By KIM POINDEXTER
It’s a funny word, “meno-pause.” It sounds like a dreaded disease or psychological condition that should give men pause before they make demands on the aging women in their lives. Actually, that’s pretty close to the truth.
When I was a kid, I heard whispered rumors about menopause – covert discussions that abruptly ceased when youngsters entered the room. With tones of pity, my mother and her friends would murmur the names of women who had “hit menopause.” The first time I heard that, I thought they were speaking colloquially about someone who had physically struck some man’s hands. No doubt he deserved it.
If women my mother’s age were reluctant to discuss what they sometimes called “the change of life” in polite company, my grandmothers were worse. Once when I was about 5, I accompanied my dad’s mother to the beauty shop – back when women went to the beauty shop once a week, whether they needed it or not. On this occasion, my grandmother told her beautician and a couple of other women that someone at her church had “just started the menopause.” Just up and started it, apparently, with no forewarning. My grandmother used the article “the” – as if there was only one of these menopauses, or at least this one had special status. Kind of like “the” God – the real one, as opposed to the idol all those other people worship.
“Shhhh... Eva Mae!” the beautician warned my grandmother, nodding in my direction. Perhaps, I thought, I would be the next victim of this thing. Whatever it was, I wanted no part of it. Obviously it was dirty, like a girlie magazine, since it couldn’t be discussed in front of kids.
My mother never told me what to expect from “the menopause,” an omission for which I’ve chastised her several times. She seems nonplussed, only saying it wasn’t a big deal. But then again, she’s one of those weirdos who enjoyed being pregnant.
Menstruation is bad enough without having to worry about what comes next. Women have to put up with that nuisance for decades, and then suddenly, they get the rug – or at least the pad – pulled out from under them. It seems like a blessing until the other problems erupt. Changing body shape and loss of collagen; the migration of hair from head to chin; and ex-haustion and depression are part of the package. But nothing prepares you for your first hot flash.
When I started having those mild, premenopausal temperature fluctuations a few years ago, I confused them for hot flashes. Inwardly, I scoffed at friends who had been opining on the horrors of hot flashes. This dismissive attitude prevailed until last month, when reality bit. I can only compare it to opening the door of a blast furnace. Since it was winter, one second I was chilly, and the next, I had stepped across the threshold into the abode of that guy with the horns, pointy tail and trident. And you can’t close the door to the furnace, or retreat from the threshold and say, “Sorry, Lucy, there’s been a mistake.” You just have to ride it out.
This is not an internal or imaginary heat. The “flashee” will break out in a a noticeable sweat, and her clothing may be drenched within seconds. After a minute, the heat retreats, only to come roaring back 30 minutes or an hour later.
It happened the other day at the grocery store. The clerk peered at me with concern and asked, “Are you OK?” “I’m fine – or will be, eventually,” I said, wishing I could get out of that hot building. I considered telling her I had been “hit with the menopause,” but decided not to elaborate. “It’s just that – well, you broke out in a cold sweat,” she said. The sweat wasn’t cold, but I didn’t correct her.
It’s a real challenge at the office, where our ad manager likes to keep the temperature a tad too warm for my tastes, anyway. When the flash hits, I’m always tempted to rip off my clothing and bellow. The only thing that stops me is the sure knowledge that all four men in the newsroom would resign their posts immediately, perhaps halting in their mad dash to the exit just long enough to throw up in a trash can.
It’s worse at night. My husband alternates between accusing me of trying to immolate him with my body heat, or freeze him to death when I kick off the covers. The cat, who insists on taking up mattress acreage in winter, does not help matters. We have a hot tub, which my husband keeps at a barely tolerable 104 degrees – 2 degrees hotter than the manual suggests. It doesn’t matter in terms of the warranty, which ex-pired years ago, but it matters very much when a hot flash pushes the water to the boiling point.
The other morning at 5:45 at the Muskogee aquatics center, the water seemed especially frigid, and I loitered for a bit, dreading the plunge. I was hoping a hot flash would expediently hit, but I’m never lucky that way.
I haven’t a clue how to spell relief. My doctor, who has heard me gripe, has not yet offered to put me on hormone replacement therapy, so I must assume HRT has gone out of vogue, and is another of those things women now speak of in muted tones: “She got herself on the HRT and now she’s got the cancer.”
I, like legions of women before me, will just have to suffer. But don’t expect it to be in silence.
Kim Poindexter is getting old, but is still the managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.