Aging Part 2: The numbers game

I have a followup appointment in February for a recheck on my cholesterol, which is, of course, currently too high. My doctor is a dear and very comprehensive, but I'm afraid right now my health care concern (besides the mysterious thyroid nodule) is essentially reduced to two numbers - total cholesterol 259 and LDL 179. Until February at least, that's where the focus will be.

I am intrigued by the commercials for cholesterol-lowering medications where the participants have their cholesterol numbers taped to their chests, especially the one where the man tries outrun his number but it catches up with him and attaches itself securely to his shirt.

In my profession of medical transcription, it certainly can be a numbers game. When dictators get going with lab tests and such, numbers and discussion of numbers can easily take up half a patient's report. In my case, it's the cholesterol and the size of the thyroid nodule. In Ed's case, it's blood sugar. The pronouncement of his hemoglobin A1c (the test that gives the doctor an idea of what his blood sugar has been running for the last 3 months) is the highlight of his office visit. Ed knows that a sense of jubilation or utter failure will descend on him when he leaves that office, according to the number. He can't hide from the number. It squeals on him.

Add to our specific problem numbers other important numbers - the numbers of temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respirations, and - of course, I wouldn't forget this one - the almighty weight, or the new variation thereof, BMI.

I am not suggesting that to our physicians we are only a conglomeration of numbers; on the contrary, the numbers are the tools they need to make diagnoses and plan care.

I am suggesting, however, that how we feel about our own numbers, specifically our ages, may have some bearing on how we make our own diagnoses and plan our own care. And here, my acquaintance Rod's favorite word comes in - judgment. Boy, it's not nice to make judgments about other people, but you can really get into trouble when making them for yourself!

On an MT site I frequent, there is a recent discussion of age and what it means to get older. It runs the gamut, of course, for everything is relative. I write about what life is like at 51, and another lady is scared of turning 40, and yet another lady is already disgusted with photos of herself at 36. (Message to Rod: As pretty as the sequoia trees are, and as peaceful as you are with the aging concept - those are trees and you are a male and it is somewhat different for women in our culture. This is not to say that is a good or bad thing, but it is different.)

However, numbers do not create our identities. Neither do a lot of other things.

I think the problem so many women have with empty nest syndrome is that their whole identities have been based on their role as "full-time mothers." All of a sudden, they have to find out their true identity not based on a role. We read about problems with women identifying only with their profession - then they lose that or retire and have to rethink who they are. She might be a wife and then the word "widow" suddenly defines her to the world. Even Hollywood actresses have a hard time with the transition from "cover girl" to "character actress."

Have you ever heard someone discuss aging and say, "At age ___ I came into my own"? I always thought that expression was strange. Came into my own? My own what? The more I think about it, the more it sounds like identity to me. She came into her own identity - she realized who she really was - outside of the numbers, the roles she played in life, the labels society had given her, the fears that had ruled her. She came into her own wisdom, her own sense of power and accomplishment, her acceptance of the past and contentment regarding the future. She came into the knowledge that she can flow with changes and transitions and come out with her true self intact.

"I'm coming into my own." I like that. Now to work on that cholesterol...