I will keep Broken Things.
I will keep You:
Pilgrim of Sorrow
I will keep Myself
— Alice Walker
Jennifer S. Asian. Nineteen years of age. Junior. Clinic visit due to pain “like lead shooting through arms.” Average build, average height, flat affect. She clenched then twisted her fists, repeated, as if juicing two lemons ’til dry.
Jennifer S. received standard procedure for cases like this. The Wartenberg wheel: steel teeth rolled across inner forearms and palms to assess nerve response. The tomahawk hammer struck against wrists, knees, and elbows to elicit deep tendon reflexes. Posture examined as well as muscle strength. Mental examination waived by the attending practitioner.
Results: no nerve damage detected by Wartenberg wheel. No delay in deep tendon reflexes elicited by tomahawk hammer. Patient status: Normal. Slumped posture. Weak grip. Pain likely due to over-reaction to college stress.
Jennifer S. sent home with naproxen, medical report, reminder to schedule a pap smear. Patient exited the clinic with difficulty, shoulders caved and arms cradled, as if nursing a porcelain baby.
In Egypt, the Kahun Papyrus is written — a text entirely focused on women’s health. This ancient text becomes the first comprehensive medical document known to man.
The Papyrus mentions a condition of mysterious pain and mercurial emotional states lacking apparent physical cause. This is what will later become known as hysteria. It also reveals that though seemingly mysterious, the condition does indeed have a physical source, a dislocated or starved uterus.
To treat the condition, sweet oils must be applied to the vagina, or unpleasant things must be eaten to lure the misbehaving womb back into place.
The Kahun Papyrus may not only be the first medical text known to man, it may also be the first text written by women. The authors may have been priestesses, since healing was within the domain of spiritual leaders. But being women, these priestesses may have also had misplaced wombs, and therefore may have also been physically pained, emotionally disordered and hysterical.
I am waiting patiently for the doctor to say something. She moves her reading glasses to the precipice of her nose and examines the grey film at arm’s length. Silence. She shifts in her chair, flicks her hands so the film goes thwack, and moves it up toward a sickly florescent light.
“Your uterus is tipped,” she finally says. “And see this?” She points her pen at a cloudy curved line. “That’s your fallopian tube. But where is your ovary? It must be hiding behind your uterus. And see the other one? The other tube is like a slinky.”
My husband looks at me like he’s afraid I might faint. Instead, I bow my head to suppress a chuckle. Leave it to the fertility doctor to discover what I had long suspected: something was amiss in my womb.
I smile because it’s amusing to learn there is so much interesting activity down there, the fallopian tubes contorting like acrobats, the ovaries and the uterus playing hide-and-seek. I am entertained by the thought of my reproductive organs performing a three-ring circus, since that area of my body — the life-giving viscera, the motherly matrix of me — has always felt comatose, near dead.
Read the rest of “A Brief History of Her Pain” at Waxwingmag.org