Growing Old

LAKE CLARKE SHORES, FL — The waiting room for my mother’s new Mohs surgeon is like an illustration for the aphorism “Growing old ain’t for sissies.” Nearly everyone there when we walked in today wore a big bandage on his or her face. The only ones who didn’t were the people who had accompanied them there. All the bandaged people were old and very pale. All were sitting there around a table covered with magazines, looking like nothing had happened. If that had been a room full of children wearing bandages like that the din of hysteria would have been deafening. If it had been adults in the prime of life mirrors reflecting grimaces of pain would have been part of the picture. Everyone with a bandage also had a cane or a walker, though, and this was a still life of stoicism.

The nurse called my mother’s name, she went in and emerged shortly with a big bandage. Then she sat down and waited. The way Mohs surgery — excising basal cell carcinomas — works is that the doctor removes some suspicious tissue, examines it, usually removes more, examines that, and that can go on several more times until instead of any suspicious tissue there is a great big gaping bloody wound instead, which at the end of the whole ordeal, like a graduation ceremony the doctor stitches up. My mother has had more of these than I can count, has somehow retained her extraordinary good looks, and is somehow able to make herself continue to go back and having more of these done. The alternative would be that it continues to spread, possibly settling into bone and eventually necessitate more disfiguring surgery. My mother has had this great number of basal cell carcinomas because her skin is suited to Ireland where her anceestors survived and bred, but she grew up in California. It also is her reward for living long. She is 87, has lived longer than anyone in her family that we know of, and has outlived all her relatives of her generation — her younger brother, two cousins with whom she was raised and her husband. She has reaped rewards for living that long — a great love (who sadly also predeceased her), the chance that gave her to learn to enjoy companinonship, the satisfaction of helping, well earned leisure, the chance to see the world improve in some ways and to become more open-minded on some topics herself.

In addition to the sad obsolete experience of outliving people, she has paid the prices of infirmity and some dependence. She has become a target of condescension. A waitress shouted into her ear as we entered a restaurant recently “Good morning Sweetheart,” earning a wondering glare, an entire staff at one doctor’s office spoke only to me about “her” as if she was drooling on herself in the corner, and a huge number of people who don’t know her at all tell me how “sweet” she is, which she is sometimes, but we all know what that means.

We don’t go to that doctor’s office anymore, and quickly boycott any other where we sense a hint of the same. So we like this doctor’s office because no one called her sweetheart or talked to me instead of her, or offered to help her when she didn’t need it even. All good. But some coffee, pastries, perhaps some comfortable recliners, and a less over-booked schedule that kept us there all afternoon would have been nice. Even if growing old ain’t for sissies, it merits an attempt to provide rewards in balance with its trials.


One Response

  1. I know all too well what the waiting room for Mohs surgery looks like. However, from my vantagepoint, I was the youngest of all the gray headed patients in there. At 48 yrs of age, I sat there with much older people and they were looking at me with pity and saying poor dear, how young to be here. I totally agree with you that it would’ve been nice to have some pastries for us while we had our surgery and waited to go back again for more. It’s been 7 weeks now since the surgery but feels like a lifetime ago.

    Thanks for your post on this subject, you never know who you’ll touch.


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