3:40 p.m. I am lying naked covered in a paper gown on a table in my doctor’s office, glad I had an I-phone to do e-mail while Agnieska Lech, M.D. took 20+ minutes to get to me.
At 68, courtesy Medicare and United Health Care supplemental (hall-ey-loo-ya!), it was time for my annual ‘women’s health exam,’ thus the knees up, speculum inserted, pinch: two seconds of pain before she withdraws something cold and then puts a gloved finger up my anus.
Nah, nothing to be concerned about. Been through this so many times before, it brought back memories of IUD’s being inserted, pregnancies being checked monthly, vaginal infections being treated long ago in my single and still searching days.
Dr. Lech, hometown Prague, her high cheekbones, and piercing spectacled eyes walked in, and in her Polish accent apologized for the delay said, “this shouldn’t be anything for you; you told me last time how you used to teach women in your classes to use speculums and mirrors to examine their own vaginas, nothing I’d ever heard about.”
Smiling I responded, “guess news of the women’s health movement didn’t make it to Czechoslovakia,” I said “Where were you in the seventies? Never heard of the book Our Bodies and Our Selves? It’s still in print today, and there is a whole edition on menopause.”
Then I looked at her beautiful clear skin and did the math; she was probably not even born
In the seventies, or if so she was just a toddler.
Oy vey … how did I get this old? A retired by budget cuts health educator I just turned si-sixty eight! I’m in my 69th year … and I make money now running workshops on AGING POSITIVELY … re-framing fears about inevitable vagaries of aging and looking for something good to come of them. I even did a stand-up comedy speech for Toastmasters that won at three contest levels with the same title; admittedly honestly groaning at my own health challenges about positively aging.
So when I told my husband this morning of the two tiny polyps Dr. Lech discovered near the rim of my anus (at 5:00 and 7:00) that ‘could be sent to a colo-rectal surgeon to be biopsied, but she’d wait till the results of an HPV virus came back’ … I had to swallow some fear, or feel it and go on with the rest of my day anyway.
And then there are my creaking bones. Seriously creaking, to the point that after two weeks of tossing 40 years of paper teaching files into a total of 18 recycle bins, and moving untold numbers of boxes even with paid help; I woke up one morning and almost found my legs collapsing underneath me. Pain was something I have a very high threshold for, I had two kids in two and a half hours of labor each … so this was a new and frightening experience. Two trips to the chiropractor and the purchase of my first cane, oh god do I feel like an old lady!, and things are a lot better, but oy!
Rather than hooking into the fear that I awoke with this morning, when I told my husband of the anxieties that these two health challenges were keeping me awake in the middle of the night with, feeling a bit fraudulent about my new chosen speaking career, my husband asked me “What would Pat do/say? Pat the Aging Positively workshop leader?”
“Oh, I guess she would fight fear with knowledge, and get as much good information as possible ‘cause most fear comes from ignorance.”
“That’s good, what else?” ‘
“She’d take care of herself and rest a bit, this move was hell, then she’d look around her to find all the things she was grateful for, all the wonderful good ways her body has served her up until now and find other things to focus on.
“Now you’re talking,” my not unconcerned husband said pulling me over for a kiss.
The other thing Pat would do is the ‘don’t go there’ trick. Not voicing or imaging the worst fears … like thinking about my 76 year old friend Adalyn when her legs collapsed under her discovered she had MS, or thinking maybe I have a fracture and this osteoporosis thing I’ve refused treatment for has kicked in, and this pain and lack of balance will never go away.
No! Change and shift your thinking Pat. Change your life.
Part of what scares me about this aging thing; is that I’ve worked so hard all my life. I am type A to the max. Now when I find I actually MUST move more slowly, and am ready to do just that, I am afraid I won’t be able to do all the good things other people do when they re-tire, like travel which requires a lot of walking. Yet perhaps that is why I continue on my health educating shtick … to tell younger and older audiences: do what you can to prevent or minimize these vageries … NOW!
Time. Take the time to be fully present in the ‘nows’ you have NOW, Pat. That’s not just a Buddhist ploy they tell you when they teach you to meditate … there is no suffering in that fully present moment. You’ve been given a lot more of them, so enjoy them!!!
Never forget that toilet paper metaphor “Life is like a roll of toilet paper, the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!”