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Mother's Stoicism Can Be a Pain in the Neck

August 27, 2000|Steve Chawkins

I was sitting at my desk the other day, shifting my position whenever my bulging lumbar disc impinged on my inflamed lumbar nerve, shooting flashes of pain down my left leg. I was trying to think joyful thoughts--sweet babbling brooks, tranquil meadows, Advil--when my mother called from New York.

Within seconds, the difference between our generations was crystal clear. Baby boomers like me have been raised to speak of our physical problems openly and in fulsome detail. (By the way, have I mentioned my back? Maybe later, then.)

Our parents, on the other hand, tend to employ an admirably stoic approach, at least when speaking to their children on the topic of personal deterioration. That is, they whine less--for, after enduring the Depression, a couple of wars, and the rise and fall of disco, what's a little pain?

With just a few embellishments, my conversation with Mom went like this:

Mom: So. I thought I should call. How is everything?

Me: Fine. How are things with you?

Mom: Fine. I met a wonderful doctor. His sister lives in Italy. Isn't that great?

Me: That's great.

How did you meet him?

Mom: He was doing an endoscopy.

Me: Huh?

Mom: They stick a tube down your throat to look around in your stomach. But it's fine.

Me: It's fine? Why was a doctor with a sister in Italy sticking a tube down your throat?

Mom: It's a routine test! Not a big deal!

Me: I understand it's routine, but you don't let men put tubes down your throat recreationally, do you?

Mom: It's nothing to worry about--just standard procedure after you've been throwing up blood for a few days.

Me: You've been throwing up blood?

Mom: Just a little. Of course, it wasn't pretty. It's not exactly like having the vapors or something.

Me: Well, why was it happening?

Mom: Who knows? Could have been a bad piece of liver. These things happen. It probably had no relation at all to the chest pains.

Me: OK . . . the chest pains?

Mom: Well, not "chest," exactly. More like high stomach. But it's nothing. My heart's fine.

Me: How do you know?

Mom: How do I know? I didn't get out of the emergency room until 5 in the morning. Everything's perfect.

Me: The emergency room?

Mom: It was very exciting, just like "ER"--all these people running around, the tubes, the gurneys . . .

Me: So what was causing your chest pains?

Mom: Who knows? Doctors don't know anything.

Me: So you're fine?

Mom: Fine! They didn't find any cancer in my stomach at all!

Me: That's good. I'm glad everything's fine. Sounds like you're in the pink.

Mom: Of course, the whole thing could have been a reaction to all those antibiotics.

Me: Antibiotics?

Mom: For the root canal. So, what's with you?

Me: Have I told you about my back?

Mom: You have to be careful with backs. Are you seeing a specialist?

Me: What? No! Really, it's fine!


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at

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