Friends, we need a national conversation. I’m not talking about a debate on how to improve American schools or slow global warming, close as these topics are to my heart. Another issue lurks and, like avocado toast and fidget spinners, it’s everywhere.
We all know that age 50 arrives with discounts that get deeper as you get older. They buffer some of aging’s agita, which I applaud. But I can live without people who think they’ve earned the right to kick off social interactions with an amuse-bouche itemizing chronic aches, pains, and procedures. Round and round the organ recital goes, every oldster taking a turn.
I know that rheumatism in your left pinky toe cramps your tango and that mammograms are a pain. I know that I should be vaccinated for shingles, pneumonia, and the flu. Yes, I’m astonished by invisible dental braces and cataract surgery that deep-sixes murky eyesight in eight minutes flat, just as I am impressed that Costco’s hearing aids are an even bigger bargain than its rotisserie chicken and Saigon cinnamon. And I know that at my age colonoscopies are a must-have. But I don’t have to hear about yours. Or yours. And yours. This surround-sound medical narration by the worried-well is bringing me down.
Personal bulletins often take an orthopedic tilt, particularly among men. Once the cocktails arrive and prior to former jocks talking sports, males invariably feel the need to launch into a comprehensive update on a body part they recently replaced, with titanium shoulders and knees heading the list. Details about doctors, nursing care, staph infections, copays, and physical therapy garnish the gabfest, which generally devolves into either where you can buy medical marijuana or a rundown of the constipation that accompanies pain-management drugs.
From here the bloviation moves on to who takes what meds and are they brand name, generic, or Canadian. And shall we discuss prostate ailments? That depends. Last week, my husband, bug-eyed, reported that a dignified attorney he’d met at a wake refused a glass of Bordeaux because, the fellow revealed, wine makes him leak.
Zip it, people. TMI.
With women, the pros and cons of bunion surgery are a biggie. Should you risk an operation that after months of hobbling and healing may still not get you back into an alternative to clown shoes? Tied for first place is the agony (lordy, the weight gain) and ecstasy of psycho-pharmaceuticals, along with reports on migraines, hip replacements, wacko thyroids, and the enduring mysteries of menopause. The only females who don’t chime in about face lifts we covet the way men do Barcaloungers are the smugly silent minority that has already benefited from nips and tucks.
Wait till she’s experienced a health crisis in her family, you’re thinking. She’ll change her tune. The fact is, in the last 10 years I’ve had my share. For starters, I’ve had breast cancer of the “triple negative” variety, since apparently plain negative wasn’t negative enough. This diagnosis was followed by a mastectomy and, later, breast reconstruction, neither of which was a day at the spa. Just as my scars faded from angry purple to a blushing rose, my husband had to face down two tricky open-heart operations. (He also evolved into Bad Patient Zero. That’s another story.) But none of this was a match for when our son, a recent college graduate, was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, soon after completing a triathlon to raise money to fight blood cancers. The irony was the least of it.
Throughout the soul-wrenching blows, I was profoundly grateful for emotional support from loved ones and acquaintances alike. Their calls, visits, and caring gestures were almost as crucial as health insurance in allowing the three of us to make it through. The compassion I was shown taught me valuable life lessons in how to be present for others who wake to the challenge of living nightmares.
Mercifully, everyone in my family is healthy now. Physician appointments for the three of us, however, come around with the regularity of an American Express bill and provide all the reminders I need of our collective medical history. The last thing I want when I meet friends for pizza is a long-form Amber Alert about mortality.
I get that I may not live to 100 — or even 70. I also get that I am aging. But this is not the same thing as acting old. We all have an option. We can pile onto an obligatory group weather report about medical woes. Or not.
I think not, which is why I have a solution. Going forward, in social situations, merrymakers will be allowed 90 seconds to download about health. After that, they can text, phone, e-mail, Instagram, blog, create a podcast, or write their memoirs to detail the granular minutiae of their bodily misadventures. I promise to pay close attention. In addition, they can join support groups, whose benefits are well documented. But when people gather for fun, they must speak exclusively of other topics.
Shall we discuss the president?Sally Koslow’s fifth novel, “Another Side of Paradise,” about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham, will be published by Harper in 2018. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.