I’ve been forty for barely a month now. I’ve always devoted considerable energy to keeping myself fit and healthy.
I Jazzercise. I don’t smoke. I eat fish. I learned that you should take fish oil capsules at night unless you want to taste tuna fish burps all day. When sexy television doctor Sanjay Gupta warned me to consume plenty of antioxidants to fight off free radicals, I listened and began adding a generous splash of POM Wonderful to my gin and tonics.
All my ministrations have been in vain. I now have proof that my body, which wasn’t so healthy at thirty-nine, has begun a steep descent into old age and decay.
When Bill and I were in New York, he noticed that I kept yanking my reading glasses on and off whenever I had to read something small– a menu, a price tag, a paper.
“Why don’t you buy a chain to keep those around your neck like other women do?” he asked.
“Because those other ladies are a lot older than I am.”
By the time I’d constantly pulled my glasses on and off for another day and almost left them at a Turkish restaurant, I gave in and purchased the tiniest, most inconspicuous “eyeglass necklace” possible.
Things went further down hill last week when I had a chin hair I needed to pluck. I could feel it, but I damn sure couldn’t see it. I tried looking in the mirror with my contacts on, and saw nothing but a blur. I put on my reading glasses but still couldn’t spot the hair well enough to grip it with my tweezers. Sighing, I removed my contacts and tried again. No luck. I resigned myself to the fact I’d have to wait until it grew to the length of a whisker before I’d be able to distinguish it from my skin.
I told my hairdresser, Teppie, about the incident, and she told me I needed a magnifying mirror. I told her that distressingly, I was using one at the time and I left out that detail only so I wouldn’t sound blind.
“I think you should see a doctor,” she advised.
So I did.
The most irritating aspect of the eye doctor’s exam is that they have not changed the letter and number combinations since the Bicentennial, when I first started wearing glasses. I have an astonishing aptitude for remembering strings of meaningless letters and numbers, which is invaluable for remembering everyone’s home, cell and social security numbers, but poses a problem when I’m asked to read the next line on the chart. Am I reading it, or merely remembering it? Trying to erase the patterns from my memory takes a great deal of concentration.
Perhaps that’s why I was caught off guard when Dr. C finished his exam, slid back his chair, and asked, “You know what I’m going to tell you, right?”
“I need stronger glasses?” I inquired. “Did I tell you about last week when I wasn’t able to see my chin whisker?”
“No, but I believe it. You need bifocals,” he said calmly, as if were recommending a new book and not an accessory that screams ‘OLD LADY! OLD LADY!’ He might as well have prescribed a walker and a case of Depends.
I snickered. “You know I’m not getting bifocals, don’t you?”
“Don’t laugh,” he said seriously. “They’ve come a long way. They make progressive lenses now that don’t have the line in the center of the lens. They take some getting used to and they don’t work for everyone, but no one can tell you’re wearing bifocals.”
On the drive home I convinced myself that getting bifocals wouldn’t be a complete catastrophe. I’m already used to wearing glasses a good deal of the time. If no one knew they were bifocals, I would still be as pert and sexy as ever.
I got home and googled the newer models. What I learned wasn’t reassuring. It was downright devastating.
The “progressive” lenses are crafted so that they correct for distance at the top of the lens, for intermediate vision in the middle of the lens, and for reading at the bottom of the lens, like so:
As you can see, the area corrected for intermediate, or “walking around” vision is quite small. Thus, you can’t move your eyeballs back and forth to gaze at things that are not directly in front of you, as you’d be looking through the area that is not corrected for anything. Wearers report that the non-corrective part of the lens is generally fuzzy and one woman reported seeing an upside-down image of a cow there while standing in a room in which no cows were present.
Users who enjoy the glasses noted that the solution is simply to turn your neck to follow moving objects. People who have little neck movement, due to previous spine surgeries, perhaps, would have to move their entire bodies to watch an object in motion. Remember Joan Cusack in Sixteen Candles? That’s how I’d move every time I put those bifocals on.
What I found more alarming were the frequent warnings not to look down at your feet as you walked while wearing the progressive lenses, for the ground would appear closer than it actually is, resulting in falls.
Last time I fell I broke my wrist which led to good home training for the boys but also to fashion felonies on my part. It was a painful and expensive way for the guys to learn to load the dishwasher.
By the time I read reviews from wearers who complained of “whirlies,” nausea and headaches and the comments from the visually-impaired who’d never learned to safely walk in them, I’d had enough. My bones felt brittle, my eyes were fatigued and I actually heard gray hairs springing from my scalp.
Then I felt a bit sorry for myself. I’ve had a decent attitude about the scoliosis, the bum liver, the crowns and root canals and the frequent checks for ovarian cancer. I’m ready for some anatomy to work correctly without major effort on my part.
So when Bill got home and I told him about my appointment, I’d narrowed down my objections to even trying the glasses to one succinct statement.
“I can’t make love to you with a pair of bifocals on the nightstand,” I decreed.
I’m making an appointment to see a surgeon for Lasik next week.
The Tiny Kingdom has tons of clubs you can belong to, but in general, I’m not much of a joiner. I declined invitations to the Junior League and the Twins Club. The idea of the latter was especially perplexing to me. I could see a club for Moms With Well-Behaved Children Who Baby Sit Each Other, or perhaps the Moms With One Extremely Still and Quiet Child Who Requires Virtually No Care and Feeding at All, but even when I had only one child I could see that it would be impossible for a mother of newborn twins and a two year old to get to the bathroom, much less a meeting outside the house.
I don’t sew or smock, so I’ve never been invited to join the club where mothers hand make outfits for their children and then put on a fashion show to raise money for the arts. After I heard a rumor that one mom knit matching bikinis for herself and her daughter and pranced down the runway in the ensemble, I came close to asking someone to sponsor me for membership. I would have paid big bucks to see such bravery.
But I do belong to one special club. No one had to write me a recommendation or bring a bottle of wine to a meeting and then stand up and tell everyone I was a “cute girl” from a “good family” with “an impeccable reputation” who would “be a valuable addition” to the organization. In fact, membership in this club is involuntary.
Here are some of the more well-known members:
It’s a varied lot, yes? Musicians, sports figures, actors, writers… I’ll give you a minute to identify them and decide what we have in common.
Left to right: Allen Ginsberg, Phil Lesh, Ken Kesey, Anne Glamore, Evel Knievel, Naomi Judd, Dusty Hill, Pamela Anderson, Mickey Mantle, Jack Kevorkian, David Crosby, Larry Hagman, Steven Tyler
What unites us? Here’s the story.
In the spring of 1997, Finn was a little over a year old and I was practicing law full time. I started losing weight and my head felt buzzy. I got dizzy when I stood up, and I slept whenever I could. Something was wrong, so I went to the doctor.
“You are a tired working mother,” was his diagnosis.
I’m sure that was partly true, but I knew that something else was going on so I sought a second opinion. This doctor performed some blood tests which revealed I had elevated liver enzymes. An ultrasound showed that all was well with my gallbladder, and my doctor advised me that she was ordering a test which she guessed would show that I had hepatitis.
I remember sitting in her office and looking at her blankly. Although I’d practiced medical malpractice defense law, I’d never had a case involving hepatitis, and I knew nothing at all about the disease.
Once I’d been definitely diagnosed with hepatitis C and scheduled for a liver biopsy, I learned a lot about the virus. It’s transmitted by contact with tainted blood. I’d received blood transfusions during my original surgery for scoliosis in 1980, before the blood supply was tested for hepatitis C (or HIV, for that matter).
My biopsy revealed that my liver had suffered some damage from unknowingly living with the disease for seventeen years. My physician advised me to finish having children before undergoing treatment for hepatitis, and Porter and Drew were born in August of 1998. (The disease is a slow one, so delaying treatment for a year or so wasn’t likely to affect my liver much given the amount of damage I had sustained thus far.)
When the twins were six months old, I started a year-long treatment. Three times a week, Bill and I would put all the boys into the bathtub where they’d be out of the way, and he’d give me a shot of interferon. I took ribavirin pills each day. I had thought having one kid and a law career was exhausting. Adding twins, a scary disease, shots and a feeling of general uncertainly about the future showed us what stress really is.
