I was always meant to be a tall person; I just know it. My parents were tall. My siblings are tall. I was the second tallest person in the 6th grade, and most of us were pretty convinced I was well on my way to becoming a giant. Something happened at that point, though. Maybe some environmental anomaly shocked my young system – maybe too many sonic booms over my head as pilots from the nearby Air Force base played with their newfound ability to break the sound barrier – I don’t know, but I stopped dead in my tracks at just under 5’2″. At least most of me stopped dead in my tracks. Other parts kept going.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but let it suffice to say my backbone was still trying to make me a tall person, and the rest of me said, “No, thanks. We think we’re done here.” My spine twisted and crammed inside my short body and eventually decided there was more room outside than in, so out it came – tailbone leading the way.
At this point, I would like to pause and invite you to revisit your own middle school years. Would you not agree that this time of life is the bane of every young person’s existence? That whatever it was that made you unique and special was just plain wrong? Remember how the entire world had its collective eye trained on you and you alone and was prepared to broadcast to everyone the emergence of each new pimple, unfortunate hair decision, or social faux pas you made the mistake of experiencing? Imagine with me, then, the horror of knowing that you had a small tail sprouting where no tail should be.
Here’s the part of the story that’s the tear-jerker: it hurt. Bad. You see, growing tails is not natural for little junior high school girls, and they hurt. And because I was a junior high school girl who still hadn’t grown into her feet and I played sports and still turned somersaults on the lawn, I broke my tailbone. A lot. Each time it healed, calcium deposits formed causing the bony protrusion to grow millimeter by silly millimeter. I spent a great deal of time during those wonder years walking around my school knowing full well that the entire world had its eyes focused directly on the rubberfoam donut pillow I often carried around and sat on during class. That I was willing to put myself through this humiliation speaks volumes as to the level of pain involved.
There were many doctors over the years. No one felt comfortable taking my case which apparently only existed in textbooks for them until I came along. Finally, when I was in high school, someone referred us to a doctor on the staff of the medical school in town, and he knew what he was dealing with in me. He said it had to come out. My tailbone had to be removed. We decided on June 28th, after my high school graduation and a couple of months before Freshman Orientation.
That date meant one thing and one thing only. I had some serious tanning to do and a short amount of time in which to get it done. There would be no more bikinis for me after June 28th that summer, so if I wanted any kind of color on my skin when I started college, I had to get serious about my tanning regimen. I woke up in the mornings and put on my bathing suit. I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner on the blanket I spread out in the backyard and read novel after novel there. Each night, I checked my progress by studying the line of demarcation on my backside that divided the territory between bikini and no bikini. For those of you younger folks – tan lines were very chic back then.
The night before my surgery, a terrible thought occurred to me. What if I had a scar that showed above my bikini line for the rest of my life?!!? My surgeon is a man and might not know how important these things are to a girl. Although I was past the age where I thought the entire world was looking at me and me only, I still felt pretty sure that whenever I wore my bathing suit, the entire world that was present at that place and time would be staring at the scar rising up from my bikini and would be discussing it. I perseverated on this thought the night before people took knives to my back. I wouldn’t see my doctor again – at least in any conscious state – before he started cutting, and I needed him to know that a scar above my bikini line would not be acceptable. And then it happened. I had one of my famous brilliant ideas! (Let me just stray from the story here and tell you that brilliant ideas are genetic. I think I inherited mine from my dad who probably got his from his mother, and my older son Keith was infamous for his brilliant ideas. Those of you who know me and who knew Keith also know what I’m talking about…) So, back to my billiant idea. I asked my mom to sweet-talk the nurses out of about 8″ of white bandage tape which she did. Using my best penmanship, I drew a downward pointing arrow on each end of the tape, and between the two arrows I wrote, “DO NOT CUT ABOVE THIS LINE.” There. It was done. I slept well that night.
Next morning before I left my room to go to surgery, I rolled to my tummy and had my mom take the bandage tape carrying the important message and line it up as perfectly as she could along the upper edge of my bikini line. I was ready. I was semi-conscious when my surgeon came to the gurney and took my hand reassuringly in his. He patted my hand over and over and talked kindly to me. He asked if I was worried. I tried to giggle but it didn’t seem to work that well for me as I was floating farther and farther away.
Unbeknownst to me, my surgical suite was filled with medical students that day, invited by their professor/my doctor to observe this procedure which they otherwise would only see in textbooks. For the first forty-five minutes, I was on my back during pre-operative tests he performed and explained to the students. At the end of those, he asked his team to “turn the patient over.” It was at that point that they undraped my back, revealing for the first time my carefully crafted handwritten instructions, and laughter erupted in the operating room. They laughed and they laughed and they laughed. They tried to get back on track I’m told but had trouble doing it. One side of the room would calm down and the other side would start laughing again. That side would get it under control and the other side lost it again . Each time he placed the scalpel against my skin, poised and ready to cut, someone in an unsuccessful attempt to hold in laughter spontaneously exploded in giggles, again resulting in a sort of domino effect throughout the room, and he fell apart right along side them. They told me this went on for three-quarters of an hour. Oh, how I do love surprising people and making them laugh. 🙂
Apparently, he likes surprising people and making them laugh as well. At his office for my six-week post-op check-up, he walked into the room and placed my chart in my hands. Until then, I didn’t know I was allowed to see what was written about me, and I wondered what it would say that he so solemnly handed it over without so much as a word. A little nervous because of the strangeness of this, I opened the manila folder slowly glancing back and forth between his eyes and the chart. I opened it all the way while looking at his face, and when I turned my gaze toward the folder, there in front of me was a beautiful 8″x10″ black and white glossy print of my butt and the sign that put him nearly an hour behind (no pun intended) in his schedule that day.
I sure wish I had asked for a copy of that picture…..