That time I had a gun pointed at me in class

In the pre-Columbine days of the late 1990s, I attended a graduate program in a small town in upstate New York (didn’t finish, but that’s a story for another time).  For one class, each of us was assigned to bring in an object that was personally significant; I probably brought a doll since I’d done an internship in the doll collection of a museum and was in my glory. I’d probably remember what I had brought with more certainty if a classmate hadn’t brought a gun to show off.

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There are definitely worse places for an untimely death, but I’d still rather avoid an untimely death.

There were two men in our class, both pretty unpredictable when it came to tempers, but fortunately, we women outnumbered them and so felt safe for the most part (and the two men in the class ahead of us were utter gentlemen). Not that we would have imagined anyone shooting up a classroom – having books thrown at our heads and physical intimidation were more the norm. And I doubt we would have imagined anything happening in a full classroom – we were far more wary of the parking lot or the computer lab in the wee hours.

And then the Unpredictable Mr. Smith decided to bring in his grandfather’s rifle. We had no idea if it was loaded, but we knew that he was pointing it at us. I remember the collective holding of breath and taking my eyes off the gun just long enough to check to see if the exits were accessible (one was, but if 15 people tried to get through it at once?) and consider the potential outcomes of jumping out the window (not good – we were high enough up that we’d probably break something in landing, if we were lucky enough not to hit our heads on the rocks and roll unconscious into one of the cleanest, loveliest lakes in the state). Had he decided to shoot, rather than just let us know that he could if he wanted to, there would have been casualties – “like shooting fish in a barrel” except that the fish were students and the barrel was the classroom. We had to – literally  – sit and sweat it out. It was terrorizing and terrifying.

And as for the “good guy with a gun” theory, had someone else been armed, the situation would have escalated, and it would have been really ugly. But again, this was a time when most of us wouldn’t fathom being in mortal danger while attending a class (and I’m of the opinion that we really shouldn’t have to worry about being in mortal danger while going about our daily business). We have no sanctuaries any more, and the gun lobby is okay with that. To millions of people, their right to  gun (which isn’t really a right – show me your militia, I’d love to come see a training session. The sheriff’s posse does it, and so can you!) is greater than the right of many millions more to go about their business peacefully.

Sure, guns are part of American culture, but there must be limits. Not everyone is qualified mentally or functionally to have firearms – why is that so hard to accept? On a no-fly list? No gun. History of violence? No gun. Law-abiding, responsible citizen with no history of violence? Here’s your gun – go forth and educate!

The NRA should be glad to know that the student who brought (and pointed) the gun at his classmates faced no consequences other than being asked to not bring firearms to class again. That did nothing to help the rest of us sleep or feel comfortable in the same room as this guy, but unfortunately that’s par for the course for people on the receiving end of threatened and actual violence.

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A pain in the…

I live with chronic pain. It’s not something I hide, but I don’t talk about it much (at least I try not to) because I don’t want to be a whiner. But the truth is, it affects absolutely every aspect of my life.

Me being me, I don’t have a straightforward diagnosis. It started around 2008, with random pains in my right abdomen. I had no fever and it wasn’t constant, so I wasn’t concerned about my appendix, it was just this thing that came and went. Then it began to come and stay for a stretch. Then it became so strong that I would come home from work, grab the heating pad, and twist and turn on the couch with discomfort while crying.

Eventually, I realized that this wasn’t going to disappear as it had begun – on its own. I talked to my GP about it, and she didn’t find anything unusual upon exam. Next stop – you know it, ladies – the gynecologist. If you think an annual is bad, it’s nothing compared to the doctor trying to elicit pain from your abdomen; mind you, I’d told him that it was completely internal – bumping into a chair or having a cat jump on me didn’t trigger it.

After an spectacularly disastrous experience with the Depo shot and absolutely no relief (I was still spending what should have been date nights on the couch with the heating pad), he decided that exploratory surgery was in order. The surgery comes and it goes, and all of my organs are textbook – perfect with no sign of injury or disease. I went to my car after hearing this in the follow-up appointment and burst into tears. I just had fucking surgery and it provided not so much as a clue.

Next stop, a two-hour drive to Rochester to the Women’s Health Center. No answers. She did suggest physical therapy, but there weren’t many reputable PTs offering vadge programs at the time. (Believe it or not, it’s a thing and practitioners are fairly easy to find these days.)

Years pass, and I was managing okay thanks to Tramadol (and I don’t even want to know what years of almost daily opiate use is doing to my body), but the pain was creeping back into the unbearable end of the spectrum. Back to the gyno, where I told him that I really think that the problem is my right ovary – the pain is consistently and solely from that area, and I do know my own basic biology, thank you very much. Doctor decides that he wants to take another look.

Now, if any of my friends were relaying this story to me, I’d be flying off the wall and telling them to get another doctor. But it was different when it was me. He had perfectly plausible reasons, and I certainly understand that things change as you age, and he’s the doctor, so I agreed. Same result. Keep managing with Tramadol and don’t be on your feet too much. THANKS.

I keep on keeping on, and the pain is managed enough that I’m able to be social and leave my couch or bed. And then I turned 41 and some kind of switch flipped. My ovary was rabid and trying to kill me, and it had gotten uterus and lefty on board. I named them: right ovary is Cujo, uterus is Face Hugger (because it feels like it’s trying to escape) and left ovary is Nelson Muntz (because it mostly points and laughs, but once in a while lands a blow).

I should have my head examined for going back to the same doctor, but sometimes the devil you know isn’t as scary as the one you don’t. Again, I tell him that I’m convinced it’s my ovary, and since TWO exploratory surgeries were clean I suggested that I go to an endocrinologist or have some blood work. That was dismissed offhand with, “What’s THAT going to tell you.” He’s the doctor, so I didn’t push. He announced that he didn’t want to do a hysterectomy on me because of my age (good) and because insurance makes him try other treatments first (Wait. WHAT THE FUCK?!). He puts me on uber-birth control pills for the hormones, that way (and I paraphrase), if it helps, we’ll know it’s the ovary(ies). In other words, we’ll confirm what I’ve been saying for years. To my smug satisfaction, they have helped greatly.

So here I am, almost a decade later and moderately improved. It falls under Chronic Pelvic pain, which is where they put everything they can’t explain. I’m not glued to the couch in pain as much, but it does still happen. It tends to get really bad after exercise for some reason. And it wears on your mind and self-worth. When you feel like absolute shit a great deal of the time, it gets to you mentally and emotionally, and it’s not good.

One good thing to come of it – I’m finally looking for another doctor. I do believe that so much could have been different if he’d actually listened to me, but I think he was more preoccupied with paying his daughters’ college tuition and his next vacation to St. Andrew’s.

It’s International Women’s Day. The United States is riding a new wave of feminism. And I can’t speak up for myself at the doctor. No doubt that’s the case for many women – especially those of us in middle age. Many of us were raised to not cause trouble and to not question authority in any capacity, and it’s keeping us captive in a sense (to the doctor, to our own anxiety about raising questions out of fear of the response). Breaking that conditioning is far easier said than done. The younger generation may have more of a sense of entitlement, but I hope that translates into them feeling free to not take any shit. From anyone.

Even the doctor.