“Is it really your birthday?“ he asked.
“No,” I replied. “I just lie about it to get free stuff.” (I don’t usually engage in smart-alecky repartee with doctors, but this guy has a sarcastic sense of humor).
He asked if I had a half hour to spare, then escorted me down the hall to the “spa” room where a beautiful blonde medical aesthetician awaited me for a free birthday facial! Wow! What followed was a variety of various high-tech procedures involving facial cleansing, exfoliation, micro-current and gentle waves LED treatments, and other stuff I don’t remember the names of, all accompanied by heavenly-smelling concoctions from plants growing above and below the sea.
Of course, I held back the tears. Maintained my control. I made it through the conclusion of the session with a broad smile. I profusely thanked the doc and crew, rode the elevator down to the lobby, out the glass doors, through the parking lot to my car, settled myself behind the steering wheel, buckled my seatbelt, and began to sob. I continued like that for a long time.
Later, after some research, including talking to my husband - a clinical psychologist - and one of his colleagues, I found that my experience was not an uncommon one. Especially for victims of trauma. What was my trauma? Breast cancer.
My husband’s colleague also suggested that my reaction to the specific circumstances of facial message may have had to do with memories related to that part of my body. I certainly do remember many occasions of lying nervously on gurneys, being wheeled to operating rooms with medical personnel behind me, outside my visual field. I also remember the anesthesia masks. And I’m sure I had a smile plastered on my face right up until they knocked me out.
Maybe my real birthday present wasn’t the facial. Maybe it was realizing that it’s long past time to quit the smiling and just allow myself to cry.