It's one of the most common questions we get in old age: what do you do all day? Working people who spend at least half of their waking hours trading expertise for money can't imagine how old people fill the time.
I don't recall specifically, but I probably wondered about that when I was working age. Now, after 15 years in retirement, I have a pretty good handle on how those former work hours (and more) easily get used up.
• Cooking along with the accompanying shopping, storing, cleaning up, etc. fills a lot of time. I don't eat out as frequently as when I worked
• Always a news junkie, I read it more thoroughly and carefully now – at least a couple of hours a day, often more
• As the years pass, I've gradually become slower so it takes longer to do everything
• These days, I tire more easily than when I was working and often indulge in an afternoon nap. An hour, sometimes two, disappear
• Reading books and magazines I once had time only to skim. So do research and writing the blog, trying to keep up with email, and don't get me started on technology glitches that need attention
And so on.
A couple of facts about old people's health from the U.S. National Council on Aging (NCOA):
• Approximately 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77% have at least two. Four chronic diseases—heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes—cause almost two-thirds of all deaths each year.
• Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
The variety of federal, state and local agencies that deal with elder health issues have a lot of facts, some effective advice and thousands of pages of information on the internet.
What they don't mention is how busy those chronic diseases keep us, how much time they steal from our retirement.
In the two years since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the care and feeding of my remarkably decent health (I'm grateful every day) takes more time than I would ever have imagined. Some examples:
• Counting those damned pills into their little boxes. Ten days ago or so I rebelled, didn't sort them for the coming week and therefore had to do it three times a day. Stupid of me. Obviously. But I needed the break from routine even if it did cause more work
• As the nurses and physicians told me way back in 2017 following my Whipple surgery, I must eat a LOT of food – the point being not to fall into frailty
Both cancer and chemotherapy drugs use up energy (and therefore, calories) faster than a body without cancer so “eat, eat, eat” they old me
• Eat lots of protein, lots of fat and don't worry about lack of green food. “Food is medicine,” they said to me, and “The cancer will kill you long before this diet will”
I spend huge amounts of time preparing food to try to eat when I've lost my appetite for three or four or five days after chemo.
• Simple household chores take what seems like forever particularly for a few days after chemo. I need to sit down to rest twice during those days while making the bed. Changing the bed? Don't even ask
• Let's not forget two full days a month are gone – seven or eight hours each – of chemotherapy. Sometimes I'm exhausted enough for bed all day for two or three days afterwards and sometimes not, with no way to predict
• Another five or six appointments each month with half a dozen medical specialists who seem to be required to treat cancer. It's a good thing I've come to like all these people – and the others, nurses, medical assistants, schedulers, etc. - and in a certain sense they have become friends
• I wear out for the day by mid-afternoon which means I must get all the blog work and everything else in my life done by then. By 3PM, I can't even focus long enough to read anything longer than a short magazine or newspaper story
Enough. Any of you who have your own chronic disease(s) to manage every day know all about this.
Given that I have lived longer than the doctors imagined I would and who are predicting even more healthy time for me, I feel like a churl when resentment of the hours and days the maintenance involves overtakes me.
I try my best to get past it quickly. I can't be the only old woman (or man) who sometimes longs for the carefree, healthy life I lived for so long. What about you?