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My New Old Age


My New Old AgeSo–the surgery is scheduled for January 6. At 1 p.m. Can I tell you how much it pleases me that I don’t have to get up early that morning? Really, such is my horror of rising early that the afternoon scheduling is actually going a long way toward assuaging my feelings about having the operation in the first place.

Those feelings do have to be assuaged. Of course I realize that using the word “assuaged” is my way of distancing myself from the actual fact that I’m going to walk into that hospital of my own free will and let them flip me on my belly and slit open my neck. Makes it sound like a fish being filleted, doesn’t it? Which is why assuaged is such a preferable word.

I guess I’ve assuaged a lot of my feelings about that pesky ruptured cerebral aneurysm back in 2003 as well because I don’t remember much about the weeks that I spent at Cedars Sinai tethered to all sorts of machines, unable to do anything but lie there. Funny that, considering that at the time I was sure I would remember every day, minute by minute. Instead, odd things float up every once in a while.

Like the popsicles they kept in the freezer for me. They were sent up from the kitchen and somewhere along the way, they would melt. When they came to me each night as a special treat, they were frozen solid again, but now misshapen with odd lumps and bumps. And the middle of the night visits from the respiratory therapists. One was a handsome cowboy–or did I hallucinate him? Another was an M.D. who had fled Mao’s China with incredible stories of the the Cultural Revolution. He I definitely didn’t hallucinate.

Never a patient person–now! I want it now!–I found in myself some deep reserves that I didn’t know I had. It’s almost like there was a switch that I could flip that enabled me to just lie there and let go. If you’d asked me then–and now–I’d say that I really didn’t see that I had a choice. I either found a way to get through it–or, what?

I don’t see that I have a choice now either. Cervical stenosis with cord compression is a medical condition and it has sent me into an early old age. It’s as if I’ve suddenly had to don one of those age simulation suits that researchers use when studying the experience of the elderly. Like it or not, I’m face to face with the vagaries of being old. The inability to walk very far without having to rest. The constant need to be vigilant about where and how I’m walking because I’m so unsteady on my feet. The fact that I can’t use my hands and arms as I’ve always done because they’re so lacking in strength. I cancelled a trip to New York because I knew I couldn’t maneuver around the Big Apple in the way I’m used to. I’ve shut the door on career opportunities because I know I simply don’t have the energy required to do the job.

I am at sixty-eight less capable of physical activity than my mother was at eighty-eight. I am, physically, old before my time. But mentally I’m not. Mentally, emotionally–I’m still full of beans and piss and vinegar and that energy that has kept me on the move all of my life. And that’s why I have no choice but to have the surgery. At best, with hard work in PT, I’ll regain some or much of what I’ve lost. At worst, the degeneration will be stopped in its tracks. Without the surgery, how far and how fast the degeneration can progress, the doctors can’t tell me. All they can promise is that it will progress.

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