Authors: Toby Devens
Copyright © 2006 by Toby Devens
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
My favorite mid-life crisis (yet) / Toby Devens.
1. Middle-aged women—Maryland—Baltimore—Fiction. 2. Women gynecologists—Maryland—Baltimore—Fiction. 3. Menopause—Fiction. 4. Midlife crisis—Fiction. 5. Best friends—Fiction. 6. Female friendship—Fiction. I. Title: My favorite midlife crisis (yet). II. Title.
My thanks to so many for their support in the writing of this book.
First, Fouad Abbas, MD, gynecologic oncologist, who took time from his grueling schedule to provide detailed information and relate relevant experiences in the operating room—he was of enormous help, as was Dennis Gleicher, MD, always available to answer medical questions. Vivian Goldman also directed me to good medical information. Thanks to Sidney Ossakow, PhD, for leading me over complex scientific terrain. Fiber artist extraordinaire Carol Bodin walked me through the process, actually had me working at a loom—she gave generously of her time and information. Lenne Lipton, audio-visual and conference specialist, helped me figure out the tricky parts in those areas. If I missed the mark on any of the details provided by these experts, it was my error or my choice to shape fact to the demands of fiction.
Thanks to dear friend Jan Innes whose cushy shoulder and keen editorial eye got me thorough the inevitable rough spots. To Jean Louise Reynolds for decades of advice, insider info, and lots of laughs when I needed them most, and to Candy Cole for her insights into the man/woman dynamic. I am grateful to Linda Hayes who helped reestablish the connection with my talented writer colleagues in Maryland: Ruth Glick, Cronshi Englander, Kathryn Johnson, Binnie Syril Braunstein, Nancy Baggett, Patricia Paris, Linda Williams, Connie Hay, Joyce Braga, and Joanne Settel. They know their stuff and graciously shared it. I’m especially indebted to the remarkable Randi DuFresne who connected me with my agent, Elaine English. Elaine is a skillful and steady champion. And heartfelt thanks to Chassie West whose calm, considered guidance always brought a fresh perspective to my thinking.
Writer Alan Zendell provided suggestions and comradeship and Toba and Andy Barth and Eleanor Feingold were funds of energy and information. My editor Hillel Black deserves my warmest appreciation for seeing potential in the original and applying his brilliant editorial skills, vast experience, and gentle counsel to shaping the ultimate version of this book.
My parents Esta and William Devens stood by me in spirit; I cherish the memory of their goodness and humor. My daughter and friend Amanda Schwartz reached out to help: her medical information was spot-on and her eagle eye caught blips along the plot path. Most important, her unfailing encouragement and love were there for me, as always. Starting her on her remarkable life is my proudest achievement. And, finally, my gratitude to Sam Ponzcak whose infinite patience and caring never fail to astound me—I am so blessed to have my own midlife turned sweet and productive by his strong yet gentle presence.
So, how many times last month did you engage in sexual intercourse?”
Elaine Markowitz, a realtor, fifty-two and tummy tucked, shifted uncomfortably in her chair, disturbing the beige and teak tranquility of my office overlooking Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
“You sure my name isn’t going to be published in this article, Dr. Berke?” she asked. “My mother’s still living. She has cataracts, but she reads.”
“No names. Just numbers, I promise. And it’s an important study.”
Elaine raised a skeptical eyebrow. “About sex?”
We’d been through this once, but now I clicked off my physician voice and turned on my woman-to-woman voice, warmer and more reassuring. “About female sexual interest once we reach menopause. And about our levels of activity and satisfaction. There are so many myths out there. Like Mother Nature flips the switch when we turn fifty and shuts us down. Which I don’t for a moment believe, but I’d like to prove it. With statistics.”
Better. Elaine settled back in her chair.
“We need to get the facts out to the general public and to gynecologists, especially,” I pressed. “After all, the more we all know about the women we treat, the better we can meet their needs.”
“Yeah, right. Okay,” Elaine said. “Let’s get rid of the myths. Sure. Ask away.”
I’d already whipped out my survey sheet.
Policy requires that every woman coming into the OB/GYN practice of Potak, Berke, and Bernstein, MDs for her annual physical and Pap test gets five minutes of chat time after we’ve invaded her most private territory with a gloved finger and a warm speculum. I make it ten. I
my patients. Because I’m a gynecologic oncologist and not an obstetrician/gynecologist, most of the women I see are older. Which provided a handy population for studying the impact of age on sexual activity.
I’d been administering this survey for six months. I worked from a sampling base of a hundred. Excluding the single women in their eighties and nineties who have vaginas like prairie dog tunnels, nearly impenetrable, 30 percent of single women fifty and over in my practice reported dating at least once in the prior month. Twenty percent had been laid in that time frame. About 12 percent noted a significant other with whom they lived or an exclusive relationship with a longtime lover.
Preliminary conclusion: don’t count us out. Which was supported by my clinical observation. At least half of the women I treat are divorced or widowed, and I was handing out enough samples of Astroglide and KY Jelly to slide the entire East Coast into the Atlantic. So I knew my single patients were sexually active.
By the time I got to the second page of my checklist, Elaine Markowitz was happily sharing with me the details of her relationship with her forty-one-year-old boyfriend. “He’s the stage manager at the Fells Point Dinner Theater. And, I’m not exaggerating here, he looks like a young Brando and screws like a young Bugs Bunny. Five times a week at least. But, honestly, I could go every day. He makes me feel thirty-five.”
She did seem to have a dewy freshness about her as if her corpuscles were boogying through her veins and I told her so, though in more clinical terms.
“Part sex, part Dr. Fischman. Look closer.” She leaned in. “This is so wonderful. You’re a doctor and you can’t tell. The man is a miracle worker.” I proffered a noncommittal smile.
Bland. Bland was good. Lessens those cartoon parentheses around the mouth.
“I had a full face lift,” Elaine chortled. “The whole shebang all at once. Eyelids, brow, chin.” She stroked the adolescent tautness of her neck. “I felt like shit for two weeks, but it was worth it. Kevin never would have looked at the old me. Men look through fifty-year-old women, not
I gave her a how-would-I-know stare and changed the subject to estrogen patches.
As I droned on, Elaine actually strolled behind me to get a better look at a photo of Whit and Drew taken when the twins were five, bundled in snowsuits and mounted on kiddie skis. One of our family Christmas trips to Squaw Valley. Now Whit was in med school in Chicago with a law student girlfriend and Drew was pulling straight A’s at the Art Institute of Boston. Whit looks like me, but takes himself very seriously. Drew is my ex-husband Stan all over. Nicer than Stan, though. A better person than Stan.