Women's Health

The four of us like to lunch. We hit the buffet about once a month, where the potato freak among us can have her fill and the other, who's perpetually dieting, won't shame us by ordering "steamed vegetables, no sauce," and I can have two helpings of dessert, if I please, one chocolate, one not, with my two pots of hot tea.

We eat, a lot or a little, according to our natures, and we talk: a lot. Always we talk a lot.

Although not often about the professional interests that brought us together. There are trivial jealousies there. One of us gets to work at home. Another has her summers off. A third has recently cashed it all in and come up with a new career. Not much to discuss there.

No, what we talk about, more often than not, is our bodies, our health. One's hysterectomy. A husband's vasectomy: If I'd known, I would have had my tubes tied. He was a wreck. He was so sore he couldn't stand—or sit. They say it happens now and then. A third's long efforts to overcome her father's abuse. The fourth's poor reaction to the Pill.

drawings of lips

We try not to be too loud, but we worry, sometimes, that we're disrupting other people's lunch.

We learned one day what an enterocele was, a hernia that opens into the vagina. Another time we heard how massage could help fix a slipped disc. We've talked about allergies, to flowers and food additives—why the one who loves sauce never eats it (MSG), when to drink echinacea tea, why to eat tofu (and how to make it taste good).

Sometimes we do digress. Two of us have horses: we like to pontificate on inter-species communication. The son in elementary school is sometimes discussed, or the one that's out of college and trying to make a living as a singer in a band. If a colleague happens by she might provoke a whispered job-related tale, generally catty, occasionally mean, once downright obscene. We try not to laugh too boisterously, but it's obvious, sometimes, that we're disrupting other people's lunch.

We celebrated when the one with the artificial hip learned to dance again. We admired her high-heeled shoes and laughed with her when she told of her new-found attractiveness.

We grieved with the one who had shared each step of her technologically enhanced efforts to conceive—which succeeded, but only briefly. She miscarried at four months. Now we hear about adoption agencies, home visits, the child she's set her sights on.

None of us have daughters, but if we did, we'd talk about menarche. PMS is a standard complaint (we meet once a month, remember). Menopause even comes up, what Gail Sheehy in Vanity Fair called "the last taboo." One of us worries that though she's too young, she's having premonitions. Another knows the reality of it: I thought I was going mad. My eyes. My teeth. My skin was a mess. What is happening to me? I promised my husband—and myself—I would find out. I wouldn't always be like this. It was obvious that we were disrupting other people's lunch.

Strange how you can talk about such things in the middle of a crowded restaurant but not in the privacy of a doctor's office.

I brought that up once. Working on the articles in this issue on women's health, I had interviewed two physicians who were trying to fix the system. My friends wished them luck. I have never been so humiliated, recalled the one with the enterocele, telling us the indignities doctors had visited upon her. It's all in your head, said the doctors who had "treated" the other's problems with menopause. I thought I was going mad. A third had been gushing blood, passing clots the size of egg yolks, and the doctor had just nodded, her smile polite, the shades drawn closed behind the windows of her eyes. I wasn't getting through. She couldn't see I was terrified. Was it cancer? Or menopause? She said nothing that helped.

Perhaps they should have gone out and had lunch.

Last Updated May 01, 1998