No topic is off limits in the operating room. While we reconstruct, remove, or generally alter various body parts, my coworkers and I open up about our own lives and bodies to a backdrop of 80s love songs. Over time, I’ve realized that health care professionals are completely desensitized to topics that might wig out the general population—particularly the private blunders and triumphs of our own human anatomy.
Ever since I’ve started writing seriously, I’ve commonly heard the advice: write what you know. And, because of my job, there are few things I know as well as the reality of the human body. Consequently, I’m inclined to see it as a metaphor for so many truths and realities in life, including the change of seasons.
This morning I look out my window and I’m delighted to see the sun boldly streaming in. The brittle brown shrubs on the steep hill behind our house are rapidly filling with green; the tree branches are birthing white and red and yellow buds. No doubt, spring is here.
But when I look at the terrain of my own body, I’m inclined to think I’m existing in the climate of late August or early September, when the heat and vigor of summer has passed its peak and the leaves are reluctantly beginning to turn other colors. There’s a mirror hanging on the wall across from my bed where I currently write, and when I periodically look up from my laptop, I catch a startling glimpse of my own reflection:
Morning face. Glasses on. Greasy, fine hair pulled into a stubby pony tail. It’s been four weeks since I got my hair done and the grays at my frontal hairline are reflecting the morning light like metallic confetti, which reminds me to make my next salon appointment. My lips are pale and dry and my teeth need to be whitened. My brows and upper lip need to be waxed. My bikini line needs serious attention. I’m proud of myself for shaving my legs in the bathtub last night. My nails are short and naked and my cuticles are out of control. I need to run a pumice stone over my heels and I’m still trying to find a good retinol product for my face.
And then there’s the bigger surface area of my body, currently covered by my gray pajamas. My rear end has flattened and my hips have widened since childbirth. I have no bra on, and there’s not much left to support anyways, since my daughters sucked the plumpness out of my once glorious B-cup breasts. Now, I watch my daughters’ bodies changing, my twelve-year-old bearing the fledgling signs of womanhood. She’d be appalled by my writing this, but her body is like the view out my window: a bright and fresh bud, just on the cusp of glory.
I currently work with mostly women, taking care of other women who are navigating the various seasons of an aging and changing body. I have to warn my patients before I touch them that my hands are freezing. “Cold hands, warm heart,” I say almost every day, as I position their limbs on the operating table. Meanwhile, my other coworkers are hot-flashing under their scrubs and want the room temp turned lower. I know that I’ll be in their shoes in no time. We are like a sisterhood, a “red tent” of sorts, owning the often-hilarious reality of our physicality as we surgically care for our female patients in indescribable ways.
Whether we women want enhancements or revisions or reductions or reconstructions, I’ve realized we are all seeking to feel more comfortable in our skin as we evolve through the rugged elements of life.
The journey is different for each of us, and God bless it all. We all can feel glorious and vulnerable and sometimes plain ugly in our own skin, and regardless of what we do with that skin, we are bonded by this common plight. Paradoxically, this plight is also where the beauty is.
There’s obviously so much ruckus that flies around pop culture and social media regarding our bodies and what we should do with them, and as a nurse, I can say that I’ve seen it all done before. Ultimately, those types of conversations don’t interest me as much as what’s underneath the anatomy: the stories underneath the skin, the tension we all navigate as living beings with bodies that shift uncontrollably, according to the seasons.
What season is your body in, and how have you navigated the tension of these changes?
Libby Kurz holds a BS in Nursing and an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published in The Poet’s Billow, Relief Journal, Driftwood Press, Literary Mama, and Ruminate. A veteran of the US Air Force, she now resides on the coast of Virginia with her family. When she’s not reading, writing, and keeping tabs on her three kids, she works as registered nurse and teaches poetry workshops. She loves a good cup of coffee, bohemian home decor, bumming on the beach, and finding meaning in the ordinary moments of life. You can find her at https://libbykurz.com