All of Our Pre-Existing Conditions


Good morning. It’s a crisis again.

I manage to hold off social media for a little while, but soon go to check the time of an event on Facebook and am lost—lost in reading about Obamacare, TrumpCare, and the resulting memes. That pre-existing conditions list from last month goes around again with its pink uproar.

The pink test bleeds out from the grey, and I learn things about my friends. Most of these conditions I knew about, but some I didn’t—some only bleed out today because today it seems worth it to admit.

We admit ourselves to the list of conditions, confess to the hospitals we’ve entered over the years. Through my glowing phone screen the body pokes through.


In the ultrasound room, I crane to the side to watch the curving V’s on the screen, but can’t understand anything from the forms there. All I can see in the cloudy gray is there is no baby.

I hope the tech will see me turning around to look at it but she doesn’t—doesn’t see or doesn’t feel like explaining. She is brusque with me but probably they do that to finish as quickly as possible with the cold probe up your vagina.

“Cul-de-sac of free fluid is noted,” it says later on my test results, and my doctor says it streams out into my abdomen and that is why I am bent in pain. So we arc together, my back, my fluid, and me


“The nude body spills color,” writes Bhanu Kapil. But I am naked underneath the paisley gown and on the screen there is only a grey spillage, none of which counts as information about what is wrong with me.


My doctor says, “Endometriosis”, though no surgery for now, just “reduce stress.” My acupuncturist says “adrenal fatigue.” My other doctor says “chronic stress.” My doctor says, “rest.”

“We’ll keep you in a holding pattern for now,” she tells me, “unless something ruptures or twists, in which case you’ll need immediate care.” She tells me to try removing all irritants from my diet, to “take charge” of what makes me feel bad.

I look at the hazy gray cysts on my ultrasound that push out from my ovary. My doctor says they are called “chocolate cysts” for the brown blood that swells them.

“I know,” she winces. “Sorry we gave them such a bad name.”

Later I say to a friend: “There are a million other things that are red-brown. Did they have to ruin chocolate?”


On Instagram Kevin posts a video of a stick dripping into fondue with a caption, “PSA: Switzerland has good-ass cheese and is not undergoing a constitutional crisis.”

I look over the trickle of glistening white cheese and think, nostalgic, oh, for an un-ruined place. Perfect Switzerland. Perfect cheese, unlike the rest of us over here on this continent, bellies and brains swelling with crisis memes.

(Also, I miss cheese. Which is to say that my doctor instructs me to eliminate dairy from my diet. “For swelling,” she says, “let’s try to reduce all swelling.”)


The tinctures for my digestive problems cost too much money so I decide to start making my own. I walk to the liquor store and ask the man across the counter for “your cheapest vodka” to infuse herbs into. I feel worried, suddenly, about his judgement upon my cheap vodka choice, and add, “it’s for a project – so it doesn’t matter how it tastes.” He smiles sideways as he  reaches behind him for the plastic jug and asks for my ID.

“I getcha.” He smirks. “People are always coming in here for “projects.”

I fight the urge to turn to tell him about the tinctures, tell him I am not another neighborhood alcoholic. Instead I take the vodka from him and dip my head meekly. I squeeze the plastic neck of the bottle, which gives easily to my hand as I lift it off the counter and leave.

(But also, who am I to judge people for what they turn to. Sloshed to deal with pain, juiced because it’s awful out there, sad and hitting the sauce.)


“I feel like I’m living in the End Times,” my Lyft driver says as he eases in the clutch on the way up to Tilden. It’s foggy and I’ve told him I love it when it’s like this.

“When I was growing up here this fog is how it always was.” He shakes his close-shaven head.

“Never this hot, hot heat we have now.”

He brakes and runs his open palm over his head, that smooth shave of half-bald muscled men: nothing there but what needs to be, and a tender soft pate left.

“It took so long to build this place,” he gestures out over the Bay, “And it will probably all be ruined soon, most of it under water.”

I feel a rush of tenderness for him—him picturing his hometown under water, palming the round of his own head for comfort. (How many men have shaven down their head hair in order to meet to ruin? The arc free for palming, plus no baldness, any contrast between hair and balding eliminated from view.)

“Have a beautiful day, little lady,” he says as I close the door, and reaches through his open window to stroke the top of my hand. I let it go: the annoyingly diminutive little lady and the non-consensual hand stroke. I wonder suddenly if he wants a child, the close contact, his reach to touch something not ruined.


Alice Notley writes:

It’s not that the planets are put out one by /one—the stars, the lights / as they are said once to have been / turned on // But this is a story of the end. don’t / you want to hear it // no you want / your wife / who is always young, so much / younger than you


So many of my friends are talking about whether they can “bring children into this world.” On the night of Trump’s election I was with a pregnant woman who was past her due date already. Late into the night as it became clear where things where going, she began to instruct her fetus.

“Nope, not now,” she shook her head and stood, pressing up on her ballooned belly, “time to swim back up.” It was a joke, but not really.

I’m not so interested, myself, in the question of whether to have babies right now. More interested in how to float the medical bills piling up from my ultrasounds and check-ups, my high-deductible insurance plan that I signed up for because how much will I really need doctors, because I’m young and healthy.


“I believe in people more now than I did when I was healthy,” I tell Stephanie, “like, I’m better at trust.” She nods.

“It’s because we have to,” she says. “Desperate times, you know.” She stirs the coffee that neither of us are supposed to be drinking these days and shrugs. “Sink or swim. It’s like how people have been falling in love more since Trump Times, grabbing onto each other and fucking because why not.”

I think of bodies meeting wet and grabby on the streets these days, in beds and kisses and pain. I think of the colored text on those pre-existing conditions, floating up to surface from the grey. Our sweaty needing, our pink spilling out.

Later in the same poem, Notley writes:

Are you prepared to / lose everything / and be one with / your fellows / a migratory wound

And so the wound migrates between us, between our pre-existing conditions and our new unfamiliar weathers, each time becoming more common. Common as in shared property, common as in what swells up to belong.


Image credits: feature image,  image 2 provided by author, image 3, image 4.

Leora Fridman is author of My Fault (Cleveland State University Press, 2016) in addition to other works of poetry, prose and translation, and is currently at work on a collection of essays. More at More from this author →