Sunday