Throbbing like a heart

Yesterday I received a sad letter
from the man who tunes our piano. 
A snail mail letter – not a Face Book announcement – that he has had to
retire early given a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease, only six months
This dreadful disease takes away a
person’s muscular capacity slowly and relentlessly to the stage where they can
no longer swallow or breathe.  They
can even choke on their own saliva. 
And it’s one of those dreadful hereditary conditions it seems where the
diagnosis of one member in your family can signal the possibility that others
might be similarly inflicted. 
Which brings me to heredity, and
the degree to which we carry our parents’ legacies in our genes. 
I’ve always been wary of the idea
that something you cop is purely the result of heredity.  What you cop in your genes that is, with
some exceptions, Motor Neurone Disease for one. 
Take a look at my family’s
inheritance for instance. 
Alcoholism and heart disease and a propensity towards sluggish
bowels.  Beyond the physical, some
of the accompanying behaviours, must be learned.
One of my sisters told me the other
day she thought she might have had a prolapse.  That’s one of the ailments that stays with me since I was a
child simply because I could not and still do not understand it.
My mother once received a letter
from Holland from her cousin who had suffered a prolapse on the dance
Something in the words ‘prolapse on
the dance floor’ led me to believe that my second cousin’s insides had fallen
out onto the parquetry. I could see them there in my imagination so many red
jewels sparkling on the dance floor. 
I did not take the fantasy further
but if I try now I can see my cousin scoop up her insides under her skirt and
flee for the toilet. 
What then?  Call for an ambulance.  No spilled blood, no membranes burst or
ruptured, only the presence of internal organs now externalised like bunches of
purple grapes interspersed with blue veins and throbbing like a heart. 
I have feared for a prolapse ever
since.  But people tell me it’s not
such a big deal though it can interfere with your capacity to hold off the need
to pee.
Is this a sign of aging, this
preoccupation with a failing body? 
Perhaps it’s not just aging, maybe more a case of ignorance.
I could find out more about the
true nature of a prolapse but for the time I prefer my imaginary
rendering.  It has so much more

6 thoughts on “Throbbing like a heart”

  1. Do not fear, Elisabeth. I have a close friend who just happens to be a leading research scientist in this area and great work is being done. May you never need to benefit from her discoveries!
    Alcoholism and heart disease are my legacy also. My husband's is cancer. Our poor children hardly stand a chance.
    Karen C

  2. I don’t think it’s ignorance. I think the more we know that can go wrong the more we expect to go wrong. It’s like when you go onto some medical website and start looking at the symptoms and ten minutes later you come away convinced you have a brain tumour or beriberi or something. Whenever I read articles like this I feel guilty because I made my daughter sick. She has a genetic condition—I forget what it is but she probably wouldn’t want me telling the whole wide world so I’ll leave it there (Carrie’ll remember; she’s my external hard drive)—and it comes from the male line. Nothing I can do about it but coupled with what she inherited from her mother’s side her chances of being a svelte size 10 are out the window and that’s as much as I’m going to say on that subject; you’ve seen her photos so you know what she looks like, it’s not as if she’s got two heads or anything.

    Oddly enough I’ve never given much thought to what I might have inherited from my parents. I have high blood pressure (which my mother had) and my sister was always anaemic (which my mother was) but that’s all I can think of. I don’t look that much like either of them. I’m built like my dad—shorter and stockier nowadays than I used to be—and I’m bald, as is my brother, but when you look as the face—what little you can see behind all this hirsuteness—I don’t really look much like him. We have the same sad eyes perhaps. Dad was fair-haired; Mum was a brunette; Christ knows where I got the ginger hair from.

    I’m not as old as you but I am an old fifty-four. I’ve always looked older than I really am. I thought I might’ve caught up by now but it seems not. The last time I asked anyone how old I was I was forty-eight and she said I looked about sixty; the story of my life. I am—more than I’d care to be—overly preoccupied with my body. I’ve never been vain. That said I’ve never been ashamed of my body. I suppose I have a fairly decent body for my age even if it has lost a bit of muscle mass over the last few years. I don’t have a beer belly or anything and I’m only fractionally overweight, something which bothers me far more than it should. But the litany of my aches and pains is tiresome. I never don’t hurt. As Leonard Cohen put it so well in ‘Tower of Song’:

          Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey
          I ache in the places where I used to play
          And I'm crazy for love but I'm not comin' on
          I'm just payin' my rent every day in the Tower of Song

  3. Interesting. I think I am more aware now of my mortality and the things that might afflict me – nothing very worrying in the genes, though.
    I smiled at your misunderstanding of prolapse. My confusion came over diabetes and diarrhoea – I was about six, I suppose!

  4. Your vivid imagination might be leading you astray Young Woman 🙂

    Thus a prolapse might simply be that some part has fallen out of place, it does not always mean that what has fallen is externally visible.

    As for genetic defects: my feet are too short for my height!

  5. Knowing about the tendency for ovarian cancer and diabetes, I get checks and make sure I exercise regularly -has to be done. Then again, you just never know what may come – nature / nurture. I do love that line about the prolapse…

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