As most of you know, my mom is 80. Andrea and I frequently remark that she may outlive us both although she has reached the age of 80 without a lot of physician intervention.
Recently, I remark to mom, “I always say that to Andrea – you’ll outlive us and I’ll die of something weird in spite of keeping up with my annual physicals, mammograms, pap smears.”
“Pap smear… I’ve had a pap smear.” Mom assures.
“When?! In 1974 after I was born?”
“Mmmm…. possibly.” Mom replies, “It’s the way I grew up. We had to get our shots to go to school – so we went to the doctor then. If you were sick, you put Vick’s on and stayed in bed.”
I’m not sure when I became vigilant about going to the doctor but I suspect it was when I left home since the Army sees to it that you keep on top of those things. I recall being stationed in South Korea and developing a very bad stomachache. I ended up being taken to the doctor by my First Sergeant, a tall Hispanic man with ceaseless patience. He waited anxiously while an Army doctor x-rayed my stomach.
The Army doc re-entered the room I was in and tossed the x-ray pic up, flipping the light to illuminate the picture. “See this?” He had pointed wryly.
“Yes! What is that?” I ask, leaning toward the picture with genuine concern.
“It’s a bowel movement. From the looks of it, you haven’t gone in days.”
I re-entered the crowded waiting room and my First Sergeant exclaims, “What is it?!” I mumbled something about not wanting to discuss it, as if that’s an option in the Army and walk outside to wait by the Humvee. I imagine the Army doc telling him that I was full of shit. Literally.
“These people where I live – they talk about their doctors. You know where I met my doctor? When I had a heart attack. That’s where I met my internist and my cardiologist.” Mom goes on, adding, “And the surgeries! One person who lives in my building has had 35 surgeries! Do you even have that many body parts?”
I laugh and mom says, “And a colonoscopy. Never had one of those either – my doctor had told me there’s another way to do it. They ship your shit off for testing. I did that.”
I had recently experienced two bad stomachaches and seen my doctor, only to learn I shouldn’t eat within two hours of bedtime, indigestion is to blame. Had I ever had a colonoscopy? No.
“The recommended age is now 45. I’ll write you a referral.” My doctor offered, “They’ll call you.” And they do, repeatedly the next week, until I relent and make an appointment. They call in a prescription to my CVS for the prep. I toss the bag on our small kitchen table. Andrea reads the directions to me in horror. It sounds terrible which is precisely why I had not read the directions. A colleague at work recently had his first colonoscopy and he had taken the day off of work. I ask if he felt that was necessary and he very delicately points out that I will basically be up all night, shitting, so taking the day is prudent. I inform mom that the recommended age for a colonoscopy has been dropped to 45, meaning I’m overdue.
“Yeah – they did that to make money.” Mom says pointedly, “Lowered the age.” Mom isn’t a conspiracy theorist until it comes to medicine.
After mom’s 80th birthday, my niece, brother, mom and I sat at the table and caught up. I can’t recall how mom introduced this topic of conversation, but she asked, “Have you ever seen that commercial? The one with the bent carrot? It represents a guy's you know what.”
“What?!” I exclaim. I felt I was in the minority of people who had not seen this commercial and wonder what’s going on in the Midwest. I quickly google the commercial and learn that this is the case, a bent carrot for bent you know whats. I didn’t realize bent you know whats was a thing but apparently it is – I guess that makes sense. I have a bent toe from stubbing it, years ago, while vacationing in Maine. I'd broken it on the deck. I imagine a man stubbing his you know what... it could happen.
Side effects of prescription drugs are one of mom’s favorite topics. I learn that the bent carrot drug is called Xiaflex and the possible side effects include, “Pain, swelling, bruising, bleeding, redness, itching at or around the injection site may occur.” I’m not certain where this medication is injected but when it’s injected into the hand, you’re to be on the lookout for, “Swollen, painful areas in the elbow and underarm (swollen lymph nodes).”