February 12, 2005

Are you my mother?

Part I
It must be very strange, one of my friends reminded me, to look at your reflection and not recognize yourself. I'm not quite sure that's how my mother feels. I gather she recognizes herself, but in the most unflattering of lights. When she asked me, four weeks post-op, I told her she looked like a younger version of herself, very pretty, but with traces of battered wife syndrome.

The swelling is supposed to go down completely in three to six months. I can't wait. Until then, to see it scares me. My mom's face looks as puffy as if someone attacked her. You can cover bruises with makeup (and well concealed the purpling and green marks are), but you can't make the swelling disappear.

I have picked up friends from much stranger places than the cosmetic surgeons' office. It's almost all out-patient these days. I never ask any medical questions, for I don't want to hear the gory commentary. I ask about the pain pills instead.

What gives me away as an amateur doctor is that although I have pharmaceutical knowledge by the ton and through the ages, actual surgical situations that require incisions, blood loss and stitches are ones I have never experienced. Should I ever be in such a predicament, I have five words of instruction: "wake me when it's over." Make that eight: "more medication, please."

I know the vocabulary: years of TV shows from Ben Casey and Marcus Welby to ER, Chicago Hope, and Strong Medicine, plus reruns have taught me how to identify a subdermal hepatoma, stop a patient from bleeding out (and what the proximate causes might be), revive one who is in defib, recognize malignant spots and complex fractures exhibited on X-rays, find a fetus, dead or alive, on the sonogram, and cite indications of a possible head injury, among other things.

I've learned the Latin for anatomical terms and procedures, and when to call in more specialists than I previously knew existed. I would not, however, do well as a Lamaze coach, harkening back to my more-medication plea and the historical knowledge that Queen Victoria considered anesthesia a great scientific advance for women in labor.

(I neglected Latin during my academic career, and, with my lab partner, refused to dissect our etherized frog in high school biology. We claimed that dissecting an animal constituted cruelty to the species. We neglected to say we were carnivores who coveted our mothers' mink coats -- then again, no one was asking.)

I joke that my next college reunion will be the Botox one. There's a wrinkle bisecting my forehead that I wouldn't mind losing, at least for a short time. I can see where, ten years from now, a tuck or two wouldn't be amiss. Yet my 25+ year migraine history causes me to make it a point never to volunteer for pain. At the same time, the French have summed up the female dilemma for eternity: Il faut souffrier pour etre belle. The question for me is, how much?


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