Last week, I had six teeth yanked (or cut!) out of my mouth. I’ll wait for you to stop screaming. Finshed? Alright, so as I was saying, I had major oral surgery last week. The whole thing was quite a surprise, really. I knew that my wisdom teeth, of which I had the misfortune to house SIX of rather than the typical four or fewer, were going to have to come out eventaully, lest they stage mouth mutiny and push all my other teeth out. I was planning on having them removed in a few months’ time, when I was on the second half of my summer break, but a pesky infection made it necessary for me to have what was essentially emergency surgery. Along with the normal panic that comes with a doctor looking at you, making an OHMYGOD face, and saying, “Yeah, those need to come out soon. Like, today or tomorrow soon,” I got the kind of panic that plagues advocates like myself (and others, of course). I was going to be under sedation, with everything out of my control. What if something happened to me that wasn’t supposed to happen? What if I was violated in some way? I trusted my dentist, it wasn’t about that. It was about that possibility in the back of my mind that something could happen to me, and I might never know.
Luckily, I don’t believe that anything happened to me. The office in which I had my surgery is quite open; there aren’t any doors to patient rooms. There was at least one femal dental assistant present at all times, and other assistants were, as I was told, often popping in and out of my room to see the patient with the mutant mouth. Plus, I was not under full general anesthesia, but twilight sleep, so I was a little bit conscious.. I knew all of these things prior to my procedure, but none of it stopped that nagging fear. It’s something that we who live within a patriarchy must always contend with, this possibility of being violated. Even in spaces where we should feel safe, such as in a doctor’s office, many of us do not for myriad reasons. I personally do not feel comfortable any time when my ability to make decsisions is impaired. I knew that if anything were to happen to me in that office that I was not comfortable with, I would be powerless to do anything about it. For one thing, I had at least one hand and a few instruments in my mouth at all times. I was floating towards the heavens on whatever was in my IV line, and I barely remember being mentally present, mostly because I wasn’t. I was completely at the mercy of the dental staff, and I am fortunate that they were so wonderful.
I know that it isn’t just women who contend with the fear of being assaulted while under anesthesia, but we and other marginalized and oft-victimized groups (gender non-conforming people, trans* people, etc.) know it so well that for many of us, it’s a major concern right up there with pain, time, and cost. We worry about this because we can’t afford to not worry about it. In an environment where women’s bodies are increasingly seen as objects and means to some end, these worries sit at the backs of our minds. And I think that they sit there, in the back, because we don’t want to think about them. It’s easy to think about what you might do if you’re grabbed off of the street by some masked assailant, like in the movies, but it’s much more difficult to think about what would happen if you were raped while under sedation. You can’t do anything, can’t verbally state non-consent, can’t fight. You might not remember. If you do, you might doubt yourself. Others may doubt you, blame it on the drugs, brush you off, tell you it’s in your head. You might not ever know. It’s terrrifying, and I admit that I fought those thoughts in the hours before my surgery.
A few weeks ago, an article was published over at Tiger Beatdown voicing many of the same concerns and detailing some of the horrors that happen to those under anesthesia. I read it over, my stomach churning at the links provided. I pushed it to the back of my mind and didn’t think of it until last week, when I started wondering “What if this happens to me?” I wondered what I would do, how I would know, who I would talk to. The thoughts were endless. I will forever be terrified of losing that control and that power to say yes or no that I hold so dearly. I imagine that I’ll probably have at least one or two more times in my life were I’ll have to think about this once again, and I do not look forward to it. I imagine myself being rolled into surgery some day for some ailment, covered in Sharpie scrawls of “I DO NOT CONSENT TO [insert actions here]” in order to nip at some would-be assailant’s conscience. Like all assault, there’s no way to really prevent it on our parts, because it isn’t our fault if something happens. I suppose that’s why,as long as we continue to live in this patriarchy. the fear will always be there.