“Have they grown?” he asked for the thousandth time? That was my former husband speaking (about 40 years ago) in reference to several small, soft protrusions on his lower back.
That they had been diagnosed as harmless sebaceous cysts that, depending on whether they got in his way could be removed or not, made no difference in his hypochondria which included uncounted numbers of other imaginary health worries he plagued me with during six years of marriage. Hardly a day went by without several such questions.
I deal differently with bodily occurrences that might be health alerts; I ignore them. Or, rather, I note them and wait to see if they get worse. The few that do, in my case, almost always involve teeth which - I have learned the hard way - share a property with water leaks: they never improve on their own.
Aside from dental problems, I have lived 66 remarkably healthy years for which I am grateful. I hardly ever see a doctor which, when I think about it at all, I attribute to my impatience with physicians’ poking and prodding, medical tests of all varieties and my belief that bodies ought to just chug along supporting our psyches and selves until it is time to die.
You and I both know this is stupid. In my lifetime there have been astounding medical advances many of which involve sophisticated tests that can detect health problems early when they can be successfully treated.
Nevertheless, when a physician suggests these tests, I resist those that involve anything more complicated than blood letting or peeing in a cup. So I am surprised that somehow my new doctor here in Portland, Maine, convinced me to have my first-ever colonoscopy which I am undergoing today as some of you read this.
In the weeks since this exam - so invasive that it requires anesthesia - was scheduled, I have thought more about my health than during any comparable period in my life. I have
- examined my stupidity (without vowing to change)
- made several mental tours of my body to see if I detect anything out of the ordinary (no)
- wondered how my life will change if the results of this colonoscopy are anything other than positive (I don’t want to know)
That third item, I have decided, is what accounts for the first.
In past discussions of late life fears on this blog, an overwhelming majority don’t want to become burdens to their children or other loved ones. I share that and we do what we can in advance to avoid it.
But statistics show that 80 percent of elders live independently until they die, and the larger fear for me is becoming a professional patient, of remaining independent and capable of caring for myself while having to manage one or more diseases or conditions that involve continuing tests, treatment, multiple medications and all that poking and prodding doctors do that I dislike so much.
This is not a crippling fear and it rarely surfaces until, like today, I subject myself to something that could increase the amount of time I spend in a physician’s office, hospital or laboratory. I prefer to stick my head in the sand and avoid both doctors and tests as much as I can reasonably do without being more than about 75 percent stupid.
In my consideration, these past weeks, of this stupidity, I have decided that it is just a more subtle form of hypochondria than my former husband’s. Its saving grace is that, today’s post notwithstanding, I don’t inflict it on other people.
When I was a little girl, my father took me out one evening for Chinese dinner. He parked the car across from the restaurant and as he took my hand to cross the street in the middle of the block, he warned, “Don’t do this yourself. Do as I say, not as I do.”
In regard to healthy living, I suggest the same for you.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior relates a personal Alfred Hitchcock moment in a true tale titled The Birds.]