"The most ridiculous thing has happened to me."
That was the message I sent at 9:31 p.m. to my friend Sam. We had spent the last day having copious amounts of sex and he had just left my apartment a few hours before.
Sam sent me back a question mark.
I cringed even writing the next words. I very rarely ever put any details into text that would indicate that I am sexually active. Some sort of paranoia grips me that someone might find it and judge me for being an almost-25-year-old, unmarried woman who likes to have sex.
But I managed to type the message: "my diaphragm is stuck." Sam responded immediately: "LOL."
As I waited, futilely making a few more attempts at dislodging the latex cap from where it was lodged over my cervix, I felt convinced that this was some sort of divine retribution for having sex.
I had been a late-in-life virgin, waiting until just before my 23 birthday to do the deed for the first time but when that relationship ended amidst a pregnancy scare and a relapse of my ex's mental health condition I felt—rather self-aggrandizingly—that it was all due to my wanting to have sex. I decided to return to my Catholic roots and abstain again.
Until my friend Sam got back from a two-month road trip, newly single and fit from hiking just about every national park in the Southwest. He asked me out a few times and I kept turning him down. But I reached a point where I knew what I was going to do and I just had to stop trying to pretend otherwise.
When he got back in town, we went on three dates in a week And on that Sunday I surprised both of us by saying, "Take off your clothes."
Which brings me back to waiting for Sam with a latex-covered metal spring lodged in my vagina. Thirteen days into our casual, friends-sleeping-together "relationship," we were going to have to get up close and personal.
Or rather, he was going to have to get up close and personal with my vagina and its surrounding area.
Sam seemed amused when he arrived. In my bedroom I laughed nervously and Sam looked at me expectantly.
"Come on, take off your pants."
I knew that not 12 hours ago I had been riding him, fully naked and visible in the gray morning light. But somehow I felt shy all over again. I slipped off my shorts and lay back on my bed laughing and covering my face with my hands.
"This is the most humiliating moment of my life. Just try to get your finger inside the edge and pull. Ow, ow, ow,"
"I'm sorry! Bend your knees." Sam struggled, half lying on my mattress, his muscled forearm taut. "If my fingernail was just a little longer…"
He rotated his finger back and forth for several minutes. I groaned, but not in a sexy way.
His ring finger, bent and outside kept grazing my off-limits zone. "If I could just put this finger—"
"No! I'm not a bowling ball!"
"I didn't mean—"
He slowly withdrew his fingers, apologizing as I writhed in pain. He held his hand aloft like a doctor preparing for surgery, fished his phone out of his pocket with the other one, and began googling "stuck diaphragm" (something I had already done in earnest, but I didn't want to crush his proactive spirit).
"This guy says to use a crochet hook."
"We're not putting a crochet hook up me. I do have one though…"
Sam propped a pillow under my hips, bent the lower arm of my Ikea lamp down so that it showed right on me, swollen vadge, unshaven bikini line, and all. "Ok. We're getting this out."
He dove back in, successfully moving the edge about three millimeters forward.
Laughing hysterically I looked between my bent knees to meet Sam's blue eyes. One hand in me, the other holding his phone with forum messages scrolling down the screen, he laughed with me, a huge smile peaking out from his mustache and beard.
And for the first time, after sleeping together for a week, I felt a flash of intimacy, better, closer, and funnier than anything romantic would have felt. Then he got back to business.
"Ok, it says squeeze your you-terri-anne muscles."
"My uterine muscles."
"It says you-terri-anne."
"It's uterine. Like my uterus. And I am!"
Another 20 minutes passed which included me taking Ibuprofen in the hopes of reducing pain and swelling, us making out and Sam half-heartedly feeling me up in the hopes that I might get turned on enough to pull the darn thing out, and me putting an icepack on the outside of my bits, hoping for the pain and swelling relief the Ibuprofen had yet to bring.
"We're going to get this out," Sam said in a certain, determined voice that reminded me he had spent six years in the military. "We're not going to the hospital."
