Comparing Ailments
"Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen"

I was at a party a few months ago, and all those in attendance were in their 50s and 60s. The conversation was pleasant enough, but pretty soon someone mentioned one of their ailments. What followed, I can only descibe as a game of "Can You Top This." For the next hour or so, we shared in great detail our various aches and pains, things that slowed us down or made life a little harder, the medications and treatments we had received, our doctor and hospital experiences, etc., etc.

As my "platinum wife" Melanie and I discussed it later, I recalled a time when I was in my thirties and used to take my two daughters to visit a local nursing home with a group from church. To be honest, I was more of a chauffeur in this situation, because the elderly residents were much more interested in interacting with the children than with me. They brightened right up when they saw any kids... but I digress. In any event I had some time to observe the residents. And there was one man, Bill, who stood out from all the rest. There were always people around him, and sometimes people actually waited to visit him in his room.

What set Bill apart from the others?

He was always positive. He never complained. He always had something good to say, about the staff, about the visitors, everybody. He was always appreciative of anything anybody did for him. And although he was in his eighties and clearly had some medical problems, Bill never complained. And so, for all these reasons, everyone loved him. The staff loved him (and probably did even more for him), and he was clearly, and by far, the most visited resident at that nursing home.

I am blessed to be married to a positive person. Much more positive than I am. So positive, in fact, that I have to listen carefully when she describes her condition as anything less than perfect. After 39 years of marriage, I have had to learn to translate what she says about her health from what normal people, I mean the rest of us might say. For example, when she says:

"Not fantastic," it means "I'm pretty sick."
"Not great," it means "get ready to drive me to the ER."
"OK," it means "No time to drive, call 911."

Now I believe it is important to be honest about your medical condition, at least with your life partner and your doctor. But to the rest of the world, not so much. It really should be on a "need to know" basis, which I would define as, "this information will help you get better yourself." But this was not what Melanie and I experienced at that party.

So a while back, Melanie and I made a pact, which really obviously binds me much more than her, that if either of us ever start doing that "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" stuff, the other party is thereby authorized to take whatever means necessary to squelch such talk immediately and without fear of retaliation. I'm sure, for me, "the look" from Melanie would do the trick. All you married people, I'm sure you know exactly what I mean by "the look."

But seriously, do ANY of us want to be known as grumpy old complainers? Apparently it starts so innocently, sitting around with your friends, comparing ailments. But can we really expect that our aches and pains are that interesting? The next time, I'm either changing the subject, or if I'm feelin really brave, referencing this article. :-) Bob


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