Stereotypically Male

It was surprisingly hard just to write that title, as I have worked long and hard to abjure the standard male archetype that was so predominant in my military service and law enforcement careers. Obviously, in work that was heavily populated by other males, being stereotypical just seemed the norm. It was safe, expected, and accepted. In fact, when gathered us men seem to need to prove our maleness to others in the group. So, if anything, it was encouraged. When I left military service, the ebb of testosterone swirling about me 24/7 subsided. I left with a confidence and security in my own manhood that was beyond question. I could relinquish the stereotypical behavior with nothing left to prove. And I began my journey to be a more rounded person.

As I learned to put away the ego, pride, and years of indoctrination as to what being a man was, I grew. I felt like I was learning all those things that are so stereotypically not male. And my life was enriched by it. I wrote poetry. I learned to be in touch with and articulate my emotions. Not just in writing, but in relationships. I primped and preened like any schoolgirl over my appearance, raising the bar on my own grooming standards. I became fully domesticated and can cook, clean, grocery shop and sew. I became fully in touch with my feminine side. Oddly, none of it made me feel like less of a man, but rather more. Or, more accurately, a more complete man.

I don’t always share this more complete me with everyone. To many I would still appear stereotypical in thought and action. Many of my friends do not know I write a blog, much less poetry. And I don’t commonly run around just emoting all over the place. There is no shame. I am proud to be a more complete me. But the journey was for growth not acknowledgement and I do not bring it up. I do not seek a pat on the back for being some guy who is finally woke to the plight of women. I do not need praise to fuel the journey I am on. If someone asks, I share. Kind of like how you should handle an opinion.

I had hoped to put away all that is stereotypically flawed about the male condition. But alas, buried deep in my psyche there are stubborn remnants that remain. Some are hard wired. Like the need for men to become more boisterous and animated around other men. Our bravado a display of dominance as we find our place in the social pecking order of our group. Or our insidious desire to procreate, which leads us to the pitfalls of womanly charms and wiles, time after time. Those I accept as instinct. But there are others less rooted in need, and possibly counter intuitive to survival. That is where there are steps left in my journey.

Not so long ago, I had to face an oddly bizarre trace of what I see as stereotypically male attitude and behavior. Specifically, it is about how some men deal with pain, but it also speaks to many men’s view on their own health in general. I have always maintained a good general health. I keep my weight appropriate, exercise as best as I can, and generally eat healthy. Even now, I am blessed to not be limited, in anything I want to do, by physical condition. Yes, I have the occasional aches and pains that come with years of treating your body like a playground rather than a temple, but no more than anyone else. I have dealt with muscle pulls, twisted joints, bruised flesh, and intestinal discomfort without complaint. All manner of temporary woes would come then go and I always came out the other side just fine.

I had learned from repeated “shake it off” encouragements as a child. I had adopted the military mantra that “pain is weakness leaving the body”. I reflected the strength and perseverance of my lifetime male role models. I emulated every tough guy and hero I ever idolized, throwing off pain as but a construct of the mind that my body could ignore. Pushing through pain was ingrained. And I had honed that skill. I had learned how to tolerate pain. How to push my threshold. How to ignore it.

So, early one morning, when a sharp pain started about midway between my pelvic bone and belly button, I gave it little mind. Maybe something I ate I thought. I proceeded through my day unhindered, and the pain unabated. I struggled to get comfortable that night, but eventually found sleep.

When I woke, the pain remained. It did not hurt more, and it did not hurt less. Seemed like a win to me, as I still expected things to work themselves out. But as the day progressed, so did the pain. There were times where ignoring it took great focus. But it was not what my tolerance would have labelled unbearable. That night sleep only overtook me with the help of physical and mental exhaustion.

The next morning, the pain remained. I had no desire to eat. I finally decided to reach out to a friend for some aspirin. You see, I don’t keep any pain medication in my home, and I did not feel well enough to leave and drive to get some. She did not answer, and I left a message. I thought with some aspirin or the like, it would take the edge off and I could continue about my life while my body figured itself out. That may sound weird. But at this point, I had not had to see a physician for decades. Every flu, cold, sinus infection or ailment ran its course, my body healed, and I survived. All the aches and pains of joint or muscle were within my pain tolerance or responded to homeopathic care. It was almost a badge of honor for me. Just good breeding stock, I guess.

My friend happened to be at an amusement park that day. It was late evening when she returned my call. I asked her to bring me something for the pain and she got here as quickly as she could. I don’t know how long that was. I was completely focused on my breathing, now at the limit of my pain tolerance. My body’s supply of endorphins long exhausted, much like my sleep deprived mind. By the time she arrived, I already feared that a couple aspirin were not going to do the trick anymore. It was taking everything I had to fight the pain and it showed. She insisted I go to the hospital, and I could mount no argument.

