Elder Services in Your Town - Follow Up
INTERESTING STUFF – 20 September 2014

Trying to Find Some Amusement in Being Sick While Old

So commonly does disease, decline and debility catch up with people in old age that for a majority of those who are younger, they are the only definition of being old.

That belief is so prevalent in the general population that after the half dozen years of research into aging I conducted that led me to create this blog a decade ago, it became my goal to refute it – we oldies are more than our aches and pains. Much more.

That doesn't mean I am in denial. After five or six decades of steady use, our bodies wear down. Stuff happens. Things go wrong. And there is an impressively large variety of ailments that can afflict us – from the deadly serious to just annoying.

Today I am concerned with the latter category.

Generally, I am remarkably healthy. (I say that in a whisper while knocking on wood.) Now, however, for the better part of a month, I have been off my feed, as it were, and for some periods of time in a lot of pain.

The first was abdominal cramps, the kind that cause screaming into a pillow, deep misery and pleas for a quick death.

After two days it began to subside, though my innards felt sore for a few more days, like they had been bruised, but I was grateful in the end that the gods had ignored my death requests.

The doctor has no explanation (a not uncommon diagnosis for me over the years) and it took another week before full energy returned.

No sooner was I almost mended than the entire length of gum on one side of my mouth swelled to a gargantuan size. The dentist supplied two kinds of antibiotics for the infection and after a week, it is nearly cleared up.

Nearly is the operative word. The pain, even with medication, makes it impossible (still) to wear my denture. This led to a few issues that I should have anticipated but did not.

One: It is amazingly difficult to talk without teeth. TH, F and V sounds don't work right at all. S and soft C take a lot of effort to sound as they should – or as close as possible – so talking for more than a few minutes is more tiring than I would have believed until it happened.

Also, attempting S's and soft C's too forcefully causes spitting if you're not careful and that's in addition to the ongoing drool. (These two side effects have almost – I said ALMOST – given me a newfound appreciation for unkind old age jokes some comedians tell.)

There were several misunderstandings in a phone conversation and I giggle now when I see that guy in the fraud/frog protection TV commercial.

I'm pretty sure, too, this explains why babies wait so long before they speak real words; no teeth yet.

Two: As I mentioned a couple of days ago, no way will I allow anyone – anyone at all – to see me without my denture but staying home for more than a week is not possible so I developed a few ruses that, if they didn't work, people were kind enough not to tell me.

For grocery shopping, I wrote the list on a larger piece of paper than usual and used it to tap my upper lip as though I were deep in thought. When I needed to speak to anyone directly, I covered my mouth with my hand and just made a joke of it: “Sorry, my denture's out for repairs and you don't get to see me without it.”

They usually laughed – with me (I think). In one case, to be sure the person understood I was kidding about something, I said, “I'm smiling behind my hand” and that seemed to work.

It's hard to shop with only one hand free so now I have obtained some face masks and I'll just let people wonder whether I'm contagious or I'm afraid of their germs.

Three: Last but hardly least, have you ever tried to eat with no teeth? For a week I've been subsisting on mashed potatoes, apple sauce and soup and I'm damned tired of it.

A few days ago, thinking that I was probably lacking enough green stuff and protein, I checked out the baby food aisle at the market. I'm here to report that Gerber's mashed peas are remarkably fresh tasting and their mixture of carrots, zucchini and broccoli is delicious too.

But look out for the chicken and noodles. Now I know why babies spit out so much food.

None of this stuff is a big deal. If these are the worst health issues I ever have, I win and I will be grateful. Meanwhile, I've managed some small amount of fun figuring out how to work around the no teeth problem.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: A Change in Perception or Just What the Doctor Ordered


I'm laughing in sympathy and recognition here because I went through the same performances and strategies when my denture needed repair.

Am very appreciative of the baby food tips and will remember those when disaster next strikes.

I hope your infection clears up soon and you're restored to your smiling self.

Dear Ronni, Feel better very soon. What a fantastic post this is! I turned 65 in May, and have started to have blood pressure issues, which I never had before. Your detailed description of ailments and pain, along with the humorous bits, help me feel able to think my own story with a different, accepting slant. It is what it is.
Thank goodness for you and your blog!
Shana Tova!

Wishes for a complete speedy recovery Ronni. I had to laugh about the masks. I should use them when it is so (very) dusty here I can't breath outside but I am too embarrassed to wear them in public so I stay in. We are interesting critters when it comes to hiding our perceived flaws.

During a recent foot surgery, because I couldn't drive for 4 weeks, I had to ask my co-workers at the thrift store where I volunteer if they would haul me along when they went to the grocery store. They were happy to do that and even offered to do my shopping for me if I needed it. I enjoyed the time we got to talk, (it's a 25 minute drive) because that's not always possible when we're working. People are generally more than happy to help, and I discovered I have quite a bit in common with one of the women. People don't have to be close friends to want to be of help.

"I'm smiling behind my hand." I am well tickled, sir, after having a similar couple of weeks where my body has been sending me secret coded messages that all is not normal. Thank you for the big wide grin on my face. I am so enjoying reading your blog.

Glad to see you have maintained a sense of humor throughout your ordeal. I hope you are very soon fully restored to your former health in every way.

Celia makes an insightful comment regarding our need to hide perceived flaws. My husband and I have been watching the Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts, and I have to say how much I admire Eleanor, not only for her great works, kind nature and indomitable spirit, but her ability to be in the public eye with her dental physiognomy. Granted that she is looking down with closed mouth in many scenes, but in most, she smiles and does not hide her mouth. And people certainly loved her in spite of this. I find that the more I see of her in the series, and the more she blossoms into her true self, the less I even see her teeth. As her confidence and sense of purpose develop, she seems to be rather transformed in every way. I suspect that people who love and think well of us overlook our flaws much more than we might think.

