An Objective Answer

The first time a perfect stranger assumed my husband John was my son, I asked, “Do I look that old?”
In the awkward moment that followed, I realized I would never get an objective answer.
The second time a perfect stranger asked me if John’s was my son, I dismissed her “innocent” question as a perfect mind game.
Unless…
Do I look that old?
If John’s mother were alive right now, she’d be eighty three.
I am forty-three. I am older than my husband John, but not significantly older; I’m older by a year and a half. I ought to look like I could have been in diapers on the day he was born; not like I could have spent that day stretched out on a delivery table.
How painful.
It has been suggested that maybe the issue is not that I look old, but that John looks young. John still gets carded when he buys alcohol. If I can be comfortable with looking like the mother of our fourteen-year old son, why can’t I be comfortable with looking like the mother of man who is (mis)taken for under-twenty-one?
It doesn’t bother me that John looks young. It doesn’t even bother me that I look old…as long as we’re talking forty-three years old. It does kind of bother me that Multiple Sclerosis could make me look older than I really am; it just adds insult to injury. And it really bothers me is that there is no way to objectively determine if I look my age, or if I look older than my age.
Or so I thought.
Today I sought a piece of personal property every patient is entitled to; I requested my medical record. I had recently taken a trip to a specialist, and I needed to share his discovery with the doctors at the NIH, who must keep track of every event that occurs in my body while I am on their experimental drug.
I am always eager to read the notes my doctors take. I’ve learned a lot that way. One of my past doctors was either a poor listener or a poor note taker. He’d had me down for two to three alcoholic drinks a day, whereas I’d said I might sip from two or three alcoholic drinks a month. I had the office correct my record. I am a borderline social drinker, not a borderline alcoholic, and I didn’t want to be treated as though I had the additional illness of alcoholism.
When I got the notes from last week’s visit to the specialist, I slid them in a manilla envelope, but pulled them out again before pressing the button on the elevator. By the time the elevator reached my floor, I’d read that I’d moved to this city from New Hampshire. I kind of liked the image of myself as a lady from New Hampshire. I’d be more rugged, maybe, than a lady from Connecticut. Certainly less Italian.
On the elevator, I read:
General appearance: healthy, alert, no distress, cooperative, smiling, in no acute distress, appears stated age, alert and oriented x 3
Appears stated age.
Finally. The objective answer I’d been looking for. From a professional. And not a professional bartender either. A medical professional. Medical professionals, I well know, can be trusted to get the story straight.
I stepped out of that elevator smiling, in no acute distress, brandishing my precious envelope, the objective proof that I don’t look that old. I appear to be my stated age. I feel alert and oriented x 3.

MS Family Etiquette

My son says, “Mom, you look sick.”
My husband steps in. “That’s not what you say. You say, ‘How are you feeling?'”

Note to self: “How are you feeling” means; change out of pale green bathrobe, apply concealer and lipstick.

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