The pain was so intense that every bump and jiggle of the car had me seeing stars. I had gone unconscious from extreme pain before, and I felt it coming on. She did the best should could but, at this point, even skates on ice would have felt like we were four wheeling. We managed to the doors and I shuffled in to present myself to the nurses. I rallied what I had left, as I oddly felt the necessity to be ‘tough’ in front of strangers. We got through the pleasantries required to be seen for treatment and I took a seat in the waiting room. I selfishly looked around and couldn’t imagine anyone waiting was in the type of pain I was. But pain tolerance is fickle. And for those with little, any pain could be just as bad as mine.

At this point, I almost welcomed the sweet relief of fading into unconsciousness. Time again passed without recognition. My turn came and I was ushered back to an examination room. I should have asked for a wheelchair, but I walked back because of pride. Unable to stand straight any longer, my hunched over shuffle was on display to show how tough I was. There was the cursory examination and my relating my symptoms. The nurse offered no diagnosis, but did recognize the amount of pain I was in. She was very helpful in getting me in and out of the machine for the CAT scan the doctor had ordered. Not long after the trip to radiology, she returned and informed me that I had a burst appendix and the doctor would be in to talk to me shortly. She said he had prescribed morphine for the pain and she immediately set upon starting a saline IV.

The pain had not lessened, but there was a noticeable change mentally for me as I felt relief was around the corner. I was given a morphine injection twice before due to combat wounds. I can tell you, both times, the effect was instantaneous and powerful. Given the chance, I would have jumped up and kept fighting. Any pain I was in was instantaneously gone. I very much expected that once she hit me with a dose, I would fall asleep as I was exhausted and lacking sleep. She prepared the injection and I watch my salvation stream from the needle into the injection port. I closed my eyes in great anticipation.

Then…nothing. I waited a bit more. Yep. Nothing. Before I even opened my eyes again, I knew I was in trouble. The nurse had left to attend other patients or issues for a moment. When she returned and inquired, I told her my sad story of little relief. She seemed sympathetic, but certainly was in no position to give me more or anything else. She exited again. I assume to inform the doctor, I was waiting to see, of my results. The doctor reappeared in her place. A Shutterstock image of a young physician with charts in hand and a pristine, pressed lab coat. He proceeded to reaffirm the ruptured appendix the nurse had shared earlier. I guess because he said it, this time, it was supposed to explain more.

He continued by explaining that they had contacted the surgeon on call, and they were going to be prepping me for immediate surgery. At this point, I didn’t care what they were planning to do, if it made the pain stop. And though surgery is the normal treatment, this sense of urgency was only seen as my pain ending sooner. It carried no sense of serious concern or how grave my situation may be.

The surgeon arrived. Summoned with haste from his home and family. Alas, I never got the chance to look into his eyes, while my pathetic gaze alone imparted my physical misery. Once the O.R. nurses heard his car had pulled in, they hit that injection port with something that had me out in seconds. I vaguely remember rolling into the surgical suite.

The next morning brought recovery in my hospital bed. There was pain, but not like before. There were also some holes, stitches, and tubes I hadn’t come in with. Long story only slightly less long, I had ruptured appendix. Not an uncommon medical situation or treatment. And, my appendix was removed without issue. But the bravado of antiquated machoistic thinking led me to sixteen days in the hospital with continuous IV antibiotics, and additional surgery and procedures. I mean, I got to know the nurses on the floor like family. My need to push through pain and reluctance to seek medical help led to an infection that was a battle. A long, hard battle.

Although a ruptured appendix is not a result of the lack of routine physician visits, I have learned to make those appointments anyway. I share with my doctor the pains and issues I have openly and honestly. I allow her to decide what needs medical attention and what doesn’t. I recognize that my high tolerance and my ability to disassociate physical pain is no longer required and has never been a measure of what makes a man.

I accept the multitude of changes I will need to make to become the non-stereotypical man I strive to be. I just hope the lessons get easier.

3 Responses to “Stereotypically Male”
  1. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t wish how you suffered, both from the pain and the elongated hospital stay, on my enemies. I would wish, however, your higher tolerance to pain on me. And, through the years, I’ve watched you balance between being stereotypically male and well-rounded. You’re at a good place of balance, a place we women wish more of those stereotypical males could – and would – find.

  2. I feel for those young men, perhaps tricked into behaving like “real men”, sent into battle

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