One hot afternoon a few summers ago I stopped worrying about sucking my tummy in when wearing bathers. I had a new worry. There, behind each knee, spidery veins crept up the back of my legs. One was faint, the other was like the Nile Delta.
Hang on, I thought to myself, I can’t have spider veins. And, for the next year or so, I didn’t. Instead I avoided hot showers and used fake tan on my legs. But then last December I changed my mind. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life hiding the backs of my legs. In a fit of maturity, I fronted up to my GP and got a referral. Two ultrasounds later the specialist told me that my spidery veins weren’t varicose – leading me to shelve treatment for another six months.
Then last week, on an impulse, I walked into a Laser Clinic and asked for an appointment. ‘I’m so sorry’, said the attractive young receptionist. ‘But we’re booked up for the next two months’. ‘Bother,’ I replied, secretly relieved. Before I left I got into a conversation with an older receptionist about sunscreen. Rather than taking the tiny tester she offered me, I asked for a 500ml bottle from their expensive skincare range.
The next day the clinic called. A cancellation meant that the doctor could see me the following morning. Five days later I lay face down on the table. ‘Can I read while you work?’ I asked, thinking that if my mind was occupied I’d be less worried about the pain.
It worked. I still felt the needles prick, like angry bull ants. I still heard the specialist talking through the procedure with a junior doctor. But while she did I pulled myself along the sentences of my paperback, as if a handrail up a steep climb.
Twenty minutes later it was all over. The doctor stretched compression tight the length of my leg. ‘Don’t get in your car before you’ve had a good walk’, she said. ‘Forty minutes should do it’.
My daughter wasn’t the last bit sympathetic. ‘What did you have that done for?’ she said. ‘You couldn’t really see them’. But of course she had seen them. And she had said things.
After a certain age, let’s say forty seven, vanity is inseparable from maintenance. If you do nothing to maintain your body in your twenties no-one will notice. If you do nothing to maintain your body in your middle years people – not just you – will notice.
On the first night I wore the compression stocking I woke up with a sore foot. Falling back to sleep I dreamed that I had an operation to remove my leg. I had lost a leg but I still had my life. And, the nurse pointed out, I’d had a long and active life before losing my leg.
I was glad to wake and rustle two legs in the sheets. The next morning I minded the school rush much less than usual. The two women I mentioned it to, in passing, showed their own interest. ‘I’ve been meaning to have mine done, too,’ said one. ‘Does it hurt?’ asked the other. ‘A bit’, I say, ‘although it’s not as bad as the dentist’.