Aches and Pains
Friday, 01 December 2006
[EDITOR’S NOTE: A new story, Some Contradictions of Being Old, has been posted at Blogher.]
For as long as I can remember, elders have been demeaned and demonized for talking about their ailments. If those who find it irritating are referring to the ones who think “How are you?” is not a greeting, but a request for a list of aches and pains, I agree.
But so many elders have been cowed by ridicule heaped upon them for not being young anymore that there’s hardly any information – in print or daily life – about what to expect as one’s body begins to balk at things it has done without a squawk for a lifetime.
I’m not talking about serious conditions and diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, loss of hearing and whatever all those prescription drugs advertised on television are for. I mean, instead, the minor speed bumps that begin to plague ones’ days as the years pile up.
For me, one area of difficulty is food:
As far as I’m concerned, and not counting ice cream (although who knows, it might work) a dish without onions, garlic or both is almost not worth eating. But in the past few years, onions – raw or cooked - upset my stomach. Not every time, but regularly enough that it’s an annoyance.
And although I’m not much of a red meat eater, about twice a year I get a big-time jones for a rare, char-broiled steak. It produces the same problem as onions only more so. I know I’ll pay for that steak for 24 hours, but so far it hasn’t deterred me.
Also in regard to food, I can no longer eat more than half of what I once considered a full meal. Take Thanksgiving dinner as an example. Yes, I know, it’s more food than we normally eat at one sitting, but it’s only once a year and spread out over a couple of hours. I’m accustomed to having the turkey, cranberry sauce, creamed corn, string beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, regular turkey dressing, oyster dressing and miniature slices of three kinds of pie.
Ha – no more or, rather, no more than one or two bites of each dish unless I want to lay groaning in bed for the next few hours. That’s an extreme meal, but even the rest of the year, unless the salad is tiny (ever try to make a small tossed salad?), I can eat greens or I can have a serving of fish or chicken – both at one meal are a stretch.
And wine. I mean, what’s a meal without a glass a wine. But these days I can’t predict what it will do to me. Sometimes, one glass gives me a hangover in the morning; other times, I’m fine the next after drinking through the evening. And forget having a glass of port after dinner. It’s possible now only if I don’t have wine with dinner.
But all the food changes together aren’t as annoying as stiff muscles. You’d laugh your ass off to see me when I get up the morning, flannel granny gown and gray hair flying while I hobble into the kitchen. It takes about 30 seconds before I can walk upright and I’m grateful every day there is no one around to see me until the blood is flowing in my calves again.
And it’s not just mornings. My legs stiffen up too when I sit too long at the desk and in a restaurant or movie theater.
These days too, my feet get tired when I walk. No matter what kind of shoes, after two hours, the soles of my feet hurt. That never happened until the past two or three years. I might have been tired at the end of an entire day on my feet, but there was no actual pain.
None of this important. It doesn’t impede my life; it’s just new, different and mildly irritating. And it feels damned good to bitch about it once in a while.
Aching feet - I used to use an insole made in the US - it was based on the fatigue mats used for people who stand in one position all day. I'm afraid I can't remember the name, but I got mine via my chiropractor. A podiatrist/chiropodist may also be able to help.
Posted by: ian | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 06:41 AM
Birkenstocks work for me. I mean 90% of the time. I don't really care if people think I am an aging hippie. In some ways I am! Still, folks seem to just file it away as an endearing eccentricity and a surprising number have started wearing them too. Yes, even to church.
Posted by: Roger Bourland | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 07:39 AM
It always tickles me when on visiting the surgery one patient sees another and says, "Oh, Hello, how are you ?" "Fine" he/she replies. "Me too", says the first.
So why are we there then ?????????
Posted by: Septuagent | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 08:12 AM
Your post today echoes my sentiments exactly! I remember when I first noticed changes... shortly after the onset of menopause... it's such a horrible thing when your body seems to turn on you!
These days form and function have definitely replaced fashion.
Posted by: Mizmell | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 08:45 AM
I miss being an unflagging tourist. Used to be able to spend 8 to 10 hours a day on the go. Now 2 hours and my feet start to ache. I keep a pair of pointy-toed spike heels in the basement just for the memories. A few years ago there was an amusing cartoon showing the kind of shoes a woman wears to the office at different ages. Under her desk you cou see: spike heels at 20,
two inch heels at 30, athletic shoes at 40 and fluffy slippers at 50.
Posted by: Estelle | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 10:36 AM
Another thing that's hard. While posting the above comment, I had to type in the code shown in the box before it would be accepted. Why are the black letters on a mottled or patterned gray backgound. They are hard to distinguish. Had to squint and then made a mistake.
Posted by: Estelle | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 10:43 AM
I am only 65 and admittedly things may and probably will change in the coming years. Change isn't the issue so much as how we relate to change and the meaning and power we give to our 'story' about getting older. What if rather than "I can't eat as much as I used to" (because I am older), we say "I don't eat as much as I used to" (maybe because I am wiser if I need an explanation). Ronni speaks of the importance of language in how we see and relate to the world including older people --- it also determines how we relate to ourselves and our future. You are as old as you say you are and what it means is mostly a function of what you say. "Food" for thought !!!
