Call me timid, but I was nervous to have my prostate examined.
For starters, I don’t like doctors. In my experience, any person who visits the doctor’s office, even to deliver U.S. parcel, receives a tetanus shot. And I hate shots.
When I was a kid, for example, we had a doctor come to the school and administer vaccinations. They told me—swore to me—that the injection wouldn’t hurt. Then, a doctor pulled out a needle about the size of milkshake straw and shoved it into my thigh. My screams could be heard in the next county.
But this was worse than an injection.
Today, I underwent a brief medieval exam conducted by a certified sadist. I won’t go into details. All I’ll say is that when the doctor removed his rubber glove, he said, “I give your prostate two thumbs up.”
Afterward, there was a nurse in my exam room, filling out paperwork. She was mid-40s. We started talking.
She was sweet. The young woman was missing teeth. She had a quiltwork of tattoos on her arms, and on her neck. Her hair was worn in a ponytail, the sides of her head were shaved, and there was more ink on her temples.
“I never thought I’d become a nurse,” she said. “Nobody in my family thought I’d make it this far.”
Her life was a troubled one. She used to be addicted to methamphetamines. She had a kid when she was 18, which she put up for adoption. After her parents kicked her out, for a brief time, she lived in alleyways and homeless missions in West Virginia.
“I was mountain trash,” she told me. “That’s what I’ve always thought. I believed I was less than other human beings.”
One night, on a whim, she started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She got clean. Then, she got a job at a gas station, as a night clerk, with one of her girlfriends from A.A.
When business was slow one evening, the two friends got to talking. Her girlfriend announced that she was thinking of enrolling in the nursing program.
“A NURSE?” said our heroine, with a laugh. “You think YOU can become a nurse?”
“Why NOT me?” said her friend.
“Because we’re not those kind of people.”
“You think whatever you want,” her friend said, “but I can do anything I put my mind to.”
So, on a friendly dare, they enrolled together. They attended classes. They took remedial math and reading courses. They stayed up late for all-night study groups.
And when they graduated with their associate degrees, they decided to keep going. They applied for a nursing program. They both got in. To celebrate, they went to A.A., held in the basement of an Episcopal church, drank shiploads of coffee, and they wept.
Midway through the nursing program, her girlfriend had a relapse. Her friend overdosed and passed away.
“I wanted to go back to my old way of life so bad,” the nurse told me. “But I knew Lacy would have wanted me to stay strong, so I trusted in God to get me through.”
She graduated from the nursing program. Her girlfriend’s family attended the ceremony and held her tightly. They kissed her face and told her they were proud of her.
She got her first job in a clinic for at-risk mothers.
“Every time I’d see one of those poor young girls, I’d tell them, ‘Look at me, honey, if I can do it, so can you.’”
Eventually, she got into being a traveling nurse. The money was good. She got to see the world. She’s seen the sunrise in Haiti. She has gone fishing in Alaska. She has worked in all manner of trauma units.
“My mom still thinks I’m a loser and won’t even talk to me,” she told me, “but I said, ‘Mom, look, I don’t care what you think, God can use a meth head just as good as he can use any damn preacher. And he’s using me to help people.’”
It was the best prostate exam I ever had.