Maybe going public with my resolution for 2018 will shame me into keeping it, so here it is: I will stop talking about my medical issues, even though doing so will be more painful for me than my wry neck; I love clucking away with friends and family about the latest indignity imposed on my body.
I first noticed an upswing in my interest in discussing bunions and bursitis a few years ago at a party when I joined male and female friends in an animated discussion at a party and realized I used to run from such conversations.
For forty-five minutes, we discussed tinnitus, sciatica, cataracts, arthritis, insomnia, knee replacements and leg cramps. We 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, travel, 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. We’d endured a variety of ills 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 around by colds, mumps, measles, chickenpox and sore throats. My siblings and I suffered earaches, stomachaches, runny noses, pink eye and the flu. We worried about tonsillitis, because it could lead to a tonsillectomy and polio because it lurked in the background of every day we lived.
We were quarantined to our rooms and confined to our beds. We whined, complained of boredom, begged for drinks of water and hoped nausea didn’t force us to use the bucket placed beside our beds.
We sweated under mustard plasters, soaked in Epsom salts, and scratched our red spots when our mother 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 the 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 when 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 night cap, I blew my nose and ate a banana.
I don’t remember inflicting the details of these 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 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 from my first marriage, a professional woman and involved grandmother with wit, intelligence and frightening health issues that would allow her to dominate any discussion. But she doesn’t mention them. Ever. When directly asked by those who love her, she responds simply and briefly and then gracefully changes the topic to grandchildren, pets or politics.
Thus, my resolution for 2018: I will stop pouring a description of my latest symptoms into every available ear.
But I don’t promise to stop writing about them.