On a Trip, Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder and In the Strength of Your Shoulders

The rule in our house for travel has always been the same. Each person’s responsible for toting personal luggage. Unless I was eight months pregnant or in a full leg-cast with crutches, I knew my porter would be me.

This wasn’t a problem when we were young and usually schlepped backpacks. We traveled Europe with one each plus a tote bag. Even when we set off on cross-country car trips, we followed the rule. Small children were exempt, of course, but by about age eight, our kids quite competently managed their things.

However, a number of years ago I noticed the space for my clothes was contracting. I had to remove a pair of shoes here, an extra jacket there, first a swimsuit cover-up, then a fluffy bathrobe. What was happening? Was my luggage shrinking? Did my increased poundage result in enormous, space-eating outfits?

Then as I laid out the items I was packing in orderly heaps, I noticed an especially large mound. The load I mentally labeled “Health & Beauty,” ever since my time as a saleswoman at JC Penney’s decades before, surpassed all my clothing. What had happened? I knew I neither was using more makeup nor carrying additional beauty equipment.

More health items. More medicines. More paraphernalia to have on hand in case I threw a muscle out or strained a joint. Age had caught up with me. A short list:

  • Glucose for low blood sugar episodes.

  • Vitamins of all sorts

  • Prescriptions for me and my husband

  • Special washes and creams for skin conditions

  • Herbal and naturopathic supplement designed to reduce impact of viruses

  • A circular pillow that fit around my neck to ease naps while traveling

  • Elastic supports for knees

  • Several specially designed implements to keep decay and gum disease at bay

  • At least 9 pairs of glasses: reading, reading back-up, reading sun; same three for medium distance and far. Maybe some bifocals.

As I surveyed the piles, I realized I’d reached an age-stage. Just as babies need lots of extras, so do aging folks. One method to approximate someone’s age is to survey his luggage. If his health and beauty pile is larger than his clothing, he must be approaching 55 or 60. Ditto women even if their hair and lips appear like youngsters’.

I’m not alone in packing more items. My sister sometimes takes her sleep apnea equipment, which is at least the size of a shoe box. A woman I know can’t sleep unless she packs her special large pillows to cushion her body.

So what does this mean? Another example of age discrimination. Why can’t luggage limits be based on age and the amount of necessities? If the privilege of affordable housing can be given to those above a particular number of years, certainly airlines, trains and buses can waive the restrictions on baggage for us.

As for the practicalities of body strength, if we get tired of toting the extra weight, we can reduce the number of items we lug. To disguise the need for extra makeup we can wear concealing scarves, droopy hats, or extra-long bangs. To hide physical disabilities, opt for obscuring baggy clothing. Squint instead of packing extra glasses. Or just suffer discomfort without our extras.

Talk Is Cheap and We Get What We Pay For

Like the weather or football, when health’s the topic, we always have something to talk about. Especially as we mature. One stereotype of aging is that people talk more and more about their health, and not in a good or positive way. Apparently, we drone on to the point of boring our listeners. Why? Two possibilities: health preoccupies our time and our thoughts to a greater degree, or because we have fewer other interests.

Decades ago, after suffering through regular rounds of extreme boredom at family gatherings during which senior relatives delivered lectures about symptoms and treatments, I and my friends took oaths decades never to prattle on and on about our ills. In our smug superiority, this was our promise, yet our practice nowadays is to rush into a room with a litany of languishes. This doesn’t improve our conditions, it certainly fails the test of conversational interests, yet each of us can’t wait for the other to yield the floor so we can launch into our personal spiel. I know one woman who complains frequently about older friends that discuss health to exclusion of nearly every subject. When done with this, she promptly indulges in a recitation of every ache and each therapy she’s undergone in the past several months.

Why do we do this? None of us are doctors, so we can’t diagnose or relieve or provide a service, although we’re never prevented from expressing our opinions. In fact, we usually wind up trotting out every particle of information or opinion we’ve stumbled over related to a health condition. These may be contradictory, erroneous, or pea-brained. Makes no difference. Still fascinating. To us if not you.

