Caveat: This is written for a female audience. A female audience of 35+. That's the only warning you guys and you young things get.
How many years of doctors’ appointments did I endure when
one of the first questions I was asked by the nurse was if there was any
possibility I could be pregnant? Now the nurse asks if I’m still menstruating. Is
it the haggard look that has removed me from the fertility pool? Or do nurses
just start asking the other question once patients reach the magical 5-0?
This year at my annual checkup, I was ready for the
question. “Yes,” I said proudly, which was mildly perverse since I’m supposed to
be looking forward to never returning to the Red Tent. Moreover, when the nurse
finished weighing and measuring me, I was actually feeling pretty good because I
had not yet measured shorter. Since every quarter inch had counted for my
entire life, this was good news. I was holding on to my mighty 5’ 2½” frame.
With the nurse’s job done, my doctor entered stage left. I
love my doctor. She is smart, funny and compassionate. I see her and her
husband socially, and I like her children. Who could ask for more? When we finished
with the basic checkup formalities, she asked me if I had any concerns. With that,
I pulled out my list. She laughed. I didn’t. I had taken the precaution of
writing down the issues I wanted to go over because forgetting is now a regular
part of my day. And I had seven items on my list.
First, that terrible affliction of the traitorous bladder.
Maybe it was the four children. Maybe it was genetic. More likely it was
because I’ve never been a Keegler. My weak bladder is my enemy and ever-present
threat at events that call for limited clothing or jumping jacks. So I broached
the topic with my doctor and asked about options.
She told me there were three options: behavioral, minimally
invasive procedures and surgery. She discouraged me from even thinking about
surgery just yet and started with behavioral. And of course the number one thing
I could do was those hateful Keegles. “Let’s move on,” I said, “Those I can
do,” feeling guilty because I knew I wouldn’t. It’s like dental floss: you’re
either a flosser or you’re not.
On to the minimally invasive. And this is when things
started to go downhill quickly. She told me I could get a shot of collagen in my
sphincter. The sphincter in my urethra. What the . . .? My immediate thoughts
were: 1. That does not sound minimally invasive. 2. If I’m going to get a shot
of collagen, you can be damn sure it’s not going to be in my sphincter. 3. I
didn’t even know I had more than one sphincter and had been perfectly happy in
my state of anatomical ignorance. Since
I wasn’t supposed to ask for the surgical option the first time I raised the
issue, I promised I’d do Keegles. Liar, liar, liar. And we moved down the list.
Item number two was sleep. I just can’t seem to sleep
through the night. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent culprit – food, drink
or environmental factors. So why is it that at 3:08 A.M. – or at any given minute
between 2:00 A.M. and 4:00 A.M. - my eyelids snap open and I am completely and
totally wide awake with an elevated heartbeat and anxious thoughts? I am tired.
I am tired of being tired. What could we do about this?
My doctor knew the cause, and it was the big M. No question
about it. Those feelings of anxiety and occasional adrenaline rushes that plague me in
the darkest hours are menopausal symptoms. And of course we have no way of
knowing how long this will go on. Great. Short of keeping a bottle of sleeping
pills next to my bed and worrying about their negative effects on my already
diminishing cognitive skills, she told me my best bet was to focus on my
breathing, make sure to eat well and consume less alcohol. Seriously? Given
everything else, one of these suggestions was non-negotiable. But I dutifully
said I would and we moved down the list.
The third stop was my feet. I inherited nasty, large bunions
from my mother. I am almost embarrassed to show my feet any more because they
are so freakish looking. My feet are hard on the eyes, and they dramatically
limit my footwear options. In order to put my toes together while standing, I’d
need to be a contortionist.
So what were my options? None that were good. My doctor told
me she has older patients whose big toes had essentially wrapped themselves
around and under their second toes, making all shoes save ginormous moccasins
impossible to wear. But, my doctor went on, there is really no good surgical
procedure with a guaranteed positive outcome and many people end up worse off than
they were before the surgery. And since I wasn’t in any real pain, I should
wait. “Wait for what?” I wanted to ask. Wait until I’m one of her older
patients with my toes tied up in elaborate, fleshy knots? But I resigned myself
that there was nothing to be done now.
Jeesh. That’s three health concerns and zero solutions. Trust
me, three is enough. I won’t inflict the other four on you. I assure you that
they are as pedestrian, insulting, gross and as far as I can tell as mostly
unavoidable as the three I’ve already shared. If you’re a woman who is under 50
(give or take), enjoy it. Don’t scowl at the nurse when she asks you if you
could be pregnant. If you’re a woman over 50 (give or take), I am so sorry and
I am with you. Try not to hate the nurse who asks you if you’re still
menstruating. Whatever you do, do NOT stop drinking. The march toward the
so-called golden years is riddled with physical indignities. At least find some
humor in it.