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Treating the whole person

November 2, 2013

The encouragement I’ve received as a result of these blog posts and the material I’ve shared over the past two weeks has been truly inspiring. I wish I could work on this full time! I’m applying for a sabbatical so that next academic year I can do exactly that. For the time being, though, I am working in spurts, and so I thought that for the next few weeks I’d share little glimpses into the chapters that I’ve outlined. Most of them are, so far, just dimly lit rooms, with a couple of closet doors left ajar. Each week I hope to shine a little bit of light into one or another of them, and start to see what’s really inside.

Today’s glimpse is into the chapter called “Hospital Domme”. Imagine that you have spent most of your life feeling not especially in control. Imagine that in your early 60s you suddenly discover a way to exert control, and in doing so you rediscover an interest in sex that you had thought you’d lost long ago. You suddenly feel very much alive. And then you get sick. You enter the hospital, a setting where it suddenly feels like your control is reduced to signing consent forms. You don’t control the disease which keeps you there. You don’t control your body’s functions. You don’t control the information or the treatment options. You don’t control your daily routine. How do you keep yourself alive?

My mother faced this situation twice. Once shortly after her initial diagnosis with kidney cancer. That diagnosis came about a year after she discovered the interest in sexual dominance that made her feel so alive. It was a rough summer, but she bounced back, and in many ways was stronger and more alive than ever. After she started doing dialysis overnight at home, she found she had more energy, and she had a lot less fear about bodies and their inner workings. She felt more in control than ever. It took time, but she adjusted to her modified body put her increased energy to lots of creative erotic use.

She even wrote about her recovery in a blog post published under a different name for an online sexuality magazine that no longer exists. Shortly after she died, I was talking with her former editor (also a dear friend of mine), and he offered to send me links to the pieces she’d written. I’d forgotten about those pieces, and as I sat down to write today their existence bubbled up to the surface of my memory. One of those pieces had concerned her recuperation from the nephrectomy and subsequent kidney failure that resulted in her starting dialysis. In it, she reflects on how an impending visit by a sub she especially enjoyed prompted her to take up her physical therapy more diligently. In it, she described how glad she was that she hadn’t swung the cane she was being measured for, and she refers to some regret over not being able to ask the physical therapist for specific arm exercises that would help her improve her ability to swing a whip.

But she did get her arm strength back, and she did wield those floggers and whips. She did find ways to accommodate her changed body, practicing BDSM provided a certain amount of physical therapy for her.

The second time was different. While she never gave up hope that she would recover enough to be able to leave the hospital or rehab, those settings defined her life for eight months. During those eight months there were many physical therapy sessions, and she and I talked at several different points about whether it was time for her to “come out” to the practitioners who were caring for her so that they could work with her on her own terms. Ultimately, she never felt like she could.

I applaud the work of people like Heather Corinna and Megan Andelloux who work with medical students to be better prepared for treating the whole patient, including her sexuality. Unfortunately, while people are sexual, patients seem to be understood differently. My mother’s doctors were excellent. They were empathetic, kind, and amazingly skilled. But not one asked her about her sexual activity. I wish they had. I think she’d have been happier if she’d felt like they were treating her as a whole person.


To view the other posts in this series, click here: 



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