Tag Archives: aging

A Doctor Who Listens

I read a post yesterday written by a pathologist who was recounting his most alarming discovery ever. He told of a woman who went to many doctors over many years, complaining of a bloated, painful abdomen. The doctors seem all to have focused on the word “complaining” and dismissed her as mistaken, not that sick, or a “hypochondriac,” which is another way of calling her crazy. (Which happens disproportionately to women and to fat people, I believe.)

When the pathologist performed the autopsy, however, the found that the woman’s entire abdomen was virtually destroyed by endometriosis, a not uncommon “complaint” among women and one that can be detected by a simple test and then treated. It certainly need not expand to the point of death.

Fortunately, I have a doctor who listens to me. Two weeks ago, when I had an appointment with him, I started the conversation with, “I know you’re going to tell me that I’m just getting old and have to live with it.”

“You’re not getting old,” he replied. “You’re getting older.”

“But I think I’m getting older faster than I ought to,” I said. “Other people my age don’t have all these problems.” He asked me to tell him my symptoms.

“My arms and legs are weak. You know I fall sometimes. Well, sometimes I can get back up, but sometimes I can’t. My husband calls me three times a day from work to make sure I’m not on the floor with my head bashed in. If I don’t answer the phone, sometimes he rushes home from work just to see if I’m all right. I love it that he cares that much, but I wish he didn’t have to do it.

“I use a cane to walk – not around the house, but whenever I go out. Can I get a handicapped sticker for the car? My back hurts a lot, too. In addition, my knees hurt all the time. In fact, if there weren’t a vanity there to lever myself up, I most likely couldn’t get off the toilet.” (Damn it, I should have led with this. Doctor: Why are we seeing you today? Me: I can’t get off the toilet. Imaginary doctor: Then how did you get here? But I digress. )

“And my hair is thinning. I look like an old granny-woman. And I always feel cold.” He listened patiently, even to the part about the thinning hair.

“I’d like a bone scan to see if my osteopenia is getting worse, and I know I should get a colon test too,” I said. “Make it one of the poop-in-the-box kind. Colonoscopy prep is the sickest I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

“You need a mammogram, too,” he commented. Then he put me in touch with scheduling for all the tests and had my blood collected. He even gave me a prescription for the handicapped sticker. (And the nurse gave me a cool bandaid for the needle-stick, after I requested it. I guess not all of me is old.)

All the blood test came back with fine results, I thought. Then the doctor said something I hadn’t expected. “I’m going to double your thyroid medication.”

Of course, I Googled the Mayo Clinic website, which I consider pretty darn trustworthy. I was shocked to find all my symptoms listed there – muscle weakness, joint pain, sensitivity to cold. Plus fatigue, weight gain (which I had also mentioned), thinning hair, and depression. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check.

The Mayo clinic also noted that many people attributed all the symptoms to age. Mega-check.

I’m so glad that I have a doctor who listened to my “complaints” and didn’t fob me off with some lame-ass excuse. I’ve been taking the jacked-up thyroid med for a bit over a week now. I can’t swear that it’s having the effects I hope for, but I like to think there’s a little more pep in my step and that getting off the toilet is no longer the obstacle it was.

My husband still calls three times a day, but it’s my hope that, before long, he won’t have to.

Growing Old Together

No, this isn’t going to be a post about me and my husband, although it’s true that we’re growing older (every day) and we’re still together (after nearly 40 years).

Instead, I’m going to write about growing older with my cat, Dushenka. (Dushenka, incidentally, is Russian for “Little Soul” and is used colloquially to mean “Sweetheart” or “Darling.”)

I once had a cat (Louise) who lived to be 21. That’s rather old for a cat. I had her with me since she was a kitten. While she wasn’t mine for all of my life, I was hers for all of hers. Figuring cat-to-human years is tricky, but she was definitely a senior cat. But I digress.

I don’t really know how old Dushenka was when she came to us, but the vet records show we first brought her in in 2012. Assuming she was two or maybe three when she chose us for her family, that makes her 11 or 12 years old, or approximately the same age as I am now in cat years. We are aging together, and not always gracefully.

In fact, “gracefully” is a memory for both of us. Every time she jumps down from her perch by the window, her back legs don’t work so well and she bonks her little bottom on the floor. To get up on the perch, she now has to take a route from one of the chairs in my study and make a smaller leap, rather than jumping up from the ground.

I know exactly how she feels. Sometimes my legs don’t work right either, and more than once I’ve gotten up off the floor by using a chair as an intermediary.

When cats age, they often get gray or white hairs on their chin or around their muzzle. Dushenka avoids this by having a completely white chin and muzzle already. (It should be noted that all my profile pictures were taken mumblemurph years ago.)

I get cold very easily and need sweaters or blanks tucked around me. So does Dushenka. Her favorite napping spots are on a chair that contains one or more of my sweaters or a pillow that makes her look like a princess. Her favorite sleeping spot is in our bed, curled up in a little nest made of the comforter, or on top of my husband (who radiates heat like a fuzzy stove).

