Janet Sheridan: My resolution for the New Year
There’s a chance that going public with my intended change for 2013 will shame me into keeping it, so here it is: I am going to stop talking about my medical issues with anyone who will listen, even though doing so will be more painful for me than my recently developed plantar fasciitis—I love clucking away with friends and family about the latest indignity imposed on me by my body.
I first noticed an upswing in my interest in discussing bunions and bursitis a few years ago when I stood in a circle of men and women at party and thought, “I used to run from conversations like this.”
For 45 minutes, we’d talked about tinnitus, sciatica, cataracts, arthritis, insomnia, knee replacements, and leg cramps. We’d described symptoms, suggested remedies, and updated one another — “You mean there’s a difference between floaters and flashers?”
The same people who used to chatter about jobs, sports, politics, travels, children, hobbies, and preferred beer had discovered another universal connection.
Why the sudden interest in high blood pressure? It’s not like my friends and I had never been sick before. We’d all endured ills of one type or another our entire lives, but we hadn’t felt compelled to share them with all the fishes in the sea.
Like most people, I was born into a pinball machine of childhood illnesses, bumped back and forth by colds, mumps, measles, chickenpox and whooping cough. My sib-lings and I suffered through earaches, stomachaches, runny noses, pink eye, and the flu. We worried at great length about tonsillitis, because it could lead to a tonsillec-tomy; and we lived with the shadow of polio, which lurked in the background of our lives, an uninvited and dreaded guest.
We were quarantined to our rooms and confined to our beds. We whined, com-plained of boredom, begged for drinks of water, and hoped we didn’t become nause-ated enough to use the bucket conveniently placed at the side of the bed.
We sweated under mustard plasters, soaked in Epsom salts, and scratched our red spots when Mom wasn’t looking. At the height of the polio scare, we were barred from swimming in public pools and dragged to Provo to take part in a blind test of a promising vaccine named after a Dr. Salk.
At one point, to cure my chronic sinus congestions and colds, the doctor told Mom to make me put on a hat or scarf whenever I went outside, wear a stocking cap to bed on cold nights, and forego sugary treats; so while my siblings ate lemon meringue pie and made fun of my nighttime head apparel, I blew my nose and ate a banana.
I don’t remember inflicting the details of any of my ailments on others. I would never have introduced my hangnail-infected big toe into a late night conversation with my college roommates or my impacted wisdom teeth into the lunchroom buzz in the faculty lounge.
Now, however, Joel and I consider a day poorly spent if we don’t devote several minutes of conversation to the soundness of our sleep and the current status of our nagging issues. At family reunions, my siblings and I provide health updates to a sympathetic chorus of sighs and advice: “Don’t waste your time trying to wish your sciatica into oblivion. You need physical therapy.”
I admire my sister-in-law, a professional woman and involved grandmother, who has wit, intelligence, and frightening health issues: problems that would allow her to dominate any discussion. But she doesn’t mention them. Ever. When directly asked by those of us who love her, she responds simply and briefly and then gracefully changes the topic to grandchildren, pets or politics.
Thus, my resolution for 2013: I will no longer pour a description of my latest symp-toms into every available ear. Please remind me of my vow when necessary. But a note of warning: I didn’t promise to stop writing about them.