Wednesday, December 1, 2010

To See Or Not To See

I like lists. Shopping lists. To-do lists. Lists of places I’d like to go. New Year’s resolution lists. Bucket lists. Lists help keep me focused and, more importantly as I get older, help me remember the things that I need to accomplish.

A few days ago I was writing a list of things that I had been putting off, but needed to be completed. That list looked like this:
1. Call to schedule colonoscopy
2. Make appointment for blood draw to check cholesterol level
3. Call dentist
4. Call ophthalmologist

Happen to notice a theme coming through? Yep, the first four things that sprang to mind were all about making doctor’s appointments. It was like writing Santa Claus a wish list on behalf of hypochondriacs across the globe.

A trip to the ophthalmologist seemed the easiest to accomplish. Ophthalmologists don’t cause pain, just a quick couple drops in the eyes, a few line readings off the eye chart, a new prescription for glasses and I’d be on my way. Besides, lately my eyesight has been rather Mr. Magoo–esque. It’s become rather common to hear me shout out “Road Hog!” while driving to what I eventually realize are inanimate objects.

Yesterday, I had my eye exam. At its completion, I was seated all nice and comfy in my chair, waiting for the good doctor to finish scribbling out the prescription, when he suddenly stops, turns, and asks the question I should have seen coming:

“Have you had bifocals before?”

BIFOCALS?? The word echoed in my head. Apparently I now had the vision of your typical 70 year old. I was tempted to ask for a rocking chair and a warm blanket for my lap.

There are many reactions you can have after being told you now require bifocals. You can remain stoic and accept it. You can demand a second opinion. Or, if you happen to be someone who semi-regularly writes about the pitfalls of midde age, you can simply sit there and laugh, thus convincing the doctor you not only have the eyesight of a senior citizen, but are also exhibiting early signs of dementia. I swear he looked more than a little relieved when I gathered my things and left.

So, today I sit here, squinting at the computer screen while I wait for my new glasses to be ready. I have to say I’m looking forward to being able to see the world around me clearer again, even if it does mean I’ll be wearing bifocals.

In the meantime, I went back to that to-do list of doctor’s appointments, pulled out a pen and crossed the other three things off. I'm putting them all off for a while more. If the ophthalmologist found my eyes had aged to the point where I need bifocals, I don’t even want to think about what they might say after a colonoscopy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Things Change

I live in a neighborhood where people most often keep to themselves. There will be a friendly hello offered when you go by. People will occasionally stop for a short chat if you happen to be passing each other on the sidewalk. Two weeks ago, as I was walking up the street my neighbor A stepped out from behind her car and asked how I was doing. After the usual yada yada yadas, A suddenly said “Did I tell you I lost my job?”

A and I are roughly the same age. An age where, professionally, you’d like to think you’ve been around long enough and have gathered enough know-how that you are somehow irreplaceable. But sometimes, be it through budget cuts or other reasons, you find out you were wrong. As she told me about how she didn’t survive a round of layoffs in the place she had worked for 22 years, A shook her head and said “I never thought I’d find myself here at this age. I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

The conversation with A came just as I was debating being overdue for a career change. Work in the past few months has become challenging, due to some changes that have taken place that I don’t much agree with. I’ve been feeling a combination of both restless and undervalued. And the truth is I was feeling rather sorry for myself in a “What do I do?” quandary when A suddenly stepped out from behind her car for a chat. It was a quick reminder how lucky I am that any change I may/may not make is still my decision. The continuing problems with the economy have not left the many A’s of the world quite so fortunate.

Changing course at the midpoint of your life, whether it’s your own choice or someone else’s, is scary. Leaving behind a job that’s familiar and that’s left you with a bit of security when you are fiftyish leaves you more anxious than it might someone who’s 10 or 20 years younger. You question your marketability. You worry about financial obligations: mortgage, children, retirement. You ask yourself if you can afford to take less money to be in a position that leaves you feeling more fulfilled. Or for someone in A’s position, will there be no choice but to accept something that you are overqualified to do.

Most of us choose a career path in our early 20’s and hope for the best. We don’t mind working hard as long as we’re paid fairly and treated well for our efforts. We hope to enjoy ourselves a bit, expect our good work to be recognized and look forward to those rewards and perks we’re sure will be forthcoming. And as we age, we add in the expectations of having our opinions matter and our experience valued. But it doesn’t always work that way. Things change. Sometimes we bring about that change for ourselves and other times we don’t.

As for me, well, I haven’t quite figured out what my next steps are. In many ways, it feels like I’ve overstayed my welcome in my current position, somewhat like a party guest who arrived early, had a great time and is still trying to have fun long after all the other guests have gone home. I am overdue for a change, I’m just not sure yet what it is.
And as for A, I saw her again yesterday and asked how she was doing. She smiled a bit and simply said “I’m doing the best I can.”