Experiencing the outer limits of data mining

By Kathleen Stocking

Sun contributor

“Are you sexually active?”

The young woman asking does not look up from her note pad.

I’m not sure in what capacity the questioner is asking.  Is this my doctor, a physician’s assistant, a nurse, an aide.  I am there for my eyes. The question catches me off-guard.

I’m in a neck brace, walk with a walker, and part of my right leg is a prosthetic. I’m almost eighty years old, but look older.

By “sexually active” I don’t think she means, did you end up in a neck brace by swinging from the chandelier onto your significant other?

I think she means, are you still intimate in any way shape or form that anyone could describe as sexual?  Maybe she noticed the large, gold, heart-shaped locket around my neck that says, “Love Conquers All” and took it from there?   Is she a fruit? Is she coming on to me? Is this question for her own personal education?

I demurely lower my head. I tremble with the shyness that has utterly overtaken me. Finally I say, looking determinedly into the middle distance, “I’m here for my eyes.”

“Are you still sexually active?” she asks again. I try to catch her eye to see where she was going with this, but the form she is dutifully filling out requires her undivided attention.

This is a generic clinic. I am not there for gynecological reasons.  In my mind, I am saying to this young woman, “Heck, yeah, sister, I’m sexually active. I’ve still got moves. I was earning my living as a lady with “special” abilities when this all happened.”

But I don’t say this. When I finally get up the nerve to speak, I tell her the truth. “My eyes. The other night, it felt like little worms were crawling under my eyelid. It didn’t last long. But I didn’t’ know what it was.”

“Oh, I’ve had that, too,” she exclaims, looking immeasurably relieved. That’s when I decide she’s not coming onto me. She’s as embarrassed as I am. She looks about 12, but when you’re my age everyone looks like they’re 12. “Ischemic optic neuropathy, an eye stroke.”

“Really? So it’s normal?” I start laughing nervously. “I’m so relieved. I was afraid to even tell you. I thought you would think I was crazy if I told you It felt like tiny worms under the eyelid.”

“Yes,” she laughs. “I had exactly the same thing.” Now when she asks the “activity” question again, we’re both laughing.

“Data Mining,” a friend will explain when I ask her about the new question from the doctor. “It’s not what a doctor, a healer, should be doing to a patient. Not “date” mining,” she jokes, “information for robots and artificial intelligence to play around with.”

Later when I get home, everyone in the community room of my senior residence wants to know, naturally, how I had answered the question.

I tell them that I had answered, “Yes.”

At my age, it’s fun to keep ‘em guessing.

The essay was originally published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.