When Caring for Your Aging Self Takes You By Surprise

The albatross around my neck (the herniated disc between the C-6 and C-7 vertebrae) has opened me up to a plethora of new experiences.  In the past few weeks I have:  had acupuncture for the first time, courtesy of my friend Dave.  It was quite pleasant;

had my first MRI, bearable because they let me listen to Pandora.  Listening to the medley of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was very soothing.  “Landslide,” not so much.

taken up power walking, and discovered a host of interesting radio programs to keep those walks interesting;

This is one of my new favorites, courtesy of NPR.

Most importantly, I’ve learned what it means to be a patient living with chronic pain and uncertainty.

If, as I do, you think of yourself as a healthy person who rarely needs a doctor, it can be a shock to be ushered into the world of medical procedures.  When you are used to living an active lifestyle, it can be a shock to have your activities curtailed in the short-term, and an even bigger shock to face the possibility that in the long-term, you may have to give some of them up.

You sit in the waiting room of your doctor’s office or the radiology clinic with your spouse beside you and fast forward twenty or so years to when the two of you are elderly and waiting rooms and test results and fighting with insurance companies will be the norm.  But at least you have each other.  Statistics show that approximately one-third of adults between 46 and 64 are divorced, separated, or have never been married, and that this will reshape old age.  Jane Gross, author of A Bittersweet Season, Caring for Our Aging Parents and Ourselves, who I often cite in this blog, wrote of her recent experiences with eye surgery and her realization that she couldn’t go it alone, couldn’t ask so much of her friends and needed to hire a home health aide. You can read Part I and Part II of “When I Needed Help,” courtesy of the New York Times blog, “The New Old Age.”

We live in an era in which some of us (in particular the affluent and well-educated) believe we can control our health through diet and exercise.  I certainly feel that way and, in the weeks since my diagnosis, have been trying to will the inflammation out of my body by eating every healthy, anti-inflammatory food I can get my hands on.  You can imagine how popular this has made me at dinner time.

I bet Sasha and Malia eat brown rice without complaining.

After we evaluated the MRI results with the doctor and determined that medical intervention was in order, I came to view my lack of success at curing myself naturally as some sort of moral failure on my part.  Jeff tried to talk me down. “No amount of broccoli is going to fix this.”

In that case...

Each morning, as I eat my bowl of homemade granola and non-fat Greek yogurt, I remember my grandfather, who ate Grape Nuts, prunes and skim milk every day for breakfast and continued playing tennis and swimming until the day he died.  I think about my mother, a healthy eater, who prided herself on looking, acting and feeling younger than her years, and so, was taken by surprise when terminal cancer hit.  I think about my mother-in-law, who has resisted taking medication for her osteoporosis because she fears the side effects, and my father-in-law, who has suffered from spinal stenosis for years without permanent relief.  I think about my sister-in-law, the same age as me and equally active, who has been felled by a foot injury and has no one at home to help her.

The other day, while on my walk, I ran into my friends P. and A.  We exchanged pleasantries and I told them about my herniated disc.  P, who turned 50 six months before I did, told me: “I’m on my way for a colonoscopy.” We smiled knowingly at each other.

I’m off to take my walk now and after that, Jeff will drive me to the radiology clinic, where I will have an epidural shot of steroids in the neck.  It’s a shot in the dark (actually it’s a shot involving a fluoroscope, which uses  X-rays to visualize the local anatomy and target the inflamed area, thus minimizing exposure of the rest of the body to the steroids). I’ve heard mixed results about steroid shots and you can only safely have a few of them. I am willing myself to believe that it is going to work the first time.

I want to be my young, healthy self for a while longer.

Here’s an interesting link, courtesy of the New York Times “Well” blog: “Getting Fat But Staying Fit?”