Dushenka is, however, not too old to play sometimes. She likes “get that string” and is pretty quick at it. I like playing “get that string” too, from the other end of the string.

She likes sun and fresh air, sitting or sleeping on her perch when the sun is shining and I’ve opened the window for her to sniff the wonders outside. She watches cat TV, also known as “I wanna bite the birdie.” I like the feeling of sun on my old bones too, and the fresh air, as long as I have one of the sweaters. I watch human TV and enjoy “I wanna bite the birdie” when they’re fixing poultry on “Chopped.”

She does not go outside, primarily because I want to keep her safe from fleas, diseases, and marauding cars. I stay inside to ward off pandemics and how people-y the outside world is.

Still, it would be foolish not to say that Dushenka and I are both on the decline. She will likely reach the end of her life a few years earlier than I do, given the cat-year-progression thing. And when that happens, I will have to think hard about whether to get another cat. I surely wouldn’t want to adopt a young kitten and leave her all alone at some point in the future.

Maybe a senior cat. They always need homes. And we can grow older together.

 

Gravity Is Not My Friend

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “Gravity is not just a good idea; it’s the law.” That may be true, but I am seriously considering a career as a lawbreaker, an avocation as a scofflaw. I might even argue the point as a lawyer.

Gravity, while one of the most powerful forces in the universe, is not nice to those of us living on Earth. Oh, I know that gravity keeps the moon in place and creates tides and other really neat things. But for the creatures living here, it has its disadvantages. And by creatures, I mean people. You and me. Particularly me.

First, let’s take weight. It’s that darn gravity that causes us to weigh what we do. The moon’s gravity is only 1/6 of Earth’s. Therefore, on the moon, we would weigh 1/6 of what we do now. That’s why astronauts get to jump and bounce on the moon and give the illusion of floating. The moon still has gravity, but it’s not nearly as annoying.

It is possible to achieve zero gravity on Earth, but you have to ride the “Vomit Comet” to do it, which I, for one, am not willing to do, even if they would let me. (It’s an airplane that makes steep inclines and steep drops that leave the humans inside suspended in midair for a few moments, just long enough to see their breakfast also suspended in midair.)

(Incidentally, there’s been a lot of speculation about what zero-g sex would be like. From my extensive research in science fiction novels, I gather it would be awkward, difficult, and counterintuitive. If I ever have the chance to find out for certain, I’ll be sure to let you know right away. It’ll be the first thing I do, after.  But I digress.)

No, the problems with gravity are for we, the Earth-bound. Aside from the weight issue, there are the aging issues. Gravity pulls on our no-longer-so-firm tissues and causes them to elongate. This is noticeable in the skin (particularly on the upper arms and neck) and, need I say, in the boobs. You wonder why your chest is starting to migrate to near your belly-button when you take off your bra? It’s gravity’s fault you’re not perky anymore.

In my case, it’s also gravity’s fault that I’m as beat up as I am. My childhood nickname was “SuperKlutz” (this was in the days before self-esteem had been invented) because of my ability to accomplish such feats as falling out of the car with both feet still in the car. I also managed to fall off the monkey bars, landing on my head on what was then considered to be reasonable playground surfacing, i.e., asphalt. Some people say this explains lots, but never mind that now.

At my age, gravity takes my least little misstep and turns it into a trauma. Just the other week, I wiped out on a short flight of concrete steps, despite using a cane at the time, and bruised my leg, skinned my scalp (which bled like an SOB), and produced a massive goose egg on my forearm. The goose egg has ebbed some, but it left a hideous bruise that has still not resolved to a proper skin tone. I glance down and think, “Wait! I don’t have a huge birthmark there!” And even if I did, it likely would not be turning entertaining but appalling shades of dried ketchup, soot, teen hair-color, and pea soup as I wait for it to dissipate. It resembles either a tornado sky or a very overripe, much-abused eggplant.

To add to the indignity, when I do fall, that mean ol’ gravity keeps me stuck there on the ground. I need to strengthen my leg muscles, I guess, so I can regain a standing position if my husband isn’t there to swoop in and hoist me back to vertical. (Actually, sometimes I can do it and sometimes I can’t, and I’ve never been able to figure out what makes the difference.)

A cane I have gotten used to. Riding scooters in large home improvement stores with concrete floors is also acceptable. But, so far, I’m resisting using a walker, though I suspect it will eventually come to that, sometime in the distant future when I’m truly old.

Unless some clever scientist figures out how to dial back gravity just a wee bit or my next house is on the moon, of course.

Acting My Age

I read all those posts about what women over a certain age shouldn’t do – wear message t-shirts or leopard prints, for example – and promptly ignore them. I have a great collection of t-shirts (including a Deadpool one) and leopard-print flats and a leopard-print bathing suit. If I stay away from a style of clothing, it’s because I don’t like it (the “cold shoulder” look comes to mind).

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m really bad at acting my age. My main problem is that I don’t know what age I am.  I mean, I can remember what year I was born and do the math. But fortunately, everyone else seems confused about my age too.

