When I come get my hair done next you must look at the little bumps on my head and let me know if it’s because I don’t wash my hair properly or if it’s tiny brain tumors. This I texted to my hairdresser, who replied with, “Bloody Hell”! Is that a yes, I asked? I don’t speak shocked Scottish. And it is not a stretch for this mom who managed to give her first-born cradle crap because of a total fear of breaking that soft spot on his head. I barely touched his head with adequate soap, water and scrubbing for a good part of a year, until the pediatrician explained that the crappy stuff on his scalp was due to my less than stellar shampooing abilities.
It’s possible. It’s all possible today in our world of phantom aches and secret diseases. Medicine was so simple when I was a kid in the 1960s. There was no dragging a fevered child to the doctor. You waited after dinner and the doctor came to you. Lots of red spots with fever: measles. Same spots, no fever: German measles. We loved those. Crusty red spots: chicken pox. A throat the size of your waist: mumps. We all got them. We all survived them. Even the adult serious illnesses were straightforward. In my corner of the Bronx and Italy, you either died of cancer or of old age. And you did it pretty much in a quick straight line. I remember my first brush with cancer. It was our old Zio Batista. That was the respect version of uncle not a biological one, as he was actually the husband of a cousin of my mom. Much older than her, they became our surrogate New York grandparents. One minute it’s a regular Tuesday night and they are over for dinner. He takes a trip to the restroom followed by a bloody announcement and not Bloody Hell like my hairdresser either. They take him to the hospital and the next time I see him, he is lying peacefully still in Ruggiero’s, the local funeral parlor. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven at the time I think. No years of the chemo roller coaster. Just the announcement and the sad resolve of the survivors and life moved on.
I remember no deaths by car accidents or even heart attacks except for one but that was way later in the early 90s. Back then we drove tanks, not sardine cans, and driving was left for the most part to the men. An odd woman here or there would drive but they were rare in the 60s in the Bronx. Cancer was still viewed as a weakness of sorts back then. The result of the lack of resilience needed to get over the death of a child or the alcoholism of a husband. I lost quite a few very close relatives to stomach cancer back then. It’s where heartache and anger and sorrow go to live in your body we were told. We were much closer to Eastern medicine back then before America started seeing dollars signs where true health once stood.
The American heart attack seems to have grown in direct proportion to the love affair with all foods fast. We are the first generation to age with a McDonalds diet, whether past or present. That has to mean something. I remember when the first McDonalds opened in the Bronx. We had heard of these things on Long Island and wondered when we would get one. I believe it was about 1970 or so when the one on Gun Hill Road opened. What a novelty it was. Dinner at home was finished and my boyfriend with a car would take me there before going home at least a few times a week. Rear view mirror irony that he would complain if I gained weight but bought me a Big Mac five times a week. I don’t think we were subjected to the same MickyD ingredients as the 90s and beyond. This was the McDonalds before they soaked their meat in ammonia and fed you chicken lips with Ranch dressing. I like to think we had a modicum of food safety when we started eating it. Did I let my kids eat it? Yes, of course. I tried not to overdo it, but it is the mealtime panacea for overworked, overtired parents. Interesting, that my kids when old enough to get their own heart attack in a box, steered clear of McDonalds for good. I guess all those drive-thru trips with me spelling out in great detail all the poison that they were about to eat had a good effect on them. They detest the place now. I guess if you were constantly told you were eating chicken feet chopped up into nuggets, you would think twice too eventually.
If the Baby Boomers are the first fast food generation at least because of the methods used and the minimum choices and the two-parent home where dinner was put on the table every night and the decent lunches packed for school, we shouldn’t suffer the effects too badly I hope. My concern is really the next generations where fast food was the staple of the day. Where there are no mothers at home cooking a hot nutritious meal and making sure you got at least part of the food pyramid in you. I tell my kids now when they refuse my food and go get some Styrofoam encased slop, at least I ‘ll be dead by the time that heart attack hits you at 30, the perks of having kids late in life. So what’s my point here? Good question. My point is this. We now have a world of mystery illnesses. Things that doctors today have no idea how to identify let alone treat. There is no more neat and simple cancer or old age or measles or mumps. I know because I have now joined those ranks.
It started about two years ago now. A strange ache here, a fleeting pain there. I will be calling my doctors by a number to protect the not so innocent and because I just love that old British TV show, The Prisoner. One thing I did every morning for several years was to walk for 40 minutes. It did not matter where in the world I was either. I opened my eyes and put on my sneakers. In September of 2017, I started to feel weird twinges in my right foot, but I had added Zumba to the repertoire to keep the weight off and figured I was just over doing it. A lifetime of flat feet did not help. By January, I was walking on glass or so it felt like in my right heel. So off to Doctor 1, I went. He diagnosed plantar fasciitis. Gave me stretches to do and sent me to physical therapy. I had to stop walking every morning. The fat knew it. I tried to keep it a secret as long as I could. But the fat found out and had a field day.
By March I joined the YMCA so that I could at least swim to get some exercise. The plantar screamed, the weight returned to the tune of half of the weight that I had lost two years before. Funny thing about weight: on the way down, the weight I was at felt great. But on the way up, the same weight felt like an anchor tied around my neck. I tried boots and DVDs and ice and more ice and nothing. I went to Italy and Barcelona dragging that foot along. As I told my doctor, I don’t do ill and I don’t do still.
On November 6, a day that will live in infirmary, I was at the Ahmanson Theater seeing Dear Evan Hansen. The play ended, I got up and it felt like my knee was cracking in half, literally. The pain was excruciating. I dragged myself to the car and hoped it would subside. It seemed OK if I was sitting but got worse lying down. At that very moment, my plantar fasciitis or Fascist foot, as I not so affectionately called it, was gone and I have never had it again so far. Knock on wood. Yes, you can imagine Doctor 2’s (orthopedic for knee) expression when I explained that. The incredulous eye roll was barely contained. MRIs and X-rays later and he says I have a little bit of this and a little bit of that in the knee. Nothing can be done, though, because fat people don’t tolerate knee surgery well. OK maybe not in those exact words, but the message was clear. So now, although my heel feels great, I still can’t go on my morning walks because my knees now won’t cooperate. Fun times. By now I hire a dog walker, an autistic 14 year old guitar playing teenager whose mom used to be on my PTA Board years ago and was quite annoying. Her kid is great and she tells me all the time how he really likes me. I tell her make sure he keeps playing that guitar. He does.
It’s now over a year later and besides the knee pain that has moved from one knee to the next, we’ve added bad ankles, tingling numbness on the side of my mouth every now and then, weird foggy brain and blurry vision that comes and goes. We’ve had sleep apnea maybe, not addressed in any successful way and so many doctors I can’t even remember half of them. My knees still hurt. The doctors, all eight of them, I think, shake their head: some in wonder, some in disgust. But I just plug along. I’ve dragged painful heels to Barcelona and Tuscany and a wounded knee to Liverpool and London with a sprinkling of trips to Manhattan in between. It doesn’t matter really. As long as you keep moving, I say, even if it is slow and painful most of the time. The neurologist says the tingling around the mouth is a migraine. But I have no headaches at all, Doc. O, that doesn’t matter, he says, they are silent migraines. Great! The ophthalmologist now says I have glaucoma but without high eye pressure. Well how is that possible? It is, he says, but offers no explanation about the blurry vision. Great! Now I have migraines with no headache and glaucoma with no bad eye pressure. Soon I’ll be dead but still breathing at the rate I’m going.
Let’s see, visits to an endocrinologist ruled out any thyroid problems, which is my disease of choice actually if I have to pick one, as at least it’s going to drop a few pounds off me. Diabetes blood tests continue to be normal and then some. MRIs on the head are out because A) I can’t tolerate them. B) brain tumors don’t have random moving symptoms. MRI on the back is out, which my gorgeous physical therapist says he thinks is the cause of my knee problems, because A) I can’t tolerate them and B) the old health insurance says I have to have therapy first. This from my golden government health insurance that would have paid even if I did surgery on myself. Go figure. I do miss my walks a lot. It was the best thinking time I ever had. Something about brisk walking and bright thinking that made my mornings so invigorating. Maybe I just have to accept the fact that, unlike Jerry’s kids, I’ll never walk well again. But I guess there are much worse things in life and much worse battles to fight in our old age.
POSTSCRIPT: Written before our current universal COVID malaise. It seems so quaint now in light of what came later. I post it anyway because it’s most important, I think, to remember and give credence to the aches and pains pre-COVID. They existed. Life existed. Let’s not forget that.
ONE MORE CUP OF COFFEE BEFORE YOU GO
Thank you Dear Reader for stopping by, if you like what you read and care to share some steam to keep me going, a cup of coffee is always welcome..