I suffered most of the side effects associated with the treatment and had to stop working for a while. At the end of a grueling year, I had a negative hepatitis C test, which still hangs on our bathroom wall as a reminder not to take good health for granted. Last October I celebrated my fifth year of remission from the disease. I wrote about it here and here. My mom heard the good news a couple of weeks before she died.
October 1 is World Hepatitis Awareness Day. I wanted you to know that anyone can have the disease, and the “silent epidemic” can be quietly destroying your liver while you feel perfectly fine. Most patients find out accidentally that they have the disease, when they are being treated for another problem, having an insurance test, or being screened to give blood. My story of seeking help for symptoms is the exception.
Each of the member of the club pictured above has or had the disease.
Please click HERE to see if you may be at risk.
As you can see, all of my children were at risk because I was HCV positive at the time I gave birth to them. I had them all tested last summer, which involved taking blood from trembling arms, sopping up tears, and large scoops of ice cream. It was a huge blessing to find out that they are all negative. I’ll just worry about buck teeth, scoliosis, acne, and other childhood traumas for them.
If you haven’t signed up to be an organ donor, please consider it. Lots of people could use your liver when you’re through with it. These days, you can even donate part of your liver while you’re still kicking, as doctors have had great success with living liver donation. (Your liver is as large as a football, and you have plenty to spare). I have a good friend whose nine year old son is doing great with a chunk of his uncle’s liver.
Plenty of other people have written eloquently on this topic. Here are some places to check out if you’re interested in learning more:
As my long time readers are aware, I consider myself an expert at navigating the healthcare system. I’ve developed my talents out of sheer necessity. After you’ve had someone chase you with a specimen cup of what may (or may not) be your urine, or gotten a call that the lab lost the eight tubes of blood they drew last week, you stop depending on doctors and nurses to be perfect and start looking out for yourself.
I developed these skills during my fight against hepatitis C and my spine surgeries, both of which I’ve written about in previous posts. However, my body has been cooperating with me lately. My liver and spine are both doing well and I’ve had a brief respite from spending too much time with doctors.
All this changed once my mom died of ovarian cancer nearly five months ago. (If you’re a new reader, you can read a post about the circumstances of her death here.)
Ovarian cancer has claimed a number of famous victims, such as Gilda Radner, Elizabeth Tilberis (Editor of Harper’s Bazaar) and and most recently, Coretta Scott King. After Mrs. King’s death, several papers published articles describing the disease like this one. Some also reprinted the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, which can be found here. My mother experienced most of these symptoms before her diagnosis.
After Mom died, I talked with my mother’s oncologist and my gynecologist about the steps I should take in order to lessen my own risk of contracting ovarian cancer. I started taking a low dose birth control pill under the theory that preventing ovulation reduces the chance of developing abnormal cells.
My doctors also recommended that I get a CA-125 blood test (a test for tumor markers) and a vaginal ultrasound every six months so that any abnormalities would be detected as early as possible. As with many cancers, early detection makes a huge difference in survival rates for those with ovarian cancer.
So I did. Not to get all Katie Couric on you, but here’s the proof:
Erica draws blood for the CA-125 test. She was a good sticker!
I get ready for the ultrasound. Thanks, Kim, for keeping up a light conversation to keep my mind off things during the procedure, which was painless.
Thankfully, my tests came back clear. The screening is something I’ll repeat twice a year for the rest of my life. If you have a reason to believe you are at risk for ovarian cancer, you should do it too.
I’ve plugged this book before, but Jerome Groopman’s Second Opinions is
a worthy read, which emphasizes the importance of trusting your own
instincts, getting second opinions, and asking questions when you’re
facing a health issue. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science
by Atul Gawande also stresses that healthcare professionals are simply
human, subject to making mistakes just like the rest of us. Both are
easy to read and understand.
I’m packing up my soapbox now!
PS- Yes, once again, I’m in my Jazzerwear. You’d think I could visit the doctor or wax my mustache in decent clothes, and maybe put on a smidge of makeup. I’ll try to do better.
