Over the summer I received an invitation from the policy journal Health Affairs to attend their Narrative Matters conference. Narrative Matters is a small section of the journal devoted to first person essays that illuminate an important health care issue facing the nation. These stories put a human face on topics that might otherwise seem academic and theoretical. I have been a fan of Narrative Matters for years. Whenever the bimonthly journal arrived in my work mail slot, I quickly opened it, bypassed all the quantitative articles, and dove into the stories. In my distant Ivory Tower world, they were a constant reminder of the importance of health care in people’s lives and the desperate need to improve our system of care. Plus, they were usually as enjoyable and well written as most of the works of fiction that sit stacked on my bedside table.
I was delighted to be invited to the conference and quickly accepted. Bill and I planned to make the trip together since I am not capable of traveling alone at this point. All I had to do was be physically well enough to make the trip. I spent most of this past week battling edema and shortness of breath. By Thursday I sent myself to bed for the day, as I did not want to risk not being able to attend the conference. As I sat on my bed Thursday, I kept hoping and praying, “Please let me make it through the weekend so I can enjoy this opportunity.”
Marie, my best friend, arrived from Chicago to take care of the kids for the weekend. Bill spent Thursday night and Friday morning preparing for the trip, which involves packing my TPN in a cooler and all the TPN related supplies, my chest percussion vest and nebulizer, all my medications, the vaporizer, and wheelchair; arranging for a portable oxygen concentrator because my insurance has not yet approved me for one; and providing Marie with detailed instructions, maps, and the kids’ calendar of activities. He managed to do all this while also getting the kids off to school, attending his weekly division meeting, and picking up a medication refill. All I did was pick out my clothes and move the medications and toiletries that Bill had prepared from the bathroom counter into the toiletry bag.
When we were finally on the road I looked around the car, “You did a great job getting everything ready. Thank you.” I was being very sincere; I could not have made the trip without all his efforts. But Bill is not a serious guy. “It brought back memories of packing the car for trips when the kids were little. I hated that damn pack-n-play,” Bill replied. “You know,” I observed, “You are positively uterus worthy. Seriously, you do this as well as a woman.”
I realize how sexist this is, but let’s be honest, men are not the gender with a penchant for multitasking. During the whole hunter gather period women’s brains evolved to do many things simultaneously lest their children be eaten while they were concentrating of one of the other 15 things requiring their attention. Men, meanwhile, were out “hunting.” Judging from my experience with four brothers, one father, a husband and one son, I have serious doubts about the whole “hunter” idea. Most men I know cannot find anything. I think our male ancestors just sat around talking all day at the prehistoric equivalent of McNally’s Tavern and hoped to find a recently deceased animal on the way home.
“Wow. So what do I get with this uterus?” Bill joked. In my head I heard the theme song from The Dating Game and the booming voice of a 70s game show host saying, “Bill’s just proved himself uterus worthy. Tell him what he’s won.” Bill continued, “Let’s see monthly pain.” “Don’t forget all the great menopause symptoms: hot flashes, irritability, etc.,” I added. “Ok, let’s make a list of pros and cons,” Bill joked, making two columns in the air. I was having fun with this. With four brothers, I have spent my life trashing guys for fun. “Let’s see: deep lifelong friendships with multiple people that don’t involve feigned interest in beer and sports, ability to multitask, potential to bring forth life into the world, intuition, …” Bill interrupted me at this point, “But there’s still the monthly pain, right? Forget it. No deal.”