Sometimes I wish you were a gerontologist instead of a pediatrician. I have so many medical questions. These days I am puzzled by recurring incomprehensible conditions that I did not anticipate as I moved toward normal old-womanhood. Normal? Well, old womanhood, anyway. Like the most frequent and annoying one: why do I keep misplacing my glasses? What started twenty years ago as an occasional and amusing foible, has turned into a major quest. I need my glasses only for reading and close work. I cannot wear them on a ribbon around my neck because they get in the way. So after I use them. I remove them and put them down carefully each time resolving to remember where I placed them. I can’t ever find them without a hassle. (I actually totally lost a pair of glasses in my own apartment recently the day before I had to fly to North Dakota and give a speech from notes.) Panic ensued and I hastily bought a second pair? Why can’t I remember a delegated site?
What happened to the clear soft body skin that was mine? It has changed and is dotted with various spots – which doctors euphemistically call “benign” growths. I find nothing benign in their presence and I’d love them to vanish. My enemies should all live long enough to cultivate such “benign” growths.
What causes my urinary tract to celebrate my successful arrival at a destination by threatening to burst? On completing errands, either long or short, as I accomplish the last chore I feel a sudden desperate need for indoor plumbing. An imminent flood is the clear danger. No matter how carefully I prepare for this eventuality beforehand, it happens. How does my urinary tract know I’m almost there, and why can’t it be civil and wait a few minutes more?
Why do people whom I clearly recognize often remain nameless long into conversations with me unless they immediately identify themselves loudly? I know them but their names are lost in my brain. Often I can predict what they’ll say – the bores, particularly, who ride their same hobbyhorses – but their names have disappeared. I don’t usually lose verbs or adjectives. Are nouns different from other parts of speech? Why do the nouns disappear? Where do they go?
Why do I wake at dawn though I’d love to sleep later. I often have no pressing engagement in the morning. All my adult life was spent raising a family and commuting and working – I had to rise early and hurry. Now that I can idle I am up and alert at daybreak. In winter it is especially pointless for someone who no longer can see comfortably enough to read in bed to awaken early.
Finally, there’s the puzzling challenge of vocabulary; critical words elude as I talk. I know exactly the words I want, and they are somewhere in the recesses of my brain. but they refuse to emerge and allow me to finish my thoughts. I spent an hour-long bus trip yesterday trying to recall the name of – an ailment I’d once had – a dreadfully itchy back with a widespread bubble-like rash. The disease’s name just would not surface.
“Shingles,” my son remembered immediately on hearing my dilemma and then he helpfully suggested a mnemonic device. “Think of rooftops and you’ll have it, Mom.” So this morning I tested his idea. But first I had to remember the mnemonic device he’d provided. When rooftops finally surfaced I was pleased. Ah ha, I had a workable system! So I concentrated on rooftops and brilliantly retrieved: slate, tile, stucco, cement, thatch, and tar – and only after several frustrated hours later, shingles.
I know about brain cells diminishing. I also know about the diminution of the chemicals that feed those cells. So — if I am so well informed on the subject you may be wondering why I relentlessly pursue it.
I forget why.