"OK, OK, try again," I said, removing the ice pack. But I could hardly stand it and pushed his hand away after a minute. "We're going to the hospital."
By then it was 11:20 p.m. I live in small city that has two very good hospitals, but which had also earned the auspicious title of Murder Capital of New England over the last few months. At worst, the ER at this time of night would have a gunshot victim. At best it would be full of addicts.
"We're not going to the ER here," said Sam. And as he had worked security at a base in the Middle East and isn't usually bothered by much, I had to agree that going out of town would be best. I kept the ice pack between my legs as he drove over the river and out of town.
"You need to be seen?" asked the older woman behind the Plexiglass window of the podunk hospital we ended up in a nearby former mill town.
"Yes," I said, internally rolling my eyes. Why else would I come strolling into the ER in the middle of the night?
"OK, what do you need to be seen for?"
"My diaphragm is stuck," I whispered, leaning toward the glass.
The ER was late-night silent but the woman still said, "What?"
Everything inside me winced.
"My diaphragm is stuck," I repeated loud enough that everyone in the ER waiting room could hear me. I looked over my shoulder at where Sam sat behind me. He looked completely amused. The woman behind the glass suppressed a smile.
And then a funny thing happened. It got easier and easier to say. To the two nurses who took my vitals and who looked at me with a combination of entertainment and "I feel ya, girl." To the ER doctor who joined me where I waited alone in the exam room. (Sam had wanted to come but I had just said, "Too soon. Too soon." No matter how close we had gotten that night, I'm not sure a man should ever see you in the stirrups, unless you're having his baby).
Except there weren't any stirrups.
"Shoot, this isn't a GYN set-up," said the doctor as she looked around frantically. "Ok, I'm just going to wrap this bedpan in a sheet to put under your bum—and I'm just going to move the trashcan in front of the door since there's no curtain—"
"Oh, I really don't even care at this point," I said, my mind far from modesty.
Propped on the overturned bedpan, I spread my knees so the doctor could insert a speculum. It hurt more than I expected and I breathed in and out as she said, "I'm just going to grab it with forceps."
Except the forceps weren't long enough. And neither were the second pair she grabbed. We both laughed in bemusement.
"Ok…" she said, trailing off as she looked around the exam room for a solution. "We'll try this."
She unwrapped a flexible instrument I didn't recognize and slid it in. Immediately I could feel it hook and tug on the lodged diaphragm. All of a sudden there was intense pressure like a vacuum pulling down on my pelvic region that made it seem like I was about to loose control of my bladder and bowels and everything else all at once.
Then there was a loud POP! I screamed in surprised, clapping my legs together. The doctor yelped in equal surprise, jumping back. The instruments went flying out of my vagina onto the gurney in a delightful mixture of blood, fluids, and 24-hour-old spermicide.
"I've got it," the doctor said triumphantly. "Did I hurt you?"
"No! I'm fine, I was just surprised."
We laughed as we both cleaned up, expressing that this had been a weird night all the way around. I got dressed, paid my $100 co-pay (half of which Sam offered to cover), and we left the ER at 12:30 a.m.
"So how'd they get it out?" Sam asked as we crossed the parking lot. I told him and he laughed. "So they decompressed your vagina? The Great Vagina Decompression?"
We were exhausted on the drive home, but still laughing.
"This is the most absurd thing that has happened to me in a long time," he said, and I felt pretty pleased to outrank all the shenanigans of his recent 9,000 mile road trip.
I didn't realize until a couple of days later after I had told the story a few times to close friends, that the shame I had previously experienced while bing sexually active had disappeared.
Maybe it was just being honest with friends. Maybe it was announcing to an entire waiting room that sex had sent me to the ER. Maybe it's that what I first interpreted to be divine justice turned out to just be a really funny story I will be able to tell for years to come.
But I stopped feeling shame that night, and have had fun, non-ER-sending sex ever since.