Body Heat

Me, in the prime of life

So yesterday I had my annual appointment with my OB-GYN. He’s the same one I’ve had since I got married, he delivered my babies, and he has calmly has seen me through all sorts of wacky female issues. Which, now, in my 50’s, get yet wackier, as together we navigate … dun, dun, duuunnnn … menopause.

I’ve seen my mother and other older women deal with the Change of Life, but you never really get what it’s all about until you’re experiencing it firsthand. And the one thing that has been hardest of all to wrap my head around (not to mention LIVE WITH) is hot flashes. Very difficult to explain to someone not familiar, as it were, with the idea, but let me try it this way:

Back in my 20’s I joined a health club, sort of a precursor to the 24 Hour Fitness concept, which hadn’t yet come into being. Thirty years ago it was sort of a novelty, with its lap pool and hot tub, and steam room and sauna. I didn’t care much for the steam room, but I sort of liked the sauna; I’m not sure why. That intense dry heat was kind of hard to take; you had to force yourself to sit there on the wooden bench and just stand it for a certain amount of time. Drawing that hot air into your lungs, you might feel as if you were suffocating, but you knew you should stay and bear it because somehow it was good for you.

That’s kind of what a hot flash feels like. Only without the reassurance that it might be good for you. The other night — well, it was morning, actually; 3:00 am — I woke up to an unbearable heat that was coming not from the outside but from the inside. The inside of me, that is. It was as if I were some sort of human radiator. And it didn’t stop. When I first started getting hot flashes, they reminded me of being in labor: you know, when you have a contraction and it builds to a peak and then gradually subsides after about a minute? Your average hot flash is like that, lasting altogether a couple or three minutes. Not this one that night. I just lay there and radiated for about 20 minutes, soaking my pajamas and the sheets, while I pondered the possibility of death by elevated body temperature.

And remember, here in the tropics where I live, it’s still basically summer. The thinnest cotton sheet anywhere on me, even a toe or two, feels like I’m being smothered under a down comforter.

Anyway, my doctor couldn’t really tell me how long this nifty little phase of my life is going to last. All I know is nowadays I won’t go anywhere anymore without a little fold-up fan, and tissues to mop my brow (and neck, and upper lip, and ahem, decolletage). He did suggest that the next step might be hormone replacement therapy, which sounds a bit scary to me, even though I know countless women have opted for it and lived to tell the tale. I decided to hold off for now, but the more I think about it the more I suspect it won’t be very long before I’m calling my doctor back: “Ya gotta DO something, Doc! I can’t TAKE it anymore!” Maybe a bit less desperately than that. Maybe not.

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