Could it be, really, that I have reached a new stage in life, one which is defined and organized by doctors’ appointments, with the occasional physical therapy session thrown in for good measure?
Or is this -- please, God -- just a temporary phase, a pit stop on the way to renewed well-being?
At the moment, I am living with a very disconcerting sense of falling-apartedness. And I am struggling to maintain the psychological strength necessary to assert mind-over-matter so that a random series of health issues don’t get me down, either literally or figuratively. I am not, suffice it to say, someone about whom it will ever be written that I was valiant or courageous or serene in the face of a serious health crisis. (Someone else’s, yes. I’m really good support when it’s not mine; but I am beginning to think I am a big woos when it is -- even though I don’t want to be.)
So here we are, less than two months into a new year, and two Emergency Room visits, one five-day hospitalization, myriad doctors' appointments on the calendar (Some specialists can’t see me until April. Really? Which part of Emergency Room do they not understand?), and assorted aforementioned physical therapy sessions. What’s at stake? It’s my heart which is the “biggie,” the one that has me most stressed, even though stress itself may be a contributing factor to the tachycardia which may or may not have caused me to faint and/or feel weak. It helps a little, but not much, to have three friends who've been introduced to the term "tachycardia" recently, too, and whose response has been much like mine, i.e., “Hey! I’ve been a good girl. I don’t smoke; I don’t drink too much; I eat right; and I exercise. And suddenly now, post-60, my heart is marching to a beat of its own? What is going on?!!”
The failure of this relatively rational, there-must-be-a-cause-and-effect approach exacerbates the fear -- *my* fear, anyway -- that this is what growing old really is: a relentless decline manifest in the wearing out, or falling apart of my otherwise healthy body, no matter what. Talk about a terrorist cell -- there must be one in my DNA!
Other factors contribute to this fear. I have a bum left foot; nerve damage is causing drop-foot, and it’s permanent, which means that, for the first time in my life, something’s wrong with me that’s not going to get better, no matter how many specialists I see. I’m dancing around the impact: Can I dance, for that matter? Can I hike? Play golf? Wear heels? Wear cute shoes at all? Stay mobile? Exercise? Avoid further injury? Mitigate the pain? Those are the practical considerations Emotionally, can I stand to look at the ugly, pathetic thing that my foot has become? Can I own it? And move on?
My shoulder hurts, too. On a good day (when the heart is beating regularly and the foot is not causing low back pain or mammoth blisters), it suddenly hurts to raise my right arm. . . to curl or brush my hair, to brush my teeth, to pull a sweater overhead, to make a sharp right turn while driving. Nerve impingement syndrome they call it. Something’s inflamed, no doubt red and swollen, and movement forces the small, probably arthritic bone spur on the rotator cuff into the nerve, causing pain that can make a grown woman cry. Cortisone shots help; physical therapy helps; anti-inflammatory drugs would help, but I can’t take them at the moment. And somehow I keep irritating the dang thing. This one I know will get better; it’s just, right now, another reminder of the creakiness of an aging body, and it makes me cranky.
My mother would have two things to say about all of this, both of which add up to “Quitcher Bitchin’!!” “This, too, will pass,” was one of her favorites, usually followed by “And would you empty the dishwasher, or make the salad, or dust the living room, or clean out the garage.” In the next breath she would say, “Well, at least it’s not \___\___\___\____” which was, of course, obviously some far more dire condition which would render my little aches and pains inconsequential, if not totally meaningless.
A therapist (Just a few more appointments for the calendar!) has her work cut out for her silencing my late mother. She has also suggested blinders for when I visit Dad in Assisted Living, amongst the walkers and the wheel chairs and the oxygen tanks, the nodders and the droolers and the paranoids -- a kind of situational denial that keeps me from projecting myself into the scene. It may be reality, but it’s not my reality, she reminds me, and I breathe a huge sigh of relief.
So what are we to do with this newfound physical vulnerability so many of us are experiencing? How do we share it, for example, so that we know we’re not alone out there with this struggle, yet keep from being chronic complainers? How do we adjust to it without giving up all that makes us vital and lets us grow? To what extent can we take back our calendars from the specialists, the tests, the pharmacy, and the therapies -- not throwing caution to the wind, exactly, but moving on, and not just from doctor to doctor or, some days, from answering machine to answering machine where my call is “very important,” and “ will be answered in the order in which it was received,” but then not for 11 minutes or so because -- what? -- my time isn’t as important as the doctor’s? How do we discern what’s normal, really, and therefore benign -- and what is not? What I’m really asking is can we successfully navigate this stage, even if it’s only (Yes, God, please, it’s Ann, again) temporary? Or is it this: Can we age more gracefully? And if so, how?
Let’s be clear: 63 is NOT OLD. But it is frailer than I thought it was. Or, I am frailer than I thought I was, or, at least, less invincible. To which I am finally finding myself thinking “So what?” I’m not dead yet either. I can grieve my losses (agility, endurance, speed, super-charged energy, maybe even the cute shoes); express and address my fears (here, to the physicians, and with intimates); remove the stuff that simply isn’t worth doing anymore (File under “Life is Short”); resume regular exercise (because someone has to be in charge of this body, and I am happier when it is me); schedule more time to laugh and play with friends (Laughter is the best medicine); and keep seeking that which will pull me into something outside myself (because, truly, when my mind is fully engaged, nothing hurts).
“It’s a process,” my sister says. (She’s a little like my mom that way, with her key phrases.) I prefer Answers, and Solutions, Cures and, yes, Perfection. But she’s right; this Aging thing is a process, and I am just going to have to learn to work it. I suspect we all are.
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