Monday, January 04, 2010

Women, Aging and Tattoos

I have been thinking about this for quite a while and have decided to get a tattoo this month. It won't be visible to the general public. And what I am going to get is simple and meaningful in a personal way. But it is my thoughts that have led to this decision that I want to share.

Why a tattoo? Why mark myself so permanently? To explain some of my reasoning, I need to explain a bit of my recent experience with aging and my parents. Both of my parents spent time in ICUs and nursing homes before they passed away. What I observed was very disconcerting to me. Mostly for my mother. In both of these circumstances, we take away an individuals humanity and individuality. Especially when the patient is unable to communicate for themselves. Doctors, nurses and especially aids know nothing about the person other than their medical needs. And worse, they have total "rights" to your body. They touch, manipulate, invade, awaken you with no permission asked. You are not allowed to say no. You are only a body. They may be gentle or rough....you have lost your rights to your self. And what if you can't communicate. That is worse. They will wipe you, prick you, bath you...sedate you....and all with no awareness of the unique individual with whom they are dealing.

So here is my thought.....what if I end up in an ICU or a nursing home? What if I can't tell these people who I am? How special and unique I am...? But what if I had a tattoo? Something that means something to me. Would they not have to stop in their duties, if just for a moment, and contemplate ME? Would that lead them to wonder "who I was"? Would they understand that I had a story? Would they wonder what my story was? Would that mean that they would now think of me, if only for that moment, as a person and not just a body? Can my tattoo remind them of my humanity?

It is something to think about. Especially for women, as those of us in the baby boom generation age, many of us will end up in these places. Our individuality taken away by the system of necessity. A woman with a tattoo...is a woman with a story. If my mom had had a tattoo, maybe they would have taken the time to ask her if she wanted to watch the Soaps and Oprah instead of just turning them on. Maybe they would have taken the time to discover that she would have rather watched CNN or CSpan. Who knows...but as a woman not far from "aging"...I guess I want to stack the deck more in my favor.

8 comments:

Kimberly Santini said...

I remember having this discussion with you at Saratoga this summer. Profound thought, that being people lose their unique identities at the end of their lives. Thank you for writing more about this and sharing your ideas! I can't wait to see the ink, either! (assuming you'll share!)

RhondaL said...

What a powerful post. And you have an excellent point.

When I was ill and hospitalized often, my roommates were often elderly woman who weren't able to express themselves. I'd see doctors come in and talk to them about their conditions and I knew they wouldn't have been able to remember what the doctors said, especially with all the "doctor speak."

And more frightening is the loss of the sovereignity over your own body. It's bad enough when you're aware and can conceivably say "no" to painful invasive tests but you still know that they must be done for the good of your health.

Juliet said...

Rhonda - That is exactly it. I was so glad I was there for my mom most of the time. But it was horrible to watch the amount of "man handling" that went on. Especially as she got less and less able to focus and express herself. One nurse even hit her because she was trying to stop her from hurting her when taking blood.

Sue Steiner said...

I appreciated your post. I gatehr from the examples you wrote about that its the basic, day to day care that a person ends up losing themselves to. One of the things I want to do in this new year is write a living will so that I can have in place my wishes when I am in the position of not being able to speak. I realize you may be talking about the daily hands on care vs. medical procedures but a living will in place may let nature takes its course rather than prolonging the inevitible that in my opionion often just leads to suffering.

Juliet said...

A living will is very important, as is a DNR if you want one. But you are right...that only helps in the end and not with the day to day care stuff. It is that loss of control and identity that is so horrible.

Linda Shantz said...

I remember that discussion too. And I guess you'd better be prepared for the Saratoga 2010 Reveal! :-D

Juliet said...

Linda - LOL...no problem. I will have it by the end of this month!

connie said...

Here's from a different point of view: Being my mother-in-laws full time caregiver I so understand about having to give up your body. Unfortunately, she is incapable of much. I bathe, feed, clean up after her. She has lost so much sensation from one cause: inactivity. How can I change an 80 y/o into becoming more involved in life when she never was before? It is so frustrating to watch her just sit in front of the TV with the Game show network on. She has no hobbies, never did. Doesn't like to read. I could go on. What this experience is teaching me. DON"T give in or up! I promise myself that I will not be in a position to have my "life" prescribed by others! I will remain as active as I can, physically and mentally. I see daily what it is like to not be able to care for yourself. May we all find the strength to fight that. As for the tatoos, bravo! Just remember to think of the ink as something to add on to in the future. No matter how well you take care of your skin, the ink will, bleed, fade and contort with time. I'm coming up with ideas to embellish my old ink (over 20 years old!) with new ideas to relate who I am now. Let me know Juliette, if I can help you with the drawings! Thanks for letting me vent!