Not Enough Geriatricians

Recovery Time in Old Age

So far in my old age – I am 75 – I have been lucky in my health (I say that with multiple knockings on wood). I have no intrusive afflictions, no conditions, no diseases, nothing that requires medication.

I owe a lot of my good health, I tell myself, to a strong, peasant gene pool and without being zealous, try to eat well, exercise regularly and get enough sleep.

That doesn't mean I haven't slowed down. I don't have the energy reserve now that during most of my earlier life was so easily available that I didn't notice or appreciate it. I wear out more quickly these days and it takes longer to recover when I have overdone.

I mention this today because time was, one good night's sleep refreshed me from any extra strain on my body. No longer.

On Tuesday, I underwent more dental surgery. You've heard this story before but that was my upper jaw, now in excellent working order. This year it is the lower jaw.

The surgery was no small undertaking. It lasted about an hour-and-half involving cutting out an old bridge, inserting a temporary one, mostly cosmetic so there is not a gap in my smile while the two implants that were also inserted on Tuesday take the next four months to fuse with bone after which the new overdenture can be crafted.

I napped most of the rest of the day and slept more soundly than usual that night - for all the good it did me: I didn't feel much different on Wednesday so I took another day off from life. And, except for this post, another one on Thursday so I would be rested enough to enjoy a two-hour Friday morning group meeting I was looking forward to.

The recovery seems lengthy – two-and-a-half days – but too often we (read: I) forget that dental surgery is, after all, surgery and just because I don't have a big bandage or cast to show off, doesn't mean it's not a bodily invasion by foreign objects involving blood and, when the anesthetic wears off, pain.

It took every bit of that recovery time for me to feel right again this week and it's not that I didn't know I would need it. It had take several days during similar surgeries for my upper jaw - I just forgot and therefore was blindsided with the time needed this week to feel restored.

(NOTE: I'm not looking for sympathy with this post. After nearly two years of continuing dental work, it has become more of an annoyance than anything else. I've learned how to manage residual pain and to prepare ahead to have soft foods ready during the healing period. But that doesn't shorten the recovery time.)

A week or two ago, a friend said to me, “No one tells you these things about growing old when you're young.” She was specifically referring to how much longer it takes to do all kinds of things after 50 or 60 or 70, and that it would have been nice to be warned.

I've often said that myself. I've probably written it in these pages too. But I've had plenty of time to think about that this week and I've changed my mind.

Why clutter up other people's younger years with news that would only be taken as a bummer?

The changes of ageing come to us gradually over decades and even as we might resent them, we accommodate them as needed, as (ahem) time goes by.

And anyway, who would believe us when we say that the day will come when you cannot play tennis all afternoon, prepare a dinner for 10 guests and then go dancing until 2AM without a second thought?

I would not have believed it – or, at least, not taken it seriously - even in my forties. So unless they ask, let them find out in their own time, I think now. Most of us manage the surprises of age without too much fuss, forgetful as I was about them this week.


I don't think the young can grasp the recovery time element. I guess I wasn't totally aware either until I read a book or two about aging and that was when I was older.

An example --- just yesterday I asked a young friend how her father was doing after his second back surgery in a month (he is age 70 something). The first one they went in from the side and after a week they decided they needed to go back in again. This time from the back or front(I don't know which).

She said he wasn't doing well --surprise surprise--- I said it was probably because he had two surgeries close together at his age and she poopooed the reasoning.

I hope you're now back to your pre-dental surgery energy levels Ronni. You seem to be handling these episodes very well, and I'm guessing that has a lot to do with educating yourself about what your options have been and what to expect as a result of the choices you've made.

Preparation and education seem to me a healthy and positive approach to what ever one faces in life, but the way one goes about that makes all the difference. Educating younger people about the ageing process seems rather like doing the same regarding pregnancy and parenting. If it's done positively and honestly, it's certainly better than going into those things ignorant or with beliefs and expectations that often create anxiety and fear.

I wish that much earlier in life I had learned a lot more about practical things like running a household, raising happy healthy children, nurturing positive and healthy relationships and just generally navigating through life more relaxed and confident. I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family in which very little was discussed about how to cope with challenges all through life. I guess that's what church was supposed to have been for, but that was another mostly dysfunctional realm. So I do think that some sort of education about what to expect at all the various stages of life is helpful, if done well, not instilling fear, but increasing our coping skills. You're doing that very thing here on this blog.

In addition to all of the above, come 7 pm & I've had it for the day. The slow-down was gradual, but I recall my mom going thru the same thing so I had some idea how it would be for me at 79. And another thing: if one more person says "you don't look like you're 79" I'm going to scream...........kidding. But don't you find that annoying as heck. Have a great w/end everyone:) Dee

This reminds me of something I read about Paul Simon. He's retiring. He said he often needs 15 hours sleep at a stretch. He's your age. I'm ten years younger, and I need more naps.

I guess even the Energizer Bunny will eventually run down.

