The Stubborn Perfectionist

       Just like people can have a spring of new beginnings, or a summer of love, I was having an autumn of urinary tract infections. The treatment of my first UTI was atypical as far as UTI treatments go. I lied to the doctor and said I had been experiencing symptoms for two weeks, instead of the actual twelve hours. I was naively under the impression that if I lied and said I had been peeing blood for two weeks, I would receive the strongest medicine. Stronger medicine than what I would have received if I told the truth. Oddly, lying to a medical professional does not ensure a speedy recovery. Instead, this fictional longevity of my symptoms led the doctor to believe I had a disease. She promptly punched me in the back, because that is how a doctor tests for kidney stones. After several hours of tests, the doctor concluded that I had no disease at all, just a scorching UTI. She told me that UTIs often happen after holding pee in for too long, and to “maybe try not doing that” and prescribed me medication. I sat in the pharmacy of the walk-in clinic waiting for my prescription to be ready, thinking about the truth and how quickly I had abandoned it, only to get punched in the back by this walk-in clinic doctor. “Never again,” I thought as I left the clinic. Never again will I lie to a doctor, and with the help of this medicine, never again will I piss blood. 

       I pissed blood a short while after that. I treated it, and then pissed blood again after that. These UTIs were sandwiched into an amount of time that I found worrisome. The frequency and severity of the infections led me to believe that it was part of something bigger. Possibly, there was a strange phenomenon occurring in my body. Maybe my urinary tract, rebellious and demanding by nature, was lashing out because of it. I needed to know why, and so I needed a new doctor for a second opinion. My mom found a Great New Clinic to go to in the suburbs. The head doctor had received great reviews on Yelp, providing me with hope that he could solve the mystery that was my urinary tract. He had an opening for the next day, first thing in the morning. 
       That day an Uber driver dropped me off for my appointment. We had not spoken at all during the ride, and he didn’t know what I had to do that morning, but he wished me a “good day at work”, and I thanked him and told him “I’ll try” as I shut the door. In some ways my visit could have been viewed as work. I expected to do some exploring and maybe even problem-solving with the doctor about what causes serial UTIs and the methods of curing them. We would work out a plan so that one day my pee would run clear. 
       Every employee at this clinic acted with such speed and precision, almost like they worried that if they didn’t act sooner I would leave. Little did they know, I saw them as my last hope. The woman at the front desk was overjoyed that I had made an appointment at her clinic. She was eager to hear about my insurance information and date of birth. She acted like someone who was having company over to her house for the first time and wanted to impress them in such a way that it formed a lasting friendship. I didn’t mind it. Her earnestness managed to temporarily distract me from what felt like my bladder trying to tear itself apart. 
       The head doctor emerged as I was still filling out the information forms where I listed my symptoms and their truthful duration. Consistent with the earnest nature of the clinic, he couldn’t stand still. He wore scrubs and looked like the type who woke up and climbed mountains before breakfast. He led me to the examination room, speaking so quickly and with such enthusiasm that there was no room for me to talk. 
       “So you’re peeing blood?”
       “Yeah I-”
       “Ouch! That’s gotta hurt. Some cramping too?”
       “Well I’ll tell ya right now, we’re gonna fix that up for ya. How does that sound?”
       The first time I spoke during our time together was about five minutes into the ‘conversation’, after he had given me the urine testing cup and I had to ask him for directions to the bathroom. 
       Something important to know about men in professional, tertiary sector careers that love to hear themselves talk is that they especially do not like hearing their patients tell them they are wrong. The doctor came back from testing my urine and told me that I didn’t have a UTI. He asked how sure I felt that there was something wrong as if I had lied to him. He did not know about my recent decision to never lie to a doctor again. I told him that I was sure, that it was my third UTI in the past two weeks, and that it was unmistakable. Annoyed that I disagreed with his test results, the doctor reluctantly said he would run another test. To his surprise, the second test lit up the dashboard with proof of a UTI. 
       “So three UTIs, two weeks, and one girl, eh?” the doctor asked before moving on to his next comment. “We’re gonna have to brainstorm that one!” 
       He quickly left the exam room to attend what I hoped was a brainstorming session about the causation behind the infections of the past two weeks. In the clinic's signature fashion, he returned almost too quickly, leading me to believe that he had done little to no brainstorming at all. 
       “So listen. The reason you keep getting these infections...” he said.
       My heart lifted at the thought of reason. Reasons famously solve mysteries. The autumn of UTIs could be followed by a clean urine winter.
       “You women...”
       My heart sank. Oh no. He’s going to make this about women.
       “...are so...”
       No. Please stop.
       “..STUBBORN!” he yelled, with a loud clap of his hands.
       “You ladies, oh it’s just so funny how you all do it.”
       Is it? Is it funny?
       “You sit at your desk-”
       How do you know?
       “-and you get so wrapped up in your work. You’re perfectionists! So you don’t stop working. Not even to go to the bathroom. You hold in your pee, and you get sick.” 
       Silence. Then:
       “I take it you're a hard worker, eh?”
       He grinned like he had just solved all the secrets of the universe. Like he had his Nobel Prize ceremony later that day, receiving the award for doing the impossible and cracking into the interiors of a woman’s mind. Her stubborn, perfectionist, hardworking mind. It was now time for me to applaud him in his discovery. Instead, all I could muster was a disheartened:
       A “yeah” so quiet it sounded like a man who works harder than me and also doesn’t get UTIs was stepping on my throat. Had the doctor not been stubborn when he refused to believe that I had a UTI and that he would have to run another test? While my supposed stubbornness resulted in my urinary downfall, his stubbornness was just another aspect of being a multifaceted man in the tertiary sector. The integrity it must take to not believe the woman asking to be treated for a UTI, the courage! 

