Strange Passages

we have strange rites of passage these days . . .

how do we mark the end of our youth, the entry
to the end of being fertile, the shimmery promise

we may yet become the wise woman, i wish we
painted our cheeks red and danced with a drum

around a red and orange fire until we were too
exhausted to go further, but instead i find myself

alone staring at the faint hues of blue and dark
black above both breasts that are not only the

reminders of my first mammogram.

we have strange rites of passage these days . . .


Dear Nitty,

Your poem about the marker event of a mammogram hit home. It's true that, nowadays, more often than not, it's the occurrence of medical experiences that wakes us up to where we are on the chronological continuum. It's also probably just as true that we are herded into diagnostic experiences way before we like to think it necessary. I don't know about your generation, but mine slipped through all sorts of health care cracks only to be finally corralled in an age-related roundup aimed at those in the 6th decade. Walk through that door and you're automatically asked if you pee in your pants when you sneeze and do you do sufficient structured exercise?

Walking the dog doesn't count and neither does housework. Like an idiot, I admit to some passivity with regards to getting off my ass. Admit these days to a MD that you partake of nothing gymnastically organized and you're likely as not to receive admonishment by word or attitude. I get points for not smoking and drinking and for being thin, but that's it. It's demoralizing to be held responsible for one's condition, as if heredity doesn't have a hell of a lot to do with it.

I understand I'm a product of my generation. My expectations regarding health care are pathetically out-dated. Now it's take a number, fill out the forms, and wait an hour for your ten minutes of assembly-line consultation. Problem is, I still think in terms of being a whole person with a history. I am regarded, however, as a problem encased in a structure that's been around since 1936. This "problem," then, is rapidly zeroed in on and a protocol of procedures and solutions is unleashed--and I do mean unleashed. Nowadays, technology is wonderful, there's no getting around that.

The HMO's have made it necessary for doctors to relate in a highly focused and brisk way. I don't hold it against them; that's the way the world works. It is, however, unsettling and unfortunate that the only company we are to experience as we move along the diagnostic escalator is the hum and bink-bonk of the machines that tell us where we stand vis-a-vis the functioning of a specific part of our bodies. And you, dear Nitty, you are treading meekly on the hallowed ground given to those with a history dating back to somewhere in the fifties. You will color all your future medical moments with the built in reflections that inevitably accompany the big 40. You, my friend, see your youth going, whereas I, even without my glasses, see the end coming. Everything that happens now only serves to confirm our melancholic reflections as we sit those endless hours in waiting rooms flipping through magazines that we wouldn't be caught dead reading elsewhere.

The future, on the other hand, is bright, Nitty. Fairly soon we will not have to subject our bodies to the "take a number" waiting room game. A little bit of our blood delivered to the lab will tell all. Funny thing is, though, in this life that we lead in this humming culture, the time will come when this will be seen as a loss. I see the elderly (defined as anyone older than I am) who gladly take themselves to the waiting chambers, for it is there that they are allowed respite from the routines and renunciations of their weakened circumstances.

. . . we have strange rites of passage these days . . .


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