“Listen to your body,” is what they say. They are the nebulous authorities who replaced your mother and grandmother with life advice once you reached adulthood.
What these experts don’t tell you is that your body doesn’t speak an audible human language; a strange thing of itself, since our bodies are human, at least we hope they are. The other thing they forget to inform you is that body language has several dialects, at least one for each body system. There are nearly a dozen body systems to challenge your listening skills.
Let’s begin with the integumentary system—a fancy name for hair, skin, nails. Unfortunately, my integumentary system didn’t say a word about what it was up to when I reached “a certain age.” It simply dumped alarming clumps of my hair on the shower floor and sucked the color out of what was left on my head.
Why didn’t the integumentarians schedule a consult with me before ripping out my hair? I’m a reasonable person, willing to negotiate. We could have worked out something. You take the color. I’ll take the volume. Or we go halves. Half gray, half mass.
In spite of the communication confusion, I got the message and scheduled a color job at a salon and began thyroid medications.
Then there’s the reproductive system. I quit listening to it immediately after the birth of our second child. It keeps grumbling, though, squawking out hot flashes, mood swings, abdominal fat. I wish it would shut up.
Behind my back, the reproductive system has been whispering to my endocrine system encouraging my hormones to misbehave. And wouldn’t you know it, my nervous system listened in on their conversation and messaged my muscular system which sent out a leg cramp at 2 a.m. I don’t know what it was trying to say, but I screamed at my knotty leg muscle.
It’s becoming clear that all systems are talking with each other, but not to me, which creates a life of continual surprises. One fall season, I put away my size ten summer shorts, but when I tried them on in the spring, they’d shrunk. That’s what I told myself until I shopped for new clothes and discovered I’d been re-sized, but not pre-shrunk. At my next medical appointment, they tell me I’m an inch shorter. The inch in height has been reassigned to my waistline which is no longer a line, but a projection.
Yet, my body says nothing. It doesn’t converse when it should and shouts when it does no good. Maybe it’s me. I try to be a better listener. Catch the subtle whispers. Respond immediately.
My tooth aches. “Thank you, tooth, for telling me something’s wrong. I’ll call my dentist and make an appointment.”
They (the office assistant) says they can’t get me in for two weeks. Buy some sensitive toothpaste, they say. Avoid eating cold things on that side of my mouth.
I do as they say and the pain subsides. On the appointment date, the dentist tap-tap-taps my teeth and asks where it hurts. It doesn’t hurt anywhere.
“Thanks for nothing,” I tell my teeth as I exit the chair, but they in the office assure me it’s not for nothing. “That’ll be $75 today.”
For months my ankle’s been sore. Arthritis? Flare up of an old injury? My body doesn’t tell me any specifics, though it eventually raises its voice to a 110-decibel pain level. I call the podiatrist’s office. The soonest they can see me is three and a half weeks away. I limp and ache for a few days, then it all goes away. No pain. No stiffness. I walk normally.
I should be happy for this miraculous healing, but I’m disgruntled. My body’s playing linguistic hide and seek, saying one thing, one day; something else, another day.
Then it occurs to me that maybe medical experts don’t know body language much better than the rest of us.
“It could be this. It could be that. Or maybe another thing.” They call in the super translators who decode blood, urine and X-rays. Some of the translators charge more than others, so you don’t get their services unless you quit breathing or your heart stops beating.
When I finally saw the foot doctor, he said I probably have Achilles Tendonitis. “To be sure, we could do an MRI, but those cost a lot.”
His comment verified what I’d already concluded: You must drop coins in the slot like at the laundromat before body language translators will speak up. Only it’s not that simple. There’s a middle man involved: the medical insurance group. They sit behind a huge, opaque curtain like the Wizard of Oz and decide yay or nay about who your doctor can listen to about your body.
If I could only summon Toto to pull the curtain back…
Who could have known that listening to your body could be so complicated and costly? It’s exhausting to think about.
“Why don’t you take a nap?” my body says.
“Now, you’re talking.”