For a long time, I was often mistaken for younger than I am, which is a good problem to have. The first time someone called me “ma’am,” I had to look around and see who was standing behind me. It turns out the greeter was just a southerner who had been brought up to use “ma’am” as a polite form of address for any woman with any kind of authority. I was a cashier, so I had the power of exact change to wield. 

I’ve also been disconcerted when trying to buy a drink. Once I was in a bar and asked for a beer. The server asked for my ID, but the goggle-eyed look I gave her earned me a hasty, “Never mind.” I did have my hair in braids that day, but I was well into my 20s at the time.

And I know that cashiers in supermarkets are required to ask for ID even if the beer-buyer looks to be 90. But I still find it puzzling. “I have underwear that’s old enough to drink,” I tell them, mentally adding, “and if you don’t believe me, I’ll show it to you.”

Now, however, that doesn’t happen. To the younger generation, I am evidently a crone. Once I was in a tiny accident – it barely knocked the “I” off my Saturn Ion. But the other motorist seemed in quite a tizzy that I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I assured the young man again and again that I was fine. I may have seemed a bit disoriented because I couldn’t find a pen and paper to take down his insurance info. But he kept insisting that I go to the emergency room to be checked out because, as he put it, “you’re elderly.”

At the time, I was 52.

I admit that I have not aged well. My apparent age is not helped by the fact that, after two back operations, I now sometimes walk with a cane. And I haven’t bothered to get my hair “done” since long before the pandemic. 

But in my head, I am 35, tops. I’ve been told that everyone’s mind stops picturing them getting older at some point and forever after thinks they’ll look that way. I expect to see myself in the mirror looking 35, and am always disappointed when I don’t.

This is different from having an inner child, which for a long time I didn’t believe I had. Turns out that was because my inner child is an inner teen. She’s an outlet for all the things I never did as a repressed adolescent – painting my nails, flirting, spending money on ridiculous trinkets. Sometimes I let her out to have her fun for a while, but then I have to put her in a mental box and sit on the lid.

One needs only so many Deadpool t-shirts, after all.

Camping Then and Now

There we were, bedding down on sleeping bags in our tents, the cold, hard ground only a layer of canvas or plastic away. When we sprang out the next morning, our lithe teen forms dressed in green shorts and Vibram-soled boots, we hoisted our backpacks and hiked over hill and dale and rocky trails, singing optimistic songs and breathing deep of the fresh air. We ate granola as we walked.

Later that day, we built a fire and sat upon logs, tree stumps, or little water repellent squares while our dinner cooked slowly, smoke curled around our heads, and mosquitos had their meal before we had ours. Then it was more songs, jokes, stories, and talk till it was time to pour water on the fire, make sure the ashes were cool, and return to our sleeping bags, where, after hours more chat (not the electronic kind, either) we dozed off.

We were Girl Scouts and we thought that was the only way to camp. We’d see camping trailers and pop-up campers and elaborate RVs at the edges of the campgrounds nearest the parking lot and think, “That’s not camping! Those people aren’t having the real camping experience. No tents. No sleeping on the ground. Cooking over propane.” We sneered at them (amongst ourselves, being polite little things) and swore we would never indulge in such a travesty of the outdoor experience. It ought to involve at least a little hardship, after all, or where was the challenge?

Since then we have passed the 40- and 50- and even the 60-year marks and our challenges have largely changed. The last time I slept on the ground was well over a decade ago and an outfitter had to bring the tent, because I no longer owned one. Instead of the chirps of birds and rustle of small animals, the sound of our bones creaking and our groans as we tried to raise ourselves to standing positions awakened us. The outfitter cooked the breakfast and we were truly grateful.

Now even that sort of camping, with its modicum of luxury, is beyond me. For one thing, I need an electrical outlet nearby to run my CPAP machine. For another, my ability to climb from a horizontal position on the ground to an upright posture is, to say the least, difficult, as several falls in my home have proven. Some days I can get up and some days I need help. With my luck, I would be camping on one of the latter.

Now I would welcome a pop-up camper. It may have minimalist beds, but they are off the ground. Even a camping trailer would be nice. Those tents never really kept out the rain anyway and, given the choice, I would much rather sleep under a dry blanket than in a sodden sleeping bag.

(I’m still not completely sold on the huge RVs. I think of them more as a way to see the country than as a way to camp. Though they might be good for families with children and grown-ups even older than I.)

And now we have “glamping,” an ugly portmanteau word of “glamor” and “camping” that touts luxury and style. While glamping you can sleep in comfortable lodges or huge tents fitted out with full-sized beds. With throw pillows, even, in one of the photos I’ve seen. Wikipedia says it offers “the luxuries of hotel accommodation alongside ‘the escapism and adventure recreation of camping.'” “Resort-style services” may be available as you bask in Bali or indulge in a photo safari. In other words, camping for spoiled rich people. I know the rustic-looking cabins with all the comforts of the Waldorf promise a lot, but I can’t help feeling a little like I did as a naive and sturdy Girl Scout.

That’s not camping.