Posted by: sereneambition | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 11:04 AM
Estelle: I wore those three-inch, pointy-toed shoes until my mid-50s. I LOVED them then and I LOVE them still. It changed all in one day.
I got dressed for work one morning, put on the high-heeled shoes, walked from the bedroom to the kitchen and said, "no way, today." And put on a pair of flats.
I have no idea if they had always hurt and I could ignore it all those years, or if they started hurting all at once.
You won't have trouble finding me anywhere there is a shoe store these days; I'm the one with my nose pressed against the window longing to wear those gorgeous, high-heeled shoes again.
Posted by: Ronni Bennett | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 11:11 AM
Ah, yes! The wine or lack thereof is what I really miss. For me, all these things mean that I have become slower in all things. But I'm not minding too much. Since I'm slower, I see more & enjoy more. Dee
Posted by: Dee | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 11:57 AM
One morning, a few months ago, it occurred to me to try to remember exactly when I stopped being able to go up and down stairs. Also,my children seem to be in denial about their mother's aging process. They seem to think I'm just complaining for the attention, or that I have become a picky eater.
Posted by: Betty | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 05:35 PM
I wore heels rarely, but after I had my 2 kids, I stopped completely. My feet widened 1 width for each kid.
Now I rarely even wear dressy shoes - my Brooks tennies are on my feet most days. Or barefoot or sandals, in summer.
Never really saw the appeal of heels, but I'm a 70s kid - barefoot, jeans, and a halter top with no bra. Somehow the guys never minded that I never wore heels....
Posted by: donna | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 06:39 PM
Oh this is all so familiar and consoling. I see myself doing things that I used to giggle at in the oldies; like getting my leg through the second knicker leg by stamping a few times to find balance & then hoiking it up.
I keep my last pair of stiletto heels as an aide memoir to a svelte past. If I put them on and stand still now, my ankles turn out. Never mind - it's good material for humorous writing.
Posted by: Anna | Friday, 01 December 2006 at 09:32 PM
Ronni, these were exactly my sentiments when I heard the comment the other day that 'Old Age is not for sissies". As time speeds on, we need more caution and courage. And as for food. Used to have a cast iron stomach. No more. Restaurant food must be approached with the greatest of caution. Yep, old age is not for sissies.
Posted by: Roberta S | Saturday, 02 December 2006 at 12:56 AM
I first realized that my old 'bod' was slowing down when I was hurrying up the ramp from a plane to the airport building, walking as fast as I could go, and those young whipper snappers were passing me right and left. And that was ten years ago. Sorry, folks; it doesn't get better. Now I am glad to be able to hobble up the ramp and usually use a wheelchair when I travel.
Posted by: Darlene | Saturday, 02 December 2006 at 04:42 AM
Thank you Ronni for reminding us that all these little aches and pains and our more sensitive tummies is totally NORMAL for our aging bodies... Sure I miss the painless life of youth, but I am learning to accommodate my physical limits as I age... this sure beats the alternative.
Posted by: Melinda | Saturday, 02 December 2006 at 10:12 AM
This post reminds me of a phone conversation about ten years ago I had with my brother who is also my senior by ten years. He was responding to my inquiry about some ongoing health problems this previously hale and hearty guy was having. I had then shared a few minor, compared to his, health issues of my own in an effort to reassure him he was not alone. He suddenly said, "Have we come to this, that we're talking about our health problems?" since our periodic long distance phone conversations had previously been about older family members health problems, but anything related to us would be about our activites, and other interests. Sooner or later, seems we "come to this."
Posted by: joared | Saturday, 02 December 2006 at 06:22 PM
When one suffers a catastrophic medical problem associated with the elderly at age 31, one learns not to pay attention to aches, etc. unless necessary and I mostly ignored the prognostications of the doctors and recovered infinitely better than they predicted. I've spent the almost 28 years being grateful that I was here to raise my kids &, even better, see my grandsons! I've done pretty darn well despite my physical challenges although . As to spike heels, at 5'10", I never wore them. I'm tall enough. lol I do wear 1 1/2-2" wear heels to work -- Easy Spirits are great! My biggest fear right now is how I'm going to take care of myself as I get even older.
Q: Do you know why Ginger Rogers was a better dancer than Fred Astaire?
A: She did everything he did but she did it backwards and in high heels!
Posted by: Kay Dennison | Sunday, 03 December 2006 at 08:49 AM
You have written something that resonates with many of us. I can no longer drink milk, but have learned to love soy milk. I can no longer eat shellfish which I used to love. It is a good morning when nothing aches.
But, I still have a zest for life, a boyfriend, a part-time job that I love and great kids. Who could ask for more.
Posted by: Poppy | Sunday, 03 December 2006 at 03:46 PM