Once upon a time, a long, long time ago (1986), a commoner of limited means (teacher) lived in a Kingdom (Saudi Arabia).
She risked a free operation in that Kingdom. As an American, she rarely had health coverage. Years of codeine pain relief for her monthly passing of blood, which destroyed three days, now, at the age of 36, annihilated seven – one fourth of her life. She plunged into the Kingdom’s dubious medical procedures.
She lived in a university-hospital housing compound, buses daily chauffeuring her and female colleagues to and from the university. The yellow and black rod which blocked the compound’s entrance rose when the male security guard approved. However, a fenced in garden-like walkway, entwined with pink flowers, led to the hospital. From the front of the hospital, per-arranged male visitors welcomed female friends into their cars.
After a year of obeying all the King’s rules, she realized, despite the men’s pure white clothes and prays five times a day – no one obeyed the rules. A friend from the compound, a nurse, retold hospital stories. One was the drowning of a new born infant. She explained. Many nurses and hospital staff originated from poor countries, lacking real credentials. Their job applications were written on brown paper bags or forgeries with obvious xeroxed lines. Fake. How did the infant die? What should have been 10 ccs of something injected became 100 or 1,000. The baby drowned within its own tissue.
To help her friend, the nurse provided her with a medical white coat to toss over her clothes. This permitted her to stroll through the hospital’s corridors to the front gate without impediment. The question became: One-fourth of her life in pain, or risk a free operation?
THE FIRST OPERATION – PARTIAL HYSTERECTOMY
From her hospital bed, a Saudi doctor came to withdraw blood before the operation. He arranged his equipment. As she watched him plunge the needle into her bloodstream, he complained about her country. About laws and medical malpractice insurance claims. She asked if he was going to perform the operation. She sighed in relief when he said No.
The doctor asked if she wanted her egg-producing seeds removed, she said no. Your cervix? Yes. The male’s eyebrow raised. But men can tell if you have one, he said. Shocked at this new information but also shocked that anyone cared, she insisted it be removed. She had no fond memories of her cervix – just weeks of bleeding after insertion of an IUD. Years later, she was ecstatic: The world had learned that many love partners caused cervical cancer.
She had scheduled the operation during a holiday, but recovery was slow. Although the Kingdom offered her six weeks to rest, she returned earlier. In the university hallway, she realized she was healing once she finally walked faster up the stairs than her stately, slowly walking female students.
THE SECOND OPERATION – BREAST REDUCTION
Relieved she had survived, she contemplated another free operation. Wearing the white medical jacket, she booked an appointment for the operation, at the end of the semester, before her exit after two years of service. Breast Reduction.
However, knowing the Kingdom well, the medical office would probably not open a scrapbook of breasts and ask her to choose her preferred new ones. She asked among her male compatriots if they had copies of Playboy magazine. She knew they circulated within the community, although they, like many Western evils, were forbidden but highly prized by the Kingdom’s males.
Constant failure to procure photographs led her to her French summer holiday photographs. However, once she approached the office for her appointment, minus the white jacket returned to her friend, she was refused entry.
She pleaded. To no avail. She negotiated, At least let me talk to the doctor. She was escorted into the office. But there are no lines on your shoulders cutting into the skin. Your breasts are not too large. I wear bras that fit, she counteracted. She completely removed her bra. No, they are not too big. They are beautiful, the male said.
To you, not me. They hurt. I can’t run. They will be like pillows when I’m old.
But it’s my body, my breasts. They are too large.
Finally she was made an acceptable patient. As expected, the office lacked a book of possible breast shapes and sizes. She revealed the picture from her French holiday – from the Louvre, Venus de Milo. Those. Small. Pert.
Afterwards, with clothe hangings providing some privacy, hospital staff appeared, asking to see her breasts. The country was notorious for being prudish and she was expected to expose her new breasts to strangers?!
Someone informed her, Breast reductions only occur 10% of the time, so many people watched your operation. They want to see the results.
Freed from the hospital, the University’s Finance Office lacked cash to pay its leaving employees. Later, the were told. Unconcerned, she waited, content. Her operation, scheduled so late, her exit too would be late. Late enough to collect her salary, summer pay, and bonus.
Since the Kingdom celebrated Ramadan, like Truffaut’s day for night movie, she walked beneath pink flowers from the compound to the hospital at 10 pm. Medical staff asked why she had miss her 10 o’clock appointment for stitches removal. It’s 10 o’clock now, she noted.
Yes, but 10 at night. You were to be here at 10 this morning.
Opps, I thought everything was changed for Ramadan.
To distract herself from the discomfort of having a male locate and pull the black stitches free from beneath her breasts, she consoled herself. She rapidly spoke aloud her inner monologue. The doctor stopped. Startled, she asked Why?
I’m listening to you.
But I’m talking to myself to distract ME not YOU.
But it was interesting.
Bandaged across the chest, at the airport, her exit was impeded by a low-level government employee. Drugged with power. Over the woman. Over the American. She had endured two years of the Kingdom’s hypocrisy and insanity. She longed for her exit. Shouting, she waved her useless ticket above her head, trying to auction it.
In a Kingdom known for imprisoning such public displays, a male foreigner hushed her. He rescued her from herself, drove her to the hospital so she could walk home, and advised her of her lack of rights.
The capricious nature of Kingdoms! The previous year, a local travel agent had provided her with a round-trip ticket that included stop-overs in Paris, London, later onto her American hometown, and then return to the Kingdom. An unusual ticket, someone commented. She assumed the Saudi man had simply done his job. He had smoked cigarettes and drank soda in his car as he drove her home to the compound, despite Ramadan forbidding all such activities. Nope, he had gifted her. But this year, the opposite happened.
The stopover in London was a dead end. The Kingdom’s airline refused entry to any newcomers in London. She paid for a new ticket home.
Months later, walking straight in Jakarta, Indonesia’s dark night with a fellow male teacher, she viewed the Milky Way galaxy. Never before had she seen the night stars so brilliantly. She stopped. She stood still. To her surprise, Never before, she confided to her male colleague, had she walked upright, her shoulders straight, her spine fully stretched, no longer burdened by pendulous breasts.
Realizing her good fortune, she continued to stroll, happy risks taken had left her standing free and upright.