Thank you for this. I had intended to leap out of bed at 6 AM, have breakfast, and then go on a photo shoot at a granite outcrop followed by 5 more things. When the alarm rang, I decided to sleep in. Much more sensible but years of working hard all day set up a habit of movement and thought: being productive is important.

I try to remember the additional need for rest when planning vacations. I went on a hiking vacation in Ireland to celebrate my 75th birthday. I thought I'd dance at local pubs at night so I packed my dancing skirt and shoes. But the dancing doesn't start till 9 or 10 PM. Went to bed instead and was fine with that.

People don't think I'm 75 but I think it's because of my posture and movement.

So you are 75 years young - good for you! And to have your health, all the better.

I do think there are warnings but the majority don't listen to them, it really doesn't hit home until you have reached those milestones of 50, 60, 70. I am 57 and notice a loss of hand strength, I never had a good grip but now it is even less.

Tami Von Zalez...
I am not "75 years young." I wear my age, my old age, openly and with as much pride as I wore every previous age because there is nothing wrong with being old.

I am confronted with this slowing down and lessening of stamina on a regular basis. I have been successful in responding to it with amusement, well, who would have thought 20 years ago I cleaned the whole house in one morning, today I cleaned one bathroom and only needed one nap half way through! The joy is that the demands and responsibilities of my time and energy allow me to operate at this more gentle pace. Can't do what I used to do, but, thankfully, I don't need to. The luxury of time is the greatest blessing and gift of this phase of life.

My energy is all in the morning. I leap out of bed each day, raring to go, so that's when I do my chores and run my errands. By noon I'm home, tired, and ready to sit for the afternoon. I can read, write, and do other sedentary activities. By 4, though, my brain has shut down and I'm done for the day.

I now find fixing dinner to be such a chore. I can understand why some people have their more elaborate meal mid-day because that's when you have the energy to prepare and eat it.

I've a bad habit of watching late night TV, so often am not in bed till midnight. Then I sleep till 8 or 9. I have the energy to do about one thing a day -- a load of laundry or a load of dishes or a trip to the supermarket. That's about all the enegy I have. I try to avoid naps for fear I won't sleep at night. I'm told it could take more than a year after all my cancer treatment last year to start feeling like my old self. But by then I'll be several years older and my former self will be long gone in the rearview mirror. I don't know what the "new normal" is supposed to be but I'm pretty sure I won't feel like those silver-haired, backpacking, bike riding grandparents that appear in so many TV commercials (I've always suspected that many are much younger models with dyed hair).

It isn't just the surgery or the chores. I've noticed that even the thoroughly enjoyable things seem to demand recovery time now. I really enjoy our trips away from home but five delightful weeks in Italy or Spain or a visit to my daughter in Boston - all of which are the highlights of my year - seem inevitably to be followed by a week of sitting in my chair and feeling too tired to do anything. Like you, Ronni, I've learned to accept it now, and plan accordingly.

I loved this post and the comments—they reaffirmed what I've known for some time: we simply don't have the energy and stamina we used to have! I wish I could say that the wisdom gained through being older has given me the ability to plan better and find shortcuts to what needs to be done. But it just doesn't seem to be the case. I find my train of thought wanders, and that I need to stop and rethink a piece of writing, or find the right word. Everything seems to take longer! But never mind. I'm healthy and that's what really matters!

This article is so timely. Since aged 70 there has been a rapid decline in my strength and stamina. I did two hours gardening this morning - gentle watering, dead-heading and pruning - and that was it.....batteries run down: I needed a two hour sleep this afternoon.

This has been been one of the most difficult things to come to terms with. Like Marian, I do accept it and plan accordingly - night time fun in this country, where nothing gets going until gone 10 p.m., is strictly off the table.

Ronni, good luck with the teeth - I do admire your courage in undertaking this.

I will be so happy for you, Ronni, when this is all over. It has been a long slough and you still have more to endure. You are strong and are getting through it all with class.

My shorter slough is supposed to end Tuesday. This has been promised to me to be the last time I will have to go through a procedure on my spine. Every time I went in for one (4 so far) I thought it was the final one, but not so. So I am keeping my fingers crossed that this will be the end of my trip to the pain center.

Now you have reminded me that I will have a much longer recovery than normal. That's not a big problem for me as I spend my days on my duff anyhow. But between the ice packs and pain medications it's still not a walk in the park.

By the way, Alice Claps, just wait until it takes a week to clean the bathroom a section at a time. That's how long it now takes me. Sigh!

Some reminders of age nudge me in the heart.

I witnessed a wake up reminder yesterday while setting tables at the senior home where I volunteer.

A 70 something age resident walked into the dining room in tears. Her friend was trying to comfort her.

I asked the upset woman what was wrong.

"I'm on my way to the eye doctor. He has to sign my permission slip in order for me to renew my driver's license."

"I am so worried. I need my car. I love my car. It even has a name."

"I can't lose my car."

The friend was going along for moral support.

I hugged the woman and gently reminded her about the nearby bus stop, but that suggestion only deepened her sadness.

