Somewhere down the line, I became the person strangers love to walk up to and tell their most harrowing medical issues. Unprompted and usually without any warning.
I don’t know if they’re looking for advice (I have none), a sympathetic shoulder to cry on (not me, either) or an executor of their estate (I might be interested).
When I moved back to Michigan, I lived in a heavily populated Jewish city, so I was presumed by nearly everyone there to be Jewish. I’d regularly take my dog to the local dog park, where the gang of regulars seemed more interested in my fluency in Jewish affairs than almost anything else.
How old are you? Are you married? Is any of this germane to being at the dog park?
Do you know where Hillel is? I don’t even know what a Hillel is.
I can’t believe you don’t know Hillel!
Well do you even know where the Jewish Community Center is? I do know where it is because I drive by it on my way to the dog park. But why have I become the keeper of all Jewish cultural institutions in Southeast Michigan?
My dog only understands Yiddish, so no one can steal him from me. Okkkkay.
Do you speak Yiddish? Anyone care to ask me if I’m even Jewish?
How did you get in here? I’m a resident of this city, you lunatic. How do you think I got in here?
So after a couple weeks of this, I kept my distance from the dog park regulars. But I must have a beacon emanating from the top of my head that screams “TELL ME YOUR WEIRD STUFF,” because they always find me.
So there I was, throwing the ball to my dog at the far side of the park, trying to avoid any more awkward questions about Jewish culture. Several hundred feet away I noticed a woman enter the park and determinedly walk towards me. I frantically started running through all the Jewish high holy days I could remember in case a quiz was coming.
I’d never seen her before, but upon her arrival, she skipped over the formalities of a standard greeting and launched into this:
“My neighbor asked me to watch her dog. But you see, I’ve had my hip replaced, and last week I had a colonoscopy. Yesterday I had an endoscopy and LOOK AT MY THUMBS”
She holds up her mangled thumbs.
I guess we’re not talking about Jewish affairs.
And yes, I can see your thumbs, loud and clear. Wait, why are we having this conversation?
I have arthritis in my thumbs. I’m going in for surgery; they’re going to put pins in them tomorrow. I’ll be in a cast for six weeks.”
Wow. Okay. On the one hand I’m honored that I’ve somehow put you at such ease that you feel comfortable sharing all this, RIGHT OFF THE BAT WITHIN 30 SECONDS OF MEETING. Didn’t catch your name…
“And I’ve been going to the bathroom so much, my rectum is falling out.”
I’m stunned into silence. I do not take delight in her cornucopia of maladies, let alone her bowels falling out of her ass, but this is just too much.
And so I try not to laugh. I am failing miserably.
“It sounds like this isn’t a good time to watch your neighbor’s dog.”
And before she could respond, her phone rang, and I backed away and left the dog park.
You’d think that would be the last time I’d have to hear about anything falling out of a stranger’s body, but you’d be wrong.
Having partially recovered from the knowledge that a rectum COULD EVEN DO THIS, I thought I was out of the woods, when I was given a ticket a few weeks later to an author luncheon.
As luck would have it, I ended up being seated next to a distant family friend. I’d met her about 25 years ago, but I have only seen her once or twice since. I don’t know much about her, other than she used to run her own business and recently retired. I decided to launch into some small talk over salad, while we waited for the author talk to begin. I mentioned how tired I was since I had a tough time sleeping the night before.
“Oh, I’ve been getting up four or five times a night for years. I know all about having trouble sleeping,” Margaret chimes.
Hmm. Okayyyyy. But that’s not the end.
“Yeah, I always had to urinate, so I went to the doctor and they ended up having to do surgery. Everything was kinda falling. I had a hysterectomy and they fixed my prolapsed bladder. I just went through surgery three weeks ago.”
Oh sweet Jesus, here we go again.
Between Margaret’s prolapsed bladder and the prolapsed rectum, I begin to fear for my old age, wondering if I’m going to have to wear some kind of gravity defying dual-action vaginal and anal girdle to keep everything from tumbling out of me.
“They don’t need to cut you open anymore so the recovery time is much faster. They just go right up through the vagina to remove the uterus. And then they pull everything else up through the vagina and presto, you’re done!”
PULL YOUR ORGANS UP THROUGH YOUR VAGINA? Excuse me? Are you aware we are eating lunch here?
I need to get a few things off my chest. The first is pretty obvious. STOP TELLING THIS SHIT (no pun intended) TO STRANGERS. Especially those that don’t ask you about your health. I know that older folks have turned discussions of their failing health into something of an Olympic sport, but I am neither elderly, nor falling apart, so perhaps we could take that into account.
Secondly, stop scaring me. Do you realize I didn’t know your rectum could fall out of your asshole? How would I have known your bladder could try to escape through your vagina? Do you understand that this is news to me? That I didn’t need to learn of these horrific maladies as a healthy, still intact, 37-year-old?
We finished lunch, and I didn’t ask anything more of Margaret’s falling out bladder, vaginal rejuvenation or any of the rest. I just processed. I wondered why people feel compelled to share these medical disasters with me and I began to think about when, if ever, it’s appropriate to discuss this information with a stranger.
Based on my extensive research, comprised mainly of sitting around drawing diagrams with a glass of white wine in my hand, here’s what I’ve come up with. Please use this as a guide when you are considering sharing potentially traumatic medical information with friends, family or that random person you just happen to meet.