       I didn't know whether to feel relieved or worried that the cause of my random spur of infections, according to the doctor, had nothing to do with a malfunctioning of my body, but an unfortunate rendering of my personality. He wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic and sent me on my way while reciting the mantra, “Don’t be so stubborn! Just go to the bathroom!” On my way out I shrugged at the woman at the front desk who had been so eager and helpful before this madness. Maybe she had moved with such urgency not because she wanted me to stay, but because she knew I would want my time with this doctor to end as quickly as possible. If he had managed to blame my infection on a misguided assumption of my personality in just fifteen minutes with me, imagine the horror it must be to work with him every day. 
       I thought about men in my life who had told me I was stubborn as I relished in the unparalleled state of feeling defeated in the backseat of an Uber. I remembered a time when I brought my high school boyfriend on a fishing expedition with my family. With the confidence of a man in a professional, tertiary sector career, he pointed out to me that my technique was wrong. I needed to fix it if I wanted to catch any fish. In truth, I didn’t care about fishing my best that day. I enjoyed lounging on the boat in the sun, eating the snacks that my mom had pre-packed for us. I brushed off his comment, not caring enough to lose my comfortable seating arrangement just to catch a lousy freshwater fish. 
       “You don’t have to be so stubborn,” he muttered. This fishing situation could essentially describe the reason we are no longer dating. I didn’t want to catch a fish that badly, and he didn’t understand that. His inability to understand what I wanted resulted in him calling me stubborn. 
       Am I really so stubborn that it affects my health? Was my refusal to fix my fishing technique, or go to the bathroom in a more timely manner, concrete proof that I’m no more than a stubborn woman with a flawed idea of perfectionism? It wasn’t until I looked at the common denominator of these two situations did I realize that the problem isn’t me being stubborn. When these men (other men do it, too, mostly those with confidence levels of the tertiary sector) disagreed with me, it did not prompt them to open up a thoughtful dialogue on the matter. Instead, they resulted to a popular schoolyard game: what word can I call this girl to make her feel bad? In kindergarten, it was usually a word like “gross” or “stinky”. In middle school, words like “slutty” or “trashy” were circulated. In late high school and early college, the new word is “stubborn”. A word that is especially bad if applied to a woman, it seems. 

       The Uber dropped me off at the pharmacy. I took the medicine from the pharmacist who had somehow come to the conclusion that the prescription was for Brennan Drake, my son, and not me.
       “Tell little Brennan I hope he feels better,” she said as I left her counter.
       On the walk home, I swallowed the first pill of eight and thought about assumptions. The Uber driver had assumed I was going to work, the pharmacist quickly assumed I had a sick child, and the doctor assumed that I was too stubborn to go pee. In their world, I was a stubborn, working mother. In reality, I was a young women in college fed up with men calling me stubborn to compensate for their arrogance. 
       I thought about my friend who had once told me that watching me live life was a reminder to her to take things easy and to take her time, referring to how I tend to make an event as mundane as breakfast into a three-hour engagement. She observed that I loved to stay in one place for a long time, and didn’t care for rushing anywhere. My friend didn't view my immobility as a scorching case of stubbornness but rather a passion for being sedentary. And maybe because I love to sit down for hours at a time, I hold in my pee for too long, and I get a UTI. While this didn’t provide me the solace I had hoped for in solving my UTI mystery, it did comfort me to know that I had a woman on my side.
       I peed when I arrived at the dorms. Already, I could tell the medicine was kicking in as I managed to get through the task with only a small wince rather than a deep groan. I haven’t gotten a UTI since, and without changing much, except for gaining new insight on the various ways a woman who is sure of herself can be perceived in a world swarming with smug men. My high school boyfriend perceived me as stubborn because I didn’t fish like him. The doctor perceived me as well as diagnosed me as the stubborn perfectionist type. For that reason, I kept contracting UTIs. But my friend knows that I’m not someone set on perfectionism, so much so that I refuse to go to the bathroom enough. I do want to go to the bathroom, it just takes me a while to get there. My bladder probably just sees me as a bad listener.
       In maybe my most stubborn act yet, I refuse to think of myself as stubborn at all. Even if it may be true, and even if the doctor was correct in his hypotheses, he doesn’t get to deicide who I am simply because he thinks I don’t pee enough. When I need to pee, I don't have a label. I don't exercise ‘perfectionism’ and I don't have to work hard. I just take my time, and let it all go.

By Brennan Drake

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