Would you like to see my surgical scars?

Helena Rodriguez

This month I celebrate the second anniversary of a major surgery I had in 2002. Before you think I’m off the wall — regular readers already know this — I don’t normally observe the anniversaries of my surgeries.
I just happened to stumble across this date when I started journaling again. Historically, all great writers keep a journal, as well as others insane enough to leave behind self-incriminating evidence of their actions and thoughts. I’m one of those people, the former, not the latter, although that’s debatable.
I’ve journaled off and on for the past five years and recently restarted, which is what brings me to the topic of surgeries and how we love to talk about our horrifying experiences under the knife. The more blood, guts and pain, the better the thriller. These details make for great surgery stories while you’re in line at Wal-Mart.
I hear them all the time. People stall checkout lanes, block aisles and keep me waiting in line at the bank while they spare no details of their latest surgical procedures.
I used to detest surgery stories. As I teenager, I always regretted going to Food Town (now La Tienda in Portales) with Mom. She’d run into friends and their favorite topic was “Whose had the latest surgery?” It started off innocent: “Hola, como esta comadre?” Then I’d hear those dreaded words, “Saves que, I went to the doctor last week …”
Then I knew I was in trouble. I knew I should have stayed home because we would be blocking shopping cart traffic for awhile.
Now that I’m a middle-aged adult, I own the bragging rights to three surgeries, two major ones and one minor one. And I’ve actually been guilty a time or two of participating in this great American infatuation.
Yes, we Americans are proud of our surgeries, eagerly flashing scars at a moment’s notice. It’s a competition, trying to see whose surgery was the most life-threatening.
The minor surgery I had in the late 1990s was not “minor,” like the doctor said. It was ear surgery. All they had to do was make a little slit in my ear and insert a piece of metal to help me hear better. But it’s amazing what a little slit in the ear can do. It literally threw my life out of balance. The ear is connected to the equilibrium, which affects your sense of balance — and sanity.
I took motion sickness pills for two weeks. But that wasn’t the worse part, I mean besides the fact that the doctor initially tagged the wrong ear to operate. The worse part was that chunk of gauze clogging my ear for a week.
My family had to literally shout at me to communicate. My sister, Becky, afraid she would lose her voice, finally resorted to written messages.
Picture this. On the day of my follow-up visit with the doctor, my family is shouting at me on the way in. Then on the way out, I’m shouting at them, “Why is everyone talking so loud?” It sounded like I had a microphone in my ear.
Another great moment in surgical history was when I had my daughter, Laura, who’s now 14. I guess it was great. I wouldn’t know. I was asleep.
Most moms have dramatic labor stories to tell. Not me. I had a c-sect. I tell my story to Laura like this: “I was in a lot of pain. You weren’t getting any oxygen. They decided to do emergency surgery, during which time I kept telling them to hurry up and knock me out. The last thing I remember is some guy shaking my hand and saying, ‘Hi, my name is so and so and I’ll be your anesthesiologist.’ Then I woke up, and I was a mom.”
Labor stories rate alongside surgery stories. When I was pregnant, I despised them too. Women stopped me at stores, libraries and parks to tell me about the 36 hours they spent in labor. When you’re an expectant mom, nervous already, that’s the last thing you want to hear.
I thought I had a great labor story to tell about my own birth until a friend ruined it early on. One time in grade school, Mom was telling me and this friend about my birth. It was great. There was drama. There was suspense.
“It was a cold and snowy day in November,” Mom began. “The doctor said only one of us would survive. You were a Frank Breech baby. You were coming out butt first…”
To ruin a great story, at school the next day my friend told everyone, “Hey did ya’ll know Helen was born butt first?” and everyone laughed.
I was wondering, “What about the part about the cold and snowy day? My mom risking her own life to give me life?”
No one cared about those boring details.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at
helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com