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Monday, November 5, 2012

I Should Have Washed My Face

Every family has one. The person who knows everything. Which, as my grandmother used to say, is very annoying to those of us who actually do. Hey, I've told you before, she had a saying about almost everything. Tonight I am going to talk about one of those from the family in which I was raised. In the interests of respect I will refer to her as Aunt Jo. I loved Aunt Jo very deeply, but that doesn't mean I was blind to her faults. We humans are frail and imperfect beings, which is part of what makes life such an adventure.

In this family, it was traditional for the females to live with their family until they got married. I have spoken with my cousin Carole about this; we both think it was a great disservice to the women of our generation. Perhaps if they had been encouraged to find their way in the world and become the people they were meant to be, they might have thought more seriously about important life decisions. I am the only female of this generation whose first marriage did not end in divorce. But then again, I didn't get married until I was forty years old. I don't think any of these women made poor choices (although maybe some of them did), it was simply a matter for many of marrying so they could be out on their own, and then finding out later that they were not the same person who walked down the aisle in the white dress and veil.

Luckily for me, I was the least pretty of the group, and probably the most outspoken, so I seemed destined to stay single forever. This meant that after Gram raised me, I was able to help her as she got older. Gram was a hugely important part of my life; she represented home and was my only parental figure. When I was about nineteen years old, Aunt Jo said to me, "Gram looks terrible. She isn't going to last much longer." I was shocked and scared. I slept more lightly, always wanting to be able to hear if Gram fell or called out for any help. I still can't sleep properly. Gram lasted another eighteen years, incidentally, but if you keep predicting someone's death at least once a week, eventually your prediction will come true. As in the old saying, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

If you have read some of my older posts, you will know that at the age of twenty-nine I became very ill, and was diagnosed with systemic lupus. Very briefly, systemic lupus is a non-contagious autoimmune disorder. When the immune system switches on, it may run amok and attack any and all systems of the body rather than just germs and such. In my case, my immune system was attacking my kidneys, which were starting to fail as a result. Luckily for me, I had always been in fairly good health, so I had no idea what some of my test results really meant. For example, when I was released from the hospital, my blood pressure had come down to the level of danger of having a stroke. I had no clue! All I knew was that I was furious at being sick, and my doctor said that attitude would help me get better. Imagine my surprise several months later when I heard Gram tell someone that when I was in the hospital, she could see death in my face. I was stunned. Gram had seen numerous people come and go, and been at the side of many death beds. As I said, it was good I didn't know this at the time, or I may not have had the stubbornness to forge ahead.

Some months after I got out of the hospital and was continuing my struggle with lupus, Gram asked me one day if anyone knew what caused lupus. I told her that from what I had read, and what the doctors told me (hey, we didn't have home computers in those days, kiddos) nobody really knew. It was thought that there might be a genetic link, but there was no definite cause. I asked her what had made her ask that question. She told me that when I was still in the hospital, Aunt Jo had called her and said, "I've looked into this lupus thing. You get it from not washing your face properly."

I didn't know whether to laugh or to scream in disgust and anger. I am sure that there are places in the world where you could get internal illnesses as a result of using impure water to wash your face. To say nothing of the fact that I did, and do, know how to wash my face! I assured Gram that the near-failure of my kidneys had nothing to do with what I used to clean my face, and that I had not done anything at all that caused me to be so sick. We got a good chuckle out of the whole situation. Every so often, though, when my constant companion lupus has me feeling less than fabulous, I laugh and say, "Dang. I should have washed my face!"