Of course I pictured myself in the same situation and thought that when the day comes for me to hand over my car keys, I will use public transportation.

But we take so much for granted, such as what if we can't walk to the bus stop? What if our balance is off? What if, what if?

I agree with not foreshadowing the future of aging to young people, the same way I would never look a struggling student in the eyes and point blank declare they will never graduate high school.

I was so relieved to read your column today. At 78, I was worried because my energy is dwindling. Now I find I'm normal. Yay!!!

I appreciate this post. At 57 I already notice myself slowing down. What will I feel like 10 or 20 years hence? In preparation I'm trying now to get rid of/minimize things that otherwise sap my energy. The major one of these things is clutter. I hope when I get there I'll have enough energy for a simple/simplified life, which maybe by then I'll have figured out how to achieve.

Typical for me: I notice some dust building up on my bedroom dresser in the evening and tell myself that I'll do some dusting tomorrow because I'm just too tired to dust right now. The following day I'll either have pain in my legs (I have spinal stenosis and deep vein thrombosis) or my gastrointestinal system is acting up so I'll put off the dusting again. A week or so later I again notice the dust. I shrug my shoulders because I know that no one is coming over (we rarely have visitors) and the dust would have to be a foot thick before my husband will notice it. And I tell myself that nobody cares if my furniture is dusty except me and I'm starting to care less and less...

Maybe I'll dust tomorrow.

I have had Rheumatoid Arthritis since I was 23 and always have dealt with fatigue, but I knew nothing about RA (even doctors didn't in those days) so I often would say "Other people CAN'T be this tired, and keep doing all they do." Even so, puzzled over that or not, I managed to do the herculean task of raising three kids, keeping up a large home, having a career which became my main means of support after a divorce, and having an extremely full social life. I took more naps than most, even before I learned that people with RA need 8-10 hours of sleep a night.
In the mid-phase of my life, even with a proliferation of surgeries, other illnesses and pain, I wrote three books, traveled with my musical career, and took up photography professionally. This is not to brag, but to make the point that, at 83, I'd give anything it would take (NOT my right arm, however, that's barely functional as is) to be able to go back to that kind of productivity and activity. I still do a lot, I am constantly reminded by my friends, but it is so frustrating to take a half-hour to make myself a salad, 2 hours to be able to work through the morning pain enough to do anything but sit with my coffee and the computer, and, even with an aide for 4 hours a week, just maintain a modicum of neatness to my surroundings. Excuse the whining, please, but it might have been helpful had I known earlier and understood that my idea of old age of just sitting and rocking in a corner and beaming at my grandchildren, as my grandmother did, would not be enough, and would frustrate the hell out of me! I have tried to tell my 70-year-old friends to be prepared for a slowing down in their mid-seventies, and they don't want to hear it--I would have, and did, from Dr. Phil, before he became the disappointment he is now.

I have two 10 year grand kids on Tuesdays while their mother works. We are busy. Wednesday I am shot. I nap, read and watch Netflix. And eat cereal and fruit all day. That's the way of it.

Take it slow and easy. Surgery it is and inside your head at that. And you're awake through it. Good healing to you.

I was still pretty much "good to go" until I hit 78 (I'll be 80 in January). I can still do most of what I HAVE to do but I've pared down the list. I've also eliminated some of the things I used to enjoy that took energy--and money. I don't have much of that anymore either now that I'm fully retired. Earlier-on I thought that by the time I retired I'd be too old to miss having a little leftover money at the end of the month, but guess what? I was wrong!

This website takes an optimistic and cheerful view of ageing which is largely why I've stayed around, I suppose (thank you, Ronni, and fellow posters). Frankly, however, I struggle to find the positives in getting old. It is what it is (there's that phrase again!) and unless I'm ready to find a tall bridge or take that final swim in the ocean, which I'm not-- yet--I have to accept what is.

"Life is a lessening series of expectations"....

There is a fine line between giving yourself time to recover and "giving up". After a debilitating illness last fall, I was on a cane for weeks. Over the winter I tried to get back my stamina, but even a short walk felt like climbing a mountain. It was laughable, how little I could do. But I kept at it, I took spin classes (where I cheated like crazy). I gave myself permission to slowly regain my strength, little by little (it takes patience with yourself!) Formerly a long distance biker (I've completed two century rides), I found this spring I was too wesk to pump up my tires! OMG! That was devastating. So I got help and got on my bike, and barely went 5 miles. That was 3 months ago. By increasing my distance in micro increments, I have already gotten up to 30 miles. I hope to get up to 50 by the end of the summer, but if I don't, I'm not going to beat myself up. And I do rest after my rides a heck of a lot more. I ok with reading a good book for recovery!

Tweaked my knee while playing basketball with my 11 year old friend. BIG MISTAKE! Epsom salt baths, arnica cream, medical marijuana ointment, Bayer, cold packs, elevating the limb...... a week of slow but steady progress and thanks for this, Ronnie, b/c I've been berating myself and blaming the slow pace of my recovery on everything but the fact that I'm not 25 any more.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)