Many years ago, as a young married woman with three children, I found myself visiting many different doctors. Of course, there were the pediatric visits necessary (I thought) when you have very young children. One of my children had terrible earaches, and so we had many visits to the doctor for him. Sadly I gave that child antibiotics over and over during his youth. I did not know better, and apparently, neither did their doctor.
However, it is my own doctors and other practitioners that my musings are about. There were so many medical appointments. Medical doctors, podiatrists, allergists, and several other treatments that I want to mention. Plus there were massage therapists, facial-giving beauticians, and other personal appointments. In those days, I had enough money to pay for these appointments. You may not realize that before medical insurance, doctors were not overly expensive. Being a doctor did not mean you were going to be wealthy, in fact many doctors lived simply. They had become doctors because they wanted to heal people, not because it was a lucrative profession. How things have changed! For 50 years doctors got richer and richer. But it seems they are back to having to struggle to make ends meet these days. (If the stories I hear are to be believed).
In the 1960s it was possible to go see various doctors for a reasonable fee. There was no such thing as medical insurance until the 1930s when it began to be introduced in a couple of areas. And Medicare began in 1965. My husband and I had no insurance until around 1970. It was just not a big deal because it was not prohibitively expensive to go to the doctor. It was easy to make an appointment, and there were all sorts of specialists for treating whatever part of you might have a problem. So, I went to the doctor quite often. They each paid attention to me. For the time I was with them, their focus was solely on me. They asked me how I was. They looked at me. Because this was before computers, they were not distracted by the screen. None of them were typing away with their backs to their patients. We got a great deal of attention from a medical appointment. The time spent with the doctor was not limited to 7 minutes. They took as much time as needed. It was not just doctors. There were plenty of other practitioners, such as beauty treatments, massage, facials, waxing and manicures, and pedicures. Each of these is validating, especially for people who may feel an awful loneliness in spite of their families.
Typical of many women, I was lonely. I had three children and a husband who loved me. I had parents who cared about me and my parents-in-law as well. My own siblings were also available to speak to, but I was longing to be seen as myself. So much of my time was taken up with nurturing others, I was not able to be separate from them. Making an appointment for myself was “my time”. The person who saw me, paid attention to only me. It was so nice to be the object of their focus, not as a wife or a mother but as ME, Bonnie.
On one particular day, at a podiatrist appointment, it dawned on me that I was enjoying the attention paid to me by my doctor. It paralized me as the reality washed over me. It shocked me to realize this. I did not want to be one of those women who was always at the doctor’s office. Of course, I knew about some people’s mothers (older women) who seemed to be hypochondriacs. They were a bit of a joke. They were people to be made fun of and disparaged as pathetic. And suddenly, I was one of them. It was not that I thought there was anything wrong with me. My health was excellent. But it was a fact that I enjoyed the attention of an individual practitioner in a single individual appointment concerning me.
When I was a young wife and mother, the percentage of women who were stay-at-home mothers was greater than those who worked outside the home. Perhaps this was part of the problem and explains why we needed attention. My young husband was busy with his job and socializing with other men who were working. Of course we had mutual friends and we had an active social life. However, he did not have time to give me the attention I was hoping for. My children gave me plenty of attention, but it was as “Mommy” and not without demands.
Instinctively I realized it was time to stop this need for doctors and other people who did services for me. Self-discovery showed my need for attention and a real craving to be seen. It was important to find another way to be seen as myself, as an individual. If I needed to do something besides being a mother, I could volunteer to help others. What could I do? The late 1960s was a time when Viet Nam vets were coming home with all sorts of injuries. Before I married, I had been a Grey Lady. At that time, I worked at the Home of Incurables in Washington DC (now called The Washington Home). In the intervening years, Grey Ladies had evolved into Red Cross Volunteers. It was something I understood and I decided to be one.
It turned out that there was a need for volunteers at Walter Reed Hospital, where a lot of badly wounded veterans were recovering. So I took a new training course as a Red Cross Volunteer. Thus began my years as a volunteer with veterins at Walter Reed. It was eye-opening. Those young men, many of whom were wounded in ways that would keep them from ever living a normal life, had such strength, such humor, such a great will to live. They were funny. They were brave. And many of them were struggling with anger at the “anti-war” people who disparaged their sacrifice.
Going out to Walter Reed every other Thursday was real. It was fun. It certainly fulfilled my desire to get some positive feedback. The soldiers were flattering and attentive, and lonely. It was a win-win for me. It was certain that my attention helped these soldiers, my letter writing, card playing, and just general chatting. And at the same time, my sense of myself as “seen” was enhanced each time I went to work.
It was a great lesson for me in multiple ways. First of all, it is fun to volunteer if you volunteer for something that pleases you. Second, it is possible to help people one on one. Don’t think a task is too big. Each of us makes a difference.
Turn a negative into a positive. My need for attention led me to volunteer in a place where people really needed MY ATTENTION ON THEM. And as a result, we all felt needed and, best of all, “SEEN.” That time as a volunteer at Walter Reed Hospital remains a happy memory to this day.
I have done many volunteer jobs since then. Covid shut down a lot of areas where volunteers used to be able to help people. Just another way in which the government and the medical/industrial complex harmed our lives and our freedoms during that crazy time. Now I want to become a Hospice Volunteer. The next training is in October. I look forward to that. It is nice to have a purpose besides your regular daily routine.
If you wish to feel useful and at the same time grateful for what you have, I recommend helping some people or some organization that you believe in. Nothing is better for the soul than helping people who need it. Helping in a hands on way, is beneficial for you as well as whomever you are aiding. Giving money is fine and needed. But actually working with children or adults who are lonely or sick or mentally challenged will keep you grateful for your life and your health.
Try to find something you care about and volunteer there. It will change your life.
Copyright©. 2023 Bonnie B. Matheson