AGING AND ME

Mary Lou and Kristy

I tend to forget my age because when I look in a mirror, I see myself as younger. It threw me when I saw a picture of myself with my mouth pinched, my neck that of an old woman, and the veins prominent in my thin arms. When I look at my friend John, his face looks unlined to me and although he lost his ink black hair of his younger self, he still seems as he was. I asked my sister if everyone looks in the mirror and sees a younger self. She said she thought they did.

I have used my body my entire life thinking it was mine to do with as I liked. When it was tired, I pushed it to keep going. Despite multiple backaches, I would not stop running up and down hills. It tried over the years to talk to me about the abuse I was heaving on it, but I have for the most part ignored it.

When I was 19 years old, I suffered from stomach pains on and off. I used to sit with a hot water bottle and hope it would remedy whatever was going on. In those days, you could have a personal home visit from your doctor. My mother called our doctor at 7:30 pm on a Sunday night. He came to the house, felt my tender stomach and said stomach flu. Told me to take it easy and by morning, I should feel better. When he left I told my mother since this was all I had, I was going to go meet my friends and go bowling. We lived a block from the hospital. She insisted we go up there and have someone else check me out. Then I could go bowling. I agreed and we walked to the hospital. By the time we were there with someone examining me, I was in much more pain. I was given a blood test that showed I had acute appendicitis. My mother promptly keeled over. A nurse assisted her and I was told I would be operated on that night. So much for bowling.

My father showed up early Monday morning. He brought my pink radio from home so I could listen to my favorite station — WKBW, Buffalo, New York. I played their music softly all night long at home. Not sure why that station, but I suspect it was the 24 hours long music of the 1950s I was so addicted to in general. I was grateful for this because I was both sore and sick from the surgery. He told me at the time that our insurance might be cancelled since all of us had major things happen during the year. None of this made any impression on me.

My new job was to begin that Monday and I would remain in the hospital for a week and a week at home to recuperate. My job was held for me and two weeks later, I started working at a large insurance company where my job was to type checks all day long. Many young people worked there and it felt more like an extension of high school. I was relatively happy although my home life was deteriorating as my father’s drinking and abusive behavior became more out of control.

When I turned 21 I told my father, I had decided to move up to the DC area. My firm would promote me and I had a job waiting there. Although I was scared to leave home, I would be living with someone I knew and trusted. My father when I told him went ballistic and suddenly I had a black eye and bloody nose. I was going to work that day and didn’t want any problems so I cleaned myself up and headed to work. Because of my eye and nose bleeding on and off all day long, the nurse on duty at work called me in to look me over. I explained I had walked into a door and despite appearances, I was fine. Did she believe me? I doubt it but at the time, no one knew how to deal with this. We were all little soldiers going forward.

The name for people of my generation is the Silent Generation. We were programmed to keep our business to ourselves and it made us shut down emotionally, but we also were programmed to keep going and for this I am grateful.

My 20s and 30s were spent married. I never realized my body wasn’t mine to do as I wanted until I became pregnant with my second daughter at age 31. Because she was lying on my bladder, I was forced into being catheterized for extended periods of time until this issue was reconciled by the pregnancy advancing. The doctor suggested this might not be a good pregnancy and the impression was I could have the pregnancy aborted, but I refused saying I could get through this.

After a few days at home, I was cleaning my house, walking up and down the steps in anticipation of my sister’s arrival in few days. Unfortunately, on the day before my sister’s visit, I woke up hemorrhaging. I was transported to a DC hospital and spent a week recuperating having suffered from phlebitis caused by my own lack of knowledge about what I was doing to my body by not listening to it.

When my youngest daughter was a year and a half, I had a pain in my side. I decided not to wait and went to my family doctor. He felt because of my different problems, I should have a hysterectomy. I had a second opinion from another doctor because I felt I might want another child. He thought I should have this surgery as well. No specific reason was given to me and I never questioned doctors, who were held up as Gods by my Mother’s generation. I thought there was a possibility I had something else, but even then I was ignorant about my body and thought it possibly “ran in my family” to have a hysterectomy. A woman I knew asked me if I knew what it entailed to have this surgery, but I said I didn’t know but thought I would be fine. When I woke up from this horrendous surgery, I had a long scar running down my stomach and the pain was beyond horrible. In those days, morphine was given so I felt pretty good once I was given the shots. When I asked what they found in taking out my uterus, I was told endometriosis. I had no idea what this was or had to spell it. After researching it, I figured okay that is what I had. There was scant information on this then. Afterward, I suffered both emotionally and physically as my body was different and had to heal. It took a long time, but I pushed myself to get well sooner rather than later.

I was going to night school at the time. I remember going up one flight of stairs at University of Maryland and I dragged myself up. It had been five weeks and I still was weak from the surgery. This surgery was extremely hard and not discussed enough at the time. It was considered a form of cure for women, but it pushed the body into a sort of rapid menopause at a young age for me at least. Several months later after losing about 17 pounds and feeling really great, I never looked back at it as the traumatic event it was.

Aging is a slow process in terms of our bodies. We can extend it through exercising, diet, mental stimulation, or in my case through self examination. I realize as age 76 is coming up, I have had many occasions where I could have died from my various illnesses had I lived in another era. Despite my many shortcomings, I am grateful that I have the mind set I do of going forward and adapting to whatever curveball is in front of me. We only have the knowledge of our times and the longer I live, the more I sense this. As I learn more about different times and different cultures, we all think we have the answers to things. We are only as good as the last moment we are in.

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