Last week I had to go to a local hospital for a procedure called a nerve conduction study. My left leg has been doing some screwy things lately and one of my doctors wanted me to have the test to make sure my lupus wasn’t causing any neuropathy, or nerve damage. When my doctor first told me he wanted me to take the test he also said, “I should warn you will experience some discomfort during this test. It involves sending electric shocks through your leg to test your nerves and then they’ll use several needles to test your muscles.” At this point I must have a look on my face that suggests I’ve walked through hell’s front door because the doc starts back pedaling saying things like, “Well, I’m probably make it sound worse than it is. You’ll be fine.” But the damage is done. I’m terrified.
The test is scheduled for Oct. 21. That doctor’s appointment was at the end of September. This means I must spend an entire month dreading the procedure. I wrote it on my calendar in bright blue, hoping that cheerful color would calm me. It doesn’t. The words “Nerve Condition Study” stared back at me sending fear through my body each time I glanced at them.
For about a week or two I contemplate cancelling the appointment, but the hubster won’t hear of it. So I decide I need to just relax and not think about it until Oct. 21 rolls around. Then one Sunday God plays a joke on me. I’m at church and the associate minister delivering the message for the day starts talking about the time he woke up and couldn’t move his hands. The numbness spread and he was taken to the hospital. He turned out to be okay. He’d had a bad reaction to some shots he’d taken in preparation for a mission trip to Africa. But before this was discovered the doctors ran a number of tests, including a nerve conduction study. He describes it as the worst thing that has even happened to him. He even admits to screaming and crying during the procedure (he also confessed to crying when he got the shots that put him in the hospital in the first place) and he said he still has nightmares about it. I almost fainted.
I told a few gal pals about this and they all had the same response, “Oh, you know men are babies. Don’t let that bother you.” Now as a feminist I typically can’t stand generalizations about the sexes, however, I decided to grab on to this stereotype for the sake of my sanity. But two days before the test I mentioned it to a female colleague and she began to scream like I’d just said I was getting my nipples pierced. Turns out she’d had a nerve conduction study too. She then says, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to scare you. I think it all just depends on what body part they’re testing. For me it was my leg.” Obviously, that didn’t help. And it burst bubble of stereotypes. I could no longer lean on the men are babies theory because this panicked colleague was a woman. Now do you see how stereotypes can get you into trouble?
The big day arrives. My small group from church and a few pals from work are praying for me. Some say they’re praying the results show my nerves and muscles are healthy, but I’m thinking, “Screw the results. Just pray that this test doesn’t send me into cardiac arrest.”
I’m led back to the examination room and given one of those high fashion ass-out gowns for which the health care industry is known. I lie down and the technician sticks a number of wires to my leg. She’s explaining the procedure but all I can hear is my heartbeat. Then it starts. The electrical stimulation feels so strange. At times it feels like a ripple of heat going through my leg or foot. At other times, the the pulse is a strong jolt and my leg involuntarily jumps off the bed. But guess what. It doesn’t hurt! At all! It’s certainly an unusual feeling but far from a painful one. The pain, I figure must be coming in the second part of the test.
The doctor comes in and explains that she’ll test my muscles with a number of fine needles. I nod, she fiddles around with some things and then says usually people only feel pain when she inserts the needles. I say, “Okay, let me know when you’re ready to start.” But she already has. There’s a needle sticking in my thigh and I hadn’t even noticed. The needles to the back of my leg and those in sensitive places like my feet did hurt a bit, but I’ve experienced worse pain walking around all day in heels.
My leg was sore the rest of the day. The places where the needles had been inserted were especially tender and my muscles were cramping perhaps in an effort to punish me for allowing them to face electric shocks. When I saw my brother later that day he said I was walking like a penguin, but I was a proud penguin. I had survived the dreaded procedure and handled it with grace. I don’t know if it’s fair or not to say that men are babies, but I know one thing — I am badass!