©Evan Nichols, 2009

©Evan Nichols, 2009

Preventive medicine sucks.  After a certain age, all we need is comfort.  Comfort does not include tests that tell us yes, we are going to die and here’s what from.  After a while there just aren’t any more shoes to be dropped so turn up the morphine and wave goodbye.  You don’t even have to say It’s been good knowing you because it probably hasn’t.  You don’t have to say See you soon because you won’t.  Pull the plug and be done with it.  Don’t forget to turn off the light.  Shut the door.

My God, it’s one colonoscopy after another!  Mammagrams, barium enemas, skin scans—who ever heard of that?!  Osteopoenia? Who needs to know?!  Pap smears?  Please.  And what about those moles?  One more biopsy and I’m turning Christian Science.

Diet and exercise.  I have been on a diet for seventy years.  When I was not on a diet, I was preparing to go on a diet by getting fat.  I did this by eating food I loved: mayonnaise, butter, and mashed potatoes.  No weight-loss diet allowed for any of those things so I learned, for brief periods, to tolerate green leafy vegetables and uncooked fruit, though only after Sister Kenny cured polio.  Way back then I didn’t want to get put into an iron lung so I didn’t swim in public pools either.  But I’m not young now and, while an iron lung still doesn’t sound like where I’d like to be, at least it’s lying down and you don’t have to exercise.  Plus, I bet they wouldn’t deny you mashed potatoes.

Exercise is good.  You can’t get enough of it.  Which is the problem.  There’s no end to it; you can never say, There, I’m done.  Because no, here comes another preventive medicine exercisist—young, taut and doomed like the rest of us—to insist that just a few minutes a day will add years of enjoyment to our otherwise dreary old age.  A few hours, maybe.  The thing about these exercisists is that they’re never satisified.  It’s always, “Now, let’s try this,” and suddenly she’s making you shut your eyes and there you are weaving back and forth, clutching the back of a chair, trying not to fall into the person in front of you who is worse off than you.  Why would anybody in his or her right mind get herself into a situation like this?  It’s not as if you’re going to regain your power of balance or get strong and flexible again; it’s that by doing these exercises you won’t get worse.  There’s something to be said for worse, let me tell you, especially if getting better means not good but less worse, which it does.  Worse, worser, worst: take your pick.  (What did I just say?)

I’m not buying any of those memory game shucks either.  One of the advantages of old age is that you can forget a lot of things you never wanted to remember in the first place.  Does it really matter what day it is?  Who cares how long it takes to find your glasses or your keys or your other shoe?  If you’re not exercising you’ve got plenty of time to bat around your house cursing the person who misplaced all the things you need.  Adult children and grandchildren are handy for blame, just don’t say it out loud, they’re busy pretending you’re fine and that the lean-to your son-in-law is building out back of his house is for the dog.

So now, here is the solution to all this ruckus.  For the cost of one MRI you could get 50 good psychiatrists to sit and listen to you right up to the very end.  They could, at the very least, keep your children out of the room.  Children have got to be the least helpful of all when it comes to the End.  Even if they never liked you all that much in the first place, even if they have made your entire life hell—and you theirs—they’re going to lose it bedside.  All the stuff they never said, like I love you anyway, Mom, will stick in their craw until years later when they find a way to pass all that junk on to their own kids.  If you can manage to say, “I forgive you,” that’s no help either.  “For what?!” they’ll think in their heads.  “It wasn’t me who ….!”  No Children Allowed.  Every sick room should have that sign on the door.

A psychiatrist or a psychologist or a therapist—a good one—knows what to do and will do it without complaining or arguing or bawling.  He or she will listen.  He will listen when you’re talking and when you’re not.  He will hear what you are saying even when you can’t.  He will understand and never judge.  He will not go to pieces in front of you; he will not get mad at you.  He has seen, in his relatively short life, more pain and suffering than will ever beset you in this room; you cannot embarrass him.  You cannot shock himr.   He will not berate you or laugh at you or blame you for dying.  He will not call the cops on you.  He might, just might, say something like, “Would you mind if I took that ‘No Children Allowed’ off your door?”  Given the lateness of the hour, you’d probably say okay. Then finally, after everybody has gone, he’ll turn up the morphine, turn off the lights and shut the door. Now that’s good medicine.

©Jane Juska, 2009

Born in 1933, Jane Juska is an old person but a new writer.  Her first book, A Round-Heeled Woman, was published in 2003, followed in 2006 by Unaccompanied Women.  Before that, she taught English for forty years in high school, college, and prison.  Her work has appeared in magazines and anthologies.  She is working on a novel.  The Summer Institute of 1982 is responsible for all this.

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6 Responses to “Preventive Medicine Sucks by Jane Juska”

  1. Barbara Sawyer Says:

    Jane,

    I love your sentiments.I, too, am old now, and I think you have got it right.

    Was it 1982 that we were in Bay Area Writing Project together? I remember it as a turning point in my life. It changed my whole way of teaching, which I am still doing.

    I loved your “Round Heeled Woman” book and still recommend it to my friends.

    I think and, actually, talk of you often.

    Best to you,

    Barbara Sawyer

  2. jane juska Says:

    o Barbara, how nice to hear from you! Whenever I drive up behind the Claremont I think of you and how you’re still there even though i know you’re not. 1982 was a turning point in my life, too; I’m just not sure in what direction.

  3. Beth Says:

    I am so lucky to have read your first book and find you online to thank you for such amazing insight to the way things were. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, when “The Joy of Sex” and “Everything you always wanted to know about sex” were on my parent’s bookshelf. I learned to masturbate before I knew the word. I got the Pill at the University Health Service, so mom and dad didn’t know. I had a series of lovers in my 20’s, but did not marry until I met a man who made sure I came first every time. After two children and menopause, I found my libido lagging, so I sought out a solution in the form of an estrogen patch. And then I found your book and learned not to take any of this for granted.
    Please keep writing.
    And thank you.

  4. Beth Says:

    P.S. Congratulations on the play!

  5. jan Says:

    Dear Jane,

    I’ve just finished unaccompanied women after reading A Round-Heeled Woman. I so appreciate your story, your humor and your take on situations.

    In addition to the play, I feel your stories deserve the cinema. I see Meryl Streep or Helen Mirren playing you as you are so lovely. I think Nancy Meyer or Nora Ephron would be good directors to do right by your story. Will the play go on the road?

    Most of all, I want to hear that you’ve resolved your living situation. Are you still in the little cottage or have you been able to secure something else that keeps you in your loved stomping ground? I am facing ‘roof over my head’ decisions and am curious how you have faired.

    Thank you ever so much for writing. I had many laugh out loud moments reading them and was very touched as well. I hope you continue publishing forever. This piece here is oh so familiar to so many!!!

  6. pk Says:

    I so enjoyed your books—A round heeled woman and unaccompanied women—
    But..I love exercise…don’t do it for weight, but I love doing it as well as the results…I realize most people don’t. For me a good exercise session is better than sex…and I like sex…And I agree…they’re over-treating older people to death…In many ways harming them with radiation..MRI’s, scans…And keep up the terrific work…Age and seasoning mean a lot…I think your writing shows that.
    And another hint for women looking for men…HUNT ALONE!!! Don’t hunt is gaggles..it terrifies the “prey”–Merci for the fun books..I look forward to buying your next…

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