Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Middle Ages

“I like middle age.  There’s no time for bulls**t.”
                             -famed Romance novelist Gwyn Cready

No, this is not a history lesson.  Bad history teachers in high school turned me permanently away from studying any history beyond the state required American History in senior year.  I still have nightmares that I never took a history class.  Subsequent scary stories of people camping out to get a particular history professor in college also turned me away. I was never into idol worship. I read history on the sly now.  No tests involved. No grades to be worried about. Sam Cooke was right:  "Don’t know much about history"…..Well, maybe. Just don’t test me.

No, this is about Middle Age, the time when you are numerically a bit past the mid-part of life. Think of the Roman God Janus, where the name of the month January is derived. He is two-faced, looking ahead yet also looking back.  He symbolizes transitions, doorways, and thresholds. January happens to be my birth month. What irony. My next birthday is not going to be pretty.  It’s a pivotal one.  Not for the faint-hearted.  Suddenly, I am old.  I get AARP mailings. 

I worry about the things most middle-aged women worry about.  Aging certainly has its advantages but obvious disadvantages. Two-faced Janus again.  You think more, are less judgmental, less critical and sometimes learn to keep your mouth shut.  You are open to more things. You are less tolerant of other things. But then you look at yourself.  The wrinkles stare back.  You entertain the thought of plastic surgery but fear you will end up looking worse then when you started.  I think of Priscilla Presley.  Yikes. Good thing Elvis is dead or her plastic face would have killed him by now. Your body doesn’t feel nor act the same way anymore.  Besides the menopausal nonsense, clothes don’t fit as well, shoes seem to get flatter and uglier.  Forget the “F**k-me” pumps for so, so, so many reasons. Manolo Blahniks?  Anyone who would spend greater than $400 on one pair of shoes needs to have a bridge sold to them. You dread having to shop with your teenage daughters.  Forever 21? No one stays 21 forever, my dear.

Careers start to change.  You reach a certain point and wonder if I will be doing this same thing for the next 17-20 years. Some people in my profession start to think about not recertifying in their specialty, contemplating the end of careers. Given the direction of American Medicine, I don’t blame them. It’s easy choosing that route given that recertification now requires so many steps. Ultimately, it ends with fingerprinting, photographs and now palm imprints every time you sign into the exam after breaks.  Not fun but probably necessary. Some pre-meds never grow up.

Should I have been more open to other things in college, not only history, but other subjects instead of having pre-med tunnel vision?  I took a course in economics a few years ago.  I stayed away from Econ in college.  It was a typical introduction to Macro and Micro-economics at the local state university.  I loved the courses.  I got a very satisfying A in both. Goody for me. But did I really learn to maximize my utility? 

Many people get sick, really sick.  Slowly, you hear of friends undergoing real illnesses and dying.  As a young physician, you always seemed somehow protected from illness. You studied the enemy for years, witnessed its formidable consequences and someone else's research gave you the tools to fight.  It was always them not me. Not so much anymore.  Those tables are turned now. We are the ones with the cholesterol in the 200’s, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, obesity, and osteoarthritis.  We vainly try to stave off these maladies by suddenly eating right and exercising. It helps, but it's just one more minute-to minute struggle and regret of the years when we ate foolishly and sat on our asses.  The clock is ticking. You can’t drown out the noise.

Our parents are leaving us just as our children exhaust us.  Sometimes, you are no longer someone’s child anymore.  Not truly an orphan but you miss their remembrances and guidance even if it involved screaming matches and fist-pounding. You have stepped up to the front of the line whether you like it or not. If that’s not enough, you parent the next generation.  Now two sets of child-like behaviors to worry about.  There’s nothing like the ends of the driving spectrum to keep you up at night: a newly minted 16 year old driver and a 92 year old aunt who just renewed her license.  I am not sure which one is the scarier. At least my aunt doesn’t know how to text and drive.

Many marriages don’t survive this reflective time or in the ones that appear happy, there seems to be an undercurrent of self-doubt.   The old Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is?” comes to mind.  Maybe there is more out there?  Maybe there’s more in here? Maybe “just keep dancing...... and break out the booze and have a ball, if that’s all, there is.”

Maybe I do know something about history Mr. Cooke.  Mine certainly. I have seen my past and it doesn’t predict the future.  I am old now. Not sure I like it yet though. Time to grow up. No more bulls**t. If that’s all there is.

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