Perhaps in this manner we enhance our friendships. Or air our secret fears. Or simply pass the time in a more appealing fashion than discussing the climate. However there should be limits. When someone complains of indigestion, surely no more than five or ten theories as to cause and effect are reasonable to explore in casual conversation. Apparently not. Gluten, wheat sensitivity, irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, appendicitis, acid reflux, lack of probiotics, food poisoning, various cancers, autoimmunity offer some of the possibilities. Every person we know has experienced one of these at some point. Even if not currently suffering from some ill, the equally interesting aspect of what we’ve done that’s led to our status.

Many suggestions (dare I say too many?) about what to do, what’s good, what’s a cure-all eat up as much chatter as complaints themselves. I’ve known supporters for a particular diet, say macrobiotic trot out an entire grocery list and menu plan, then threaten me with disaster if I don’t comply with their belief. Because health connects to all aspects of life, debates quickly expand to incorporate economics, government, art, and psychology, even death, because everyone dies from something.

My primary quarrel with heath as a topic of conversation lies in its tedium. People simply won’t turn off their repetitive, monotonous, self-centered spiels. I want to yell, “Someone turn on Wheel of Fortune!” I’m nearly ready to plead for politics as a replacement. Equally boring, but at least people get angry, hot under the collar, so the energy flows, and we just might be exposed to a new idea.

Like Tori Spelling, I’m Free of Ebola Symptoms, You’ll Be Relieved to Know

 sick womanPanic in the streets, at least according to reports online. The specter of Ebola has invaded the US, and people of reason as well as lack-of-reason want more information. One of the concerned individuals has been actress Tori Spelling, who was admitted to the hospital suffering “Ebola-like symptoms,” according to reports. Thankfully, the diagnosis eventually came up as bronchitis

I, too, have had a cough, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain. Wanting to be safe rather than sorry, I promptly self-isolated, remaining in my bed and the couch in my study round the clock, self-monitoring by taking my temp regularly, and ingesting lots of liquids (including wine spritzers). I’m happy to report the disappearance of all those symptoms, and I’ve declared myself free from the danger of Ebola. I also can report a dismal dearth of television series re-runs from the 1970s and 80s.

One disappointment, however, has been the lack of interest in my health, from the media, officials, and the public at large. My process mirrored much of Tori’s, and yet no articles have appeared about me. I certainly can use the attention as much as she, since sales of my new novel (Falling Like a Rock, Prism Book Group) have fallen off lately. Really, with all the depressing, sad, and evil happenings in the world, isn’t it time to offer some good news?

Guess I’ll have to track down her publicist and see if I can get some help.


Can poor health be a blessing in disguise?

I’ve begun asking myself this question as I faced some thorny changes in my own wellbeing, caused by nothing I did nor anything a doctor could pinpoint.  I’ve always been disgustingly fit with the exception of a little extra weight.  I gave up smoking years ago, ate well, and maintained a schedule of fairly active exercise.  In spite of doing all the right things, I developed an autoimmune condition (I refuse to call it a “disease”) affecting my legs, which no treatment can cure.

The first thing people usually do immediately after a confronting a negative situation like this—right after denial, of course—is to ask “why me?”  I skipped that stage, believing that most occurrences in life result from random chance rather than a superior being who’s directing the universe and is susceptible to appeals.  Still who can be happy if your body doesn’t respond to commands and discomfort is constant?  Not I.  

I do know that several broken bones and a major root canal convinced me that good health is better than any kind of drugs.  It’s the most important contributor to our quality of life.  So when I fell over cliff of a chronic ailment, I expected my life was pretty much ruined.  

I was wrong.  A chronic malady can bring unexpected benefits.  One is that I’ve learned to push through or over physical discomfort, a kind of personal challenge much like glorying in the labor and delivery of child birth.  Another is valuing the present moment while I still can move with some ease to take walks, ride bikes, and dance, which may be limited in the future.  

The biggest benefit is realizing that I’m experiencing a bit of what many people go through.  No longer do I pooh-pooh the pain of arthritis, question the distress of a bad back or knees, overlook the irritation of sinus problems.  These tribulations are part of the human condition for many, and I’m no longer exempt.  I understand my fellow creatures better.  

So I try to view my troubles as learning disguised as a life event.  And as long as they’re not life-threatening, I can deal with them. Would I react differently if my condition was portentous*? I’ll ponder that question next.  

*Portentous: very serious and significant, especially with regard to future events.