I have never been a brave person. Sometimes, if I am angry enough, I find myself acting bravely (if not stupidly), such as the time I was trick or treating when I was ten and two boys tried to take my candy away. Even though one of them had a knife, I was so enraged at the thought of the bullies stealing my Halloween candy that I fought back…and kept the candy. Luckily, the knife never came into the struggle. I suspect it was a pocket knife they had brought along just to intimidate other kids. And even though I was “brave” during the actual confrontation, I was terrified as soon as it was over, and that was the end of my trick or treating on that particular Halloween night.
But my strongest fear has always centered around anything to do with medical procedures. I got queasy just visiting people in a hospital, fainted at the mere sight of blood, and the reason I don’t have pierced ears is because the chance to wear pretty earrings was never enough of a reason to allow someone to shove a needle through my ear lobes. When I was pregnant with my first child, my biggest fear about childbirth wasn’t the pain, it was the thought of having to be hooked up to an IV. I remember having a heated argument about that with my obstetrician, as he insisted it was necessary for me to “have a vein open” and I insisted that it wasn’t necessary for him to give me an IV, or even to use such disgusting phrases as “have a vein open” in my presence.
Which is why I am so surprised (and a bit proud) that I recently had an eyebrow lift, which was an elective surgical procedure that was performed while I was awake. For years I’ve had a problem with a drooping eyebrow on my left eye, because where the skin overlapped I would get a painful sore, right at the outside corner of my eye, which is not a good place to be putting an antibiotic ointment. One day I actually made an appointment with an opthalmic plastic surgeon who told me that an eyebrow lift was the least invasive way to fix the problem. Of course, he wanted to do an eyelid lift as well, so that my eyes would look “perky and young again.” But since an eyelid lift involves cutting on my actual eyelids, I declined. Very firmly.
The procedure actually wasn’t so bad. I was awake, but numb. I could hear the snip of the scissors cutting my skin, and feel the pressure of the stitches, but no pain. They had given me a Valium which they said might make me go to sleep, but I was way too nervous for that. Mostly, I sat there, listening to the chatter between the surgeon and the nurse, marveling that I was neither fainting or running screaming from the room. Obviously, I have become a much braver person that I was all those years ago when I fainted just from seeing a full bag of blood at a blood drive.
It may sound trite, but I think I have become braver just through living my life. I learned not to faint at the sight of blood the first time one of my kids cut themselves badly and no one was around to help them but me. I got over my fear of hospitals when I had to spend time in them as a patient, or visiting hospitalized family members who needed me to stay and support them, and not selfishly wimp out. And now that my body is beginning to show signs of wear and tear, I have the courage to patch it up a bit, even when that means a medical procedure. I have a good friend who is facing a hip replacement next month, and I know that something like that could be in my future, too. While I hope I don’t ever have to face that, I don’t find the prospect as overwhelmingly terrifying as I once would have.
As the saying goes, “aging is not for the faint of heart.” But the good news is that, somewhere along the line, we acquire the courage to deal with it.