The mothers in the Tiny Kingdom come in all varieties:the crafty moms and the social climbers, the well-coiffed and the sweatpant wearing, the tennis players and the perpetual room mothers (God bless them), those who engage in sordid affairs and those who quickly let the rest of us know the gory details. I make no judgments about these women. Many are my friends. But I do want to be clear about one thing:
There is a special place in hell reserved for the most vile of all creatures, those who will stop at nothing to get what they want: the babysitter stealers.
Childless readers may not fully appreciate the importance of a dependable babysitter to those of us saddled with children. A babysitter is the promise of freedom. Without my sitter, I’d be confined to a house full of smelly boys, endless laundry, and Go-gurt that disappears almost as soon as it is purchased.
Friends share clothes, jewelry, table cloths and china without a second thought. Friends do not share babysitters so casually. I treat my babysitter’s name and phone number as classified information, divulging it only when a dear, trusted friend is in desperate need. Just because someone was in your wedding and could be counted on to walk down the aisle without dropping a bridesmaid’s bouquet does not mean that she will automatically be privy to your babysitter’s phone number.
Many babysitters don’t realize their significance to the women they work for. They might like the children they are keeping, but ultimately babysitters are in it for the money. Therefore, it’s up to the parents to police themselves and observe the protocol of babysitter etiquette. It is an unwritten rule that when you share your babysitter with someone else, it is for one time only. If the friend wants to call the sitter again, good manners dictate that she call you first and ask if you will be needing her. You have the right of first refusal of your sitter for that day.
Of course, if you’re a complete bitch, you can steal a sitter from someone else. But be warned: stealing a woman’s babysitter is like sleeping with her husband. Maybe worse, depending on the babysitter’s skill and the strength of the marriage.
I was the victim of a babysitter snatcher was several years ago. She was crafty and cunning; she used my mom to do the dirty work. My mother called me with a tale of woe. A friend’s daughter was new to town and needed a sitter for the weekend.
“I’ve only got one babysitter, and that’s Katie,” I told my mom. “I don’t give her number out to anyone. Even when The Voice used her one time, I made her tear up the piece of paper with Katie’s number on it after she called her.”
“You girls are so crazy about your sitters,” my mom said.
“Hey, a good sitter is extremely hard to come by, so when you find one you have to guard her like the only Hershey’s Kiss in a room full of PMS-ing women,” I protested.
Mom snorted. “Very funny,” she said. “Leah is having some health problems and is in a bad fix. I’m sure you could help her out this once.”
“Now, you make sure Leah understands that this loan is for the weekend only. Katie is my regular babysitter. She keeps my kids after school three days a week while I am at work. She is a vital part of my family,” I emphasized. “If Leah needs her own babysitter, she can ask Katie if she can recommend a friend, or she can call the number of the Placement Office at the University and they’ll send her a list of people who’d love to help her out.” For good measure, I gave Mom the Placement Office number to pass on to Leah as well.
I never saw Katie again. Apparently Leah put her on retainer and forbade her from accepting any other babysitting jobs. I couldn’t blame Katie– a babysitter has to take the best money available, although a little loyalty would have been nice. It was Leah who had stepped over the line, using my mother and her own illness to get to my sitter. Hell, she never even wrote me a thank you note for helping her out for what I thought was just a tough weekend, but turned out to be the next three years. Leah’s transgression was serious– no one likes a babysitter stealer, and you can ruin your reputation quickly when you engage in that type of behavior.
Last week, I was asking my current sitter, Angela, about her availability several days next month. She was already scheduled to keep another child on one of the days I needed her.
“Dang,” I said. “I’ll ask Chatty Mom if she can keep the boys that day.”
“Maybe I could bring the boy to your house and keep all four there,” Angela suggested. “You probably know the mom. Katie gave her my name.”
“Really? Who is it?” I asked.
“Her name is Leah,” Angela said.
I was dumbfounded. She’d struck again.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said to Angela before I could let my feelings get the best of me. “I’ll just work something else out.” I hung up the phone and started breathing heavily.
Then I realized that I could get pissed or I could get even. I decided to get even. I called Angela’s number and got her voice mail.
“Hey Angela, it’s Anne,” I said. “I tell you what. I’ll pay you double if you cancel on Leah at the last minute and come sit for me that day. Let me hear from you!”
Payback’s a bitch, honey.