Hope you are back to 100% soon.

Every time I have had an enormously inconvenient mishap like that happen, it makes me so much more sympathetic and understanding to whichever group has to face that particular condition all the time.

Have you ever had to live for a week with your water turned off (sink, toilet, shower)? It changes your world view about people who live without clean water available.

I shall laugh with you. So sorry about the gum. Both my partials are broken, and I doggedly wear them just so I have teeth. Hope the stomach pain stays vanished.

You had funny experiences when people misunderstood a word. I am on the opposite end. When I misunderstand a word it can lead to some funny (and not so funny) outcomes. The most recent one was when my granddaughter asked "Can I help, Grandma?" And I looked bewildered and said "Cantaloupe?". That's what I heard.

I hope you are feeling much better and if you have a recurrence of the abdominal cramps be sure to get to the doctor. It can be a warning pain of something wrong.

Like you, I too have ailments that are hard to diagnose by doctors.

It took years of occasional bouts of horrible discomfort for my internist to finally pronounce my problem as gastroparinesis, or frozen gut. She determined that it was brought on by anxiety. I now have a drug that I take should I feel anxious and it seems to work.

Sorry the mid-70's bombs have started to drop on you, Ronni. Life seems like a Whack-a-Mole game: get over one misery and another pops up!

Yesterday my eyeball turned bright red. Today I get on the train for a 2 day "bucket list" trip to California from Iowa to attend my HS 60th yr. reunion, red eye and all. No way to hide it and no funny story to tell. Any ideas out there?

Thanks Ronni, for just being you...and come to mention it, we do seem to have more piled on us in our mid-70s...could it be we mainly pay more attention to ourselves when not rushing around with jobs/families/etc? May you have good health in all ways!

Oh yes
I read this and can so relate.
A year of severe pain, inflammation - they say and high prednisone taken.
Finally 3 1/2 weeks pain free
and so thankful to be back to doing what I normally do.
Always healthy and all test reveal how healthy I am.
But the 3 trips to ER and had to have some one spend the night with 3 nights because of being on morphine was not the normal me. Just received a $6,000 hospital bill. Now insurance paying most of it. But what in the world could 3 trips to ER result in a bill this size?
But I will be 80 next month
so I am very fortunate this was the only time I experienced anything like this
and hopefully not again...
Ronni, heal quickly and I could not have a sense of humor with my severe pain.

Oh Ronnie, I hope things are on the upswing for you and your mouth. If it continues, may I heartily endorse smoothies made with protein powder, yogurt, a bit of orange juice, walnuts and whatever other bits of fruit in your fridge? (Don't buy pre made smoothies!)

I decided I couldn't stand my teeth three years ago and wore full braces for an entire year. This - at the age of 66! Wow did I get looks, but it was all worth it. Not only do my teeth look better than ever, but I couldn't even chew white bread for most of the year. I lost 20 pounds! Also, developed a healthy appreciation for peanut butter via spoon, applesauce and those wonderful smoothies. Really - try it. You can grind up almost anything and make it taste good. Best to you!

When I was a kid going to school I thought "the teachers knew everything." In latter years I found out that was not so.

Same with doctors - Years ago I thought doctors knew a lot about everything. Now I realize they are just human and many times do not have the answers to what is going on in a person's body. Granted, sometimes they can help you, sometimes not.

You mentioned those bad stomach pains - if they show up again I would suggest a second opinion.

Hope you are able to eat a good steak, some delicious lamb chops or anything else you can sink your teeth into real soon! ;-)

You are a fighter Ronni. Big hugs from Montreal. Try some of those smoothies, like Karen suggested.

Take care.

To expand on Doctafill & Karen, I make smoothies with veggies (raw carrots, kale, spinach, chard, broccoli,etc.) - mix a little juice, some honeydew melon, orange or grapes for sweetness and sip all day long or all at once. My son hasn't time to cook much, so he drinks his vegetables.

And if it's really not for you, follow with a chaser! Didn't mothers persuade kids to eat veg for a treat?!

Oops! I forgot the ice cubes and milk (soy for me - I think almond milk would be good). Best to first mix liquids adding small amounts of veg.

"The doctor has no explanation" could be the motto of the medical profession. Medicine has been said to be more art than science and I not only think that's true, I think there are very few medical artists out there. I have met only 3 or 4 in my nearly 80 years. If a doc is an artist, he/she will probably readily tell you how little the medical profession knows but will be willing to listen closely and work with you even if it's on a trial and error basis.

We elders have a kind of hubris when we reach a certain age without dying---we think we're probably going to make it without all that whining and pill-taking that plagues "other" elders. But somewhere in the mid-seventies or a bit later if we're lucky, we get slapped in the face by our mortality and fragility. It's then that we need to call on all our resources, physical and mental, to keep that "chin up" thing going. Which makes me think, as Cathy did, of Eleanor Roosevelt (and Franklin himself). Those two people had character and courage to spare and have always been my heroes. The PBS series is marvelous. At least you have had that to watch, Ronni, and I hope you have gradually improved in health as the episodes progressed. As to the issue of teeth in elderhood, I have been a literal fanatic about mine (despite some ridicule from others about the amount of brushing and flossing I do), but I still have them. I sympathize with you because in the process of keeping them I have undergone several painful root canals and there is nothing more painful than tooth/gum pain. I'm glad you can joke about it because I know how hard it must be in real life.

Feel better soon, Ronni.

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