It can be shocking to experience the changes an aging body goes through. I expected some of the changes. Vision, skin quality, physical fitness, and hormone fluctuations have declined as anticipated. What I didn’t expect is that my stomach would be affected in any meaningful way. Or, at worse, that any changes would be so gradual I would barely notice them.
My stomach had always been like cast iron, impervious to things like malodorous smells, rotational and gravitational forces, and seeing or tasting disgusting things. It was the sort of strength that even champion strong men weren’t guaranteed to have. Most of the people around me lacked the extent of my gastric tolerance. It gave me one of the few advantages I had as a kid which I relished with sadistic glee, seeking opportunities to make others turn green.
My sister, who shared my ability, and I delighted in talking about the most revolting things possible, especially at the dinner table. We tried our hardest but repeatedly failed to repulse each other even when our father buckled under the grossness factor.
I became curious to learn how far my tolerance went. I watched real surgery on television with fascination. I watched procedures performed on me at the doctor’s office with curiosity. I explored every smell, sight, taste, and experience that might reveal my limitations. No roller coaster was too steep. No spinning gravitational forces on my body too much. No smell was disgusting enough to elicit much of a response.
It was my one superhuman ability.
And then I turned 50.
It sounds like an exaggeration but I swear that that age was like a switch that shut off that one stellar ability. Almost literally overnight, I went from tolerating everything to tolerating almost nothing unpleasant.
As an example, a few days ago my husband and I cleaned old food out of the fridge. I found two cucumbers squirreled away that were growing mold. I dumped them into the trash and felt the contents of my stomach trying to join the squishy green mess.
Then, my husband used his hand to scoop Christmas dinner leftovers out of containers and into the trash. I watched the skin of his bare hands make contact with candied yams, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole. My gag reflex kicked into overdrive. I stumbled out of the room away from the offending sights but the gagging wouldn’t stop.
The response made no sense to me, especially considering all I was comfortable with a few years ago. The contrast struck me as strangely hilarious so for several minutes, I laughed whenever the gagging calmed.
The next evening, I relayed the incident to my sister, intending to have another good laugh. What I didn’t anticipate was that just talking about it initiated the gag reflex. We laughed about that too.
And just a few moments ago, I happened upon a photograph of a bloody human brain. I think it was associated with an advertisement, strangely enough. My body began its frustrating chant of intolerance. Unfortunate because I’m sitting in a public space. I visually measured the distance to the nearest toilet, wondering if I could run fast enough to make it without distracting the others around me.
I’m guessing it’s too much to hope that next year I’ll wake up with a normal amount of gastric tolerance. It makes me wonder what “joys” face me in the coming years. And it gives me an entirely new level of understanding and respect for the elderly that, sadly, I didn’t have before. Not only do I finally get the quip that aging isn’t for wimps, I suspect aging requires something akin to superhuman abilities even as your body fails you. I hope my delicate stomach can handle it.