Perhaps it’s the weather, the stresses of parenting, Brexit, or my steadily expanding waistline, but this autumn I’ve been feeling a little glum. What’s there to look forward to, I moan to myself as I get out of bed in the morning, shouting at my offspring to do the same. When even an episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah fails to lift my spirits, something is definitely not right.
Is it a midlife crisis, I wonder and as if the universe has conspired against me in that very moment an email arrives from the Swedish publishing house that pays my meagre salary: they’ve got a book for me to read asap. The topic of the book: midlife!
But rewind a few days: last week I went to see an ear, nose and throat consultant to find out if anything could be done about my poor hearing and breathing difficulties, both issues arising from having been born with a cleft lip and palate. I’ve got my hearing aids of course, which I regularly ‘forget’ to use because they make my ears itch, but I’d read somewhere that surgical intervention might be able to restore some of my lost hearing.
Dr H was a lovely, slightly awkward doctor in his late fifties and though he was most charming to me, the manner in which he spoke about my past cleft-related surgeries made me feel less like a woman and more like an object. Shining a torch into my wide-open mouth, he remarked, “ah, they did a good job repairing your palate I must say. Not bad, not bad at all.” I smiled uncertainly, not sure whether to take his comment as a compliment or as an insult.
Peering into my nostrils he then sighed, “nothing can be done to improve the nasal passage, I’m afraid. Rhinoplasty on cleft patients is a tricky matter and if you’ve done it once you don’t want to try again or your nose could end up looking like this,” he said and pressed his nose down with a finger. “Besides,” he continued in a more upbeat tone, “the shape of your nose matches your face nicely.” Right, I thought, my wonky nose suits my wonky face, what’s not to like?
But seriously, why is it that doctors, whether or not they’re specialist in anything cleft-related, never think twice about how they address appearance-related issues with me? I was born with a cleft, sure, but I am also a 45-year-old woman with feelings, sensitivities, ego (and possibly a midlife crisis). I am not a specimen to be studied, prodded and evaluated, except that’s exactly how I begin to feel in the presence of these kinds of doctors.
I had a similar experience last month when visiting the hospital for an appointment with a gastrointestinal surgeon. I’d been referred to him because of recent problems stemming from an oesophageal birth defect. On meeting me, the elderly doctor’s face lit up like that of a little child who’s just received his dream present at Christmas. The present, of course, was me, a middle-aged woman with a history of oesophageal atresia with long-term complications. A perfect candidate for his research study, in other words. Not that I necessarily mind being part of a larger medical research project if it can be of any benefit to future patients, but please treat me like a human being and not as a thing.
And as for my present state of midlife gloom, I take comfort from the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ assertion that life is “nasty, brutish and short,” not from any of the positive psychology, self-help, learn-to-be-happy books lining my bookshelf. I own my misery, damn it!
Ps: to prove that I’m not THAT old, here’s a hashtag: