HIGHS AND LOWS

HIGHS AND LOWS

From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

Highs and Lows

I was forty when I had a hysterectomy. My doctor told me that although my ovaries were intact, I might experience an early menopause and not to be concerned if I did. For the first six months or so, I was on full alert for any signs of “the change.” When nothing happened, I forgot all about it.

It was not until my late forties when I found out what the word “hot flash” really meant. If you think you’re having them, you’re not. There’s nothing flashy about them. In fact, they’re closer to having someone stoke an internal Bessemer furnace. The heat begins with a warm glow in the solar plexus then builds in waves to scalding proportions and finally becomes nuclear at the hairline. Sweat drips, clothes darken, and if you’re wearing more than one layer of clothes, you’ll strip without shame—in the office, at church, wherever. That’s what a hot flash is, and you’ll know you are having them when you get to the point of giving them pet names. Mine were called “power surges.”

Nights were worse than days. During the day, I was uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassed. At night, I would wake as the heat reached a crescendo, tossing off blankets no matter the temperature. The surges seemed to be on a schedule; I could count on waking at 2:00 AM and again at 6:30 AM. Who needs alarm clocks when you have your own personal fire-breathing dragon?

At a time when women complained that their husbands become distant and uninterested as they went through menopause, I had no such problem. During my hot flashes, my husband would look at me with sympathy. “Pretty bad, aren’t they?” he would say as blush melted from my cheeks, and mascara ran down my face. “You’re beautiful to me, and I love you.” During my nighttime episodes, he would often rise and wet down a facecloth for me with cool water. He would replenish the water carafe next to my side of the bed every evening before we turned in for the night. And nearly every morning, my husband would cuddle close to me, and I would awake, my internal furnace on high, folded in his arms. It made me feel cherished, loved—and hot! I could never figure out how he stood it; it had to be like holding a jalapeño. But I would soon find out why.

We lived in Florida at the time, and the winter that year was unusually cold. We’d turned off the air conditioner in October and by late November, nighttime temperatures were plummeting into the forties and fifties. Not cold by the standards of most of the country, but South Florida winters are damp, not cold. The temperature changes come in the space of hours, not seasons.

I had gone for my annual checkup that January. My doctor had prescribed low-dose hormones to help me through my symptoms. My dragon was now only puffing smoke, and I was thrilled. I finally had control over my personal thermostat again! Well, most times anyway. It was often enough that I allowed color back into my wardrobe.

February was the coldest month, with daytime temperatures in the sixties and nights approaching the mid-thirties. Some mornings we had hoarfrost on the lawn. Early one morning I woke in my husband’s arms and snuggled deeper, enjoying his warmth. I was glad that I didn’t feel as though I was going to self-combust.

“Hon,” my husband whispered in my ear, “do you think you could go off those pills for a while? Maybe just until spring?”

That was when I realized that the morning cuddle had less to do with sympathy than it did with my power surge. He had been warming himself at the furnace of my menopause before getting out of bed to start the day! I think it was the first pillow fight I had had since I was seven years old. There was no way I was letting the remark pass unnoticed. Besides, isn’t menopause the advent of a second childhood anyway?

Kim A. Hoyo

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