I take the tenacity, and grit women are blessed with for granted. Even my guy friends admit that women are more resilient. Not just because of the child-bearing thing — thought I’d throw that in there like it’s nothing…. And I am not going to correct their illusion, because it may just be reality. Are women tougher than men…?
A recent event involving one of my husband’s friends bolstered my bias that men are wimps. The story began when our friend, an athletic man in his forties, injured his elbow. Last year, I wildly swung a kettle-bell causing tendonitis in my elbow, so I am familiar with the pain and annoyance this injury inflicts. Lifting a tea bag was a challenge when the flare-up occurred. I get it. I am also petrified of needles and prefer to spend my time in the company of blunter objects. But as I tell my kids, there comes a point when you run out of options. The sooner you get over it and suck it up, the sooner you can move forward. This tough-love approach works for my kids but has earned me sideways glances from the rubber-necking parenting gallery at the pediatrician’s.
For the sake of total disclosure I will digress and concede that it took me a long time to accept that my elbow would not heal on its own. I tried rest and rehab, and wimped out when the doctor suggested a shot on the literal spot. But who wouldn’t wimp out given the option to try both oral and local anti-inflammatories? That seemed like a perfectly reasonable and conservative approach. The plan was to give it two weeks, then make an appointment for an injection if the pain had not dissipated.
Before leaving, I asked the inane question, “Will the shot hurt?” The doctor looked me square in the eye and said, “Look, I’m not going to lie. You’re in a lot of pain, and I am going to place a needle into the most swollen area. I am then going to move the needle around to spread the medication. So it’s not going to tickle.” I was aware that my mouth was opening and closing but no words came out. Before I could form a sentence, he added, “And you may need a second shot.” That was enough to send me home with prescriptions for topic cream and oral poison that turned my stomach.
The placebo effect created by my lack of desire to succumb to the injection, and blind hope that the cream was sort-of working, was short lived. I knew I had exhausted my non-invasive options, and I made an appointment for the dreaded injection. Knowing my personal limitations is a huge advantage in preempting further problems, so I recruited my toughest girlfriend to accompany me. I chose her over my husband because he wields needles on a daily basis, and as long as they are not directed toward his own flesh, he doesn’t appreciate the phobia surrounding them.
My friend escorted me for physical, more than moral support, as emotionally I had capitulated to the impending trauma. I am not sure that she knew just how much physical support would be required. The doctor entered the room to find me straddling her lap, both arms wrapped around her neck. He commented that this would make a great YouTube video. He was lucky that my panic overshadowed my urge to respond.
My friend stilled my head with her left hand and immobilized my ability to leap out of the room with her right hand. It was evident she had upped her weightlifting, as she had a death grip on me. She whispered in my ear, “If you don’t cut the crap, I’m going to slap you.” That’s exactly the kind of physical, and emotional support I need. In a muffled voice from the crook of her neck, I warned the doctor that if I caught sight of the needle, I would bolt. Not sure how I was planning to escape from my human straitjacket.
I remember asking if a defibrillator was nearby, and in working order. All business with his giant biceps and huge needle, the orthopedist asked me the question that men love asking women when they display fear of pain, “How did you give birth?” HOW DID I GIVE BIRTH?! I had an epidural, and was a ranting lunatic, would you like a demonstration?
Before I had a chance to have my first-ever panic attack, the procedure was over. I barely felt the insertion, and my pain dissipated by that evening. After the injection, the gentle giant was all smiles and charm. I knew that if a second round was required, there would be no encore of my Academy award-winning performance.
So when my husband’s friend called to discuss his elbow pain, I was equipped with experience, a war-story and bravado. If I can do it, anyone can do it, I told him. Just do it. The Nike slogan made no impression on him, and he required several conversations, at least thirty texts, and emails to just work up the courage to call his doctor.
I offered to accompany him, but he conveniently made his appointment during a conference call I could not reschedule. I jumped to the conclusion that while he needed my support, he didn’t want to be wimpy in front of me. His more reasonable version is that he took the first available appointment. His injection experience was less dramatic in the girls-gone-wild category, but more traumatic in the pain department. He told me he felt as though he was shot in the elbow. I wondered how he knew what a gunshot to the elbow felt like. I dismissed his feelings, and said, “You never had to give birth, so of course this is a big deal to you…”
For the next two days he sent me a series of texts telling me he is resting, immobilizing, icing and taking time off work. “You’re tougher than me, ” he said. “You’ve given birth twice.” Only a man would take time off and react like this, I thought, utilizing the temporary amnesia that serves me well when I’m being judgmental. I hate when men mention childbirth as a point of reference for pain. But I especially hate when I’m being an ass and use it myself.
Most of my girlfriends lament that their husbands handle their colds like babies. They want them to call the Red Cross nurses to assist with recovery from mild surgeries, and they treat physical therapy like torture. They take time off, require sleep and TLC. Of course, I know some men who are tougher than nails and never take a moment unless they’re on death’s door-step. I’m married to one.
As women we seem to look down on “wimpy” men and resort to: “That’s because they never had to give birth.” How many women lay around for weeks after a delivery or C-Section, and recover in peace? Is labor/delivery the ultimate badge of honor? Or is it just the beginning of a mother’s pattern of resilience?
I despise when men throw in the childbirth thing, but I’m aways ready to pull out that card myself. Can we have it both ways? Childbirth is a rite of passage that never ends. Mothers are warriors because we can be, and choose to be. So what if we are still scared of the dentist years after giving birth? That’s different. I know I will continue to be deathly afraid of needles and unsympathetic towards men who are wimps. I don’t need a reason. Just don’t bring it up to me, unless I bring it up first.