A 70-year-old reader called me and asked,”Have you ever thought about writing a column about the things that old people have to deal with?” She went on to detail her experiences in Walmart in the aisle for feminine hygiene products, things she never expected to need again once menopause had become a fading memory.
In the aisle, she encountered several other ladies her age, also furtively lingering and finally, she said, realizing they were all there for the same purpose, they began to compare notes.
“We talked about product structure, which ones worked, which ones were worthless and what we had to do to save our dignity. We were laughing about it. I couldn’t have laughed about it five years ago,” she said.
I’m not sure I can laugh about it now. Perhaps there’s a reason in Health class that only some of the changes your body will experience are explained to students. After the dry, but titillating facts about sexual maturity and the designed-for-terror statistics about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and substance abuse, Health class pretty much glosses over everything else, as if nothing more of interest is going to happen.
You don’t learn, for example, that it’s entirely possible to have acne again when you’re 45 and that zits will be competing with wrinkles for space on your face. Male pattern baldness is alluded to in Health class, but who tells you that the hair you lose on your head will reappear in unfortunate places like your ears, nose and eyebrows?
Macular degeneration and loss of hearing are the reasons your grandmother is wearing those huge black sunglasses that wrap around her head and Grandpa keeps telling you to stop mumbling and has worn out the volume button on his remote — other facts skipped by Health class.
Walkers that get stuck on the escalator, weight that stays the same as when you were 40 but has redistributed itself in different places, and print that grows ever smaller are not the stuff of Health class. Who would have believed at 15 that those things would ever happen?
We joke about people wearing Depends, but what happens when you’re the one cruising around in Walmart’s personal hygiene aisle or trying to slither past the door checker at Costco with a huge box?
Everyone knows that the elderly become fuzzy-minded. Anyone who can actually figure out which Medicare prescription plan to sign up for, fill out the reams of paperwork for even the most minor of medical procedures and keep track of the times and amounts to take 22 different prescription medicines is not fuzzy-minded.
Bette Davis is often quoted as saying, “Old age ain’t for sissies,” and she was entirely correct. My older friend said it’s become so bizarre that she just has to laugh about it and one day, I hope I will too.
Things change and so do we — all our lives. Health class neglected to tell us that change accelerates with age and only the brave and hardy can keep pace with it. If you’re 80 and teasing your bridge partners about needing Braille playing cards or giving a prize for the person who left the table to use the restroom the greatest number of times, you’re in a select group of brave and hardy souls. Good company.
For the rest of us, we better keep our eyes open and our mouths shut. Sally, this one’s for you.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.