you want to do. So yes, it isn’t pleasant, but you just concentrate on your breathing.
They said I did well. Afterwards, that’s what they said. But it didn’t feel that way. I was close to panic. Breathing, I thought, I need to concentrate on my breathing, when all I wanted to do was rip that tube out of my mouth. I was gagging and retching. Like when you throw up and there’s nothing there. I tried to imagine what he was seeing. I wished I could see. Maybe I should have asked. But the room was set up so that I couldn’t see. It’s not every day you get to look inside your body. I was curious. But I was stuck there, retching and burping and dribbling.
Keep your cheek down, she says, keep your cheek down on the pillow. We don’t want you choking on your saliva. But my body is tense. It’s hard to relax into the pillow. It’s strange to feel this helpless. It’s a straightforward procedure. They’re professionals, and it’s all for my own good, all to help me get better. I try to think of that as I burp and shake and my eye waters.
But instead I thought of torture. I thought of force-feeding hunger strikers. I thought of animals in labs. I thought how lucky I was I didn’t have to pay for this. I thought how interesting it must be to be able to see inside other people’s bellies. But maybe the doctor is bored of it by now. Just another stomach, just another duodenum.