My hospital stay last week was due to another – this time, huge – internal bleed caused by a clot situated on my new stent resulting in a swollen blood vessel.
The clot was removed via a small incision and then a large number of physicians from several disciplines – gastro-intestinal, surgical, interventional radiology, internal medicine, hematology – spent three days working together to figure out what to do to prevent a repeat.
There are established protocols but most of the drugs have not been tested much on past or present cancer patients so the debate went on. And on.
Here is a clue for all of us: when medical care is in question, try not to have a unique condition. If something must go wrong, a common affliction doctors have treated millions of times over many years is a good thing.
The solution, in my case, is a certain blood thinner which, for the next three months or so, I will inject into myself twice a day. For me, it begs the question of how junkies ever get started. Shooting up is a simple procedure but hardly a pleasant routine to which I am only slowly adapting.
Out of fatigue last Friday, instead of a usual one-topic post I asked you, dear readers, to talk among yourselves about anything related to “what it's like to grow old.”
The result is an astonishing collection of wisdom, thoughtfulness, advice, resilience, inspiration, wit and humor from TGB readers like I've never seen all in one place in a single day. You have left me gaping in admiration.
We should not lose this knowledge and experience so beginning today, from time to time I will choose one or more of your comments to expand or expound upon and we'll see what we can learn from one another.
One theme that emerged is limitation.
Lola Sorenson commented on one of my favorite books, Helen Luke's Old Age, published in 1987, in which, writes Sorenson, “...she uses literature (King Lear, The Odyssey, etc.) to illustrate the point that one cannot continue to do and be the same person one was in midlife.”
”She says old age is about something other than being and doing big things. It is about assimilation and reflection and reconciliation, it is a more internal process.
“Helen Luke's admonitions are foremost, are telling me I haven't come to terms with the limitations of age as well as I think I have. I still have the same ideas about accomplishing things, and it is painfully clear to me those ideas need to change...
“But also the crab apple tree is in beautiful bloom, and the sun is shining, and I am ultimately grateful.”
Adaptation, say several readers, is a strong companion to limitation.
”If there's one thing I have learned in old age, is that it is necessary to adapt!,” wrote Sflichen. “Adapt is my new favorite word, and mantra.”
Anne follows on:
”In some ways, I'm able to settle into being an old woman and enjoy a relaxation of demands on myself. I don't know how to elaborate on this except to say I've stopped excoriating myself for not being as disciplined as I think I should be.
“Dammit! I get tired. Having just turned 78, maybe I should accept this and live at the tempo I can manage.”
Oh, the importance of people, face-to-face people. While those doctors took their own sweet time deciding how to treat me, there were moments when I wept silent tears from long hours of boredom hitched up to four IVs and eight or so monitors that confined me to bed.
(Hint: Always bring a BIG book to read to the hospital or a Kindle full of many; I brought only one small book that I finished the first day.)
One afternoon, a 30-year-old surgical intern who had been among a gaggle of physicians who stopped by regularly, knocked on my door. “I hear you're from New York City,” he said as he plopped down in the chair.
He had studied medicine there and for an hour we regaled one another with stories about our mutual love of and enchantment with the town. We smiled and laughed a lot and it was great medicine for me.
Darlene Costner said it more succinctly:
”I had a pleasant visitor over the weekend and, much to my surprise, I felt better then than when I am alone. Is there a message there? I find that I have more energy when I am doing something enjoyable.
Charlene Drewry hit on the importance of attitude and sense of humor which, she noted,
”...are more important than appearances or what other people think or do. Remarkably, I have a choice every day what that attitude will be. I cannot change the past nor the inevitable, so I attempt to play my tune on the one string I have, my own attitude.
Speaking of sense of humor, listen to Odette Brinton:
”I have COPD and trail around my house with 25 feet of oxygen tubing following me around. So far, I haven't hanged the cat, or got my feet tangled.
“For the past year or so I've been in subconscious denial and just KNEW this would go away! Until finally it has sunk in that it will NOT go anywhere and I really do need to do as I am told by the therapists if I want to add some more years to my life. I want to see my son with his teenage daughter, she is 9 and he thinks he is in control. Hah.
“Well, folks, there's my elder life. I hope many if not all of you are as content with life as I (usually) am.”
My god, you are a bunch of resilient, funny, lively, smart people – great examples for too many elders I have met who refuse to adapt to the changes this time of life brings.
Every comment from Friday is worth exploring further and I'll be doing that over time. I don't want to lose this wisdom. It is worth dwelling on.
We won't get out of this alive but we can laugh, cry and learn together while we make these late years a whole lot better for ourselves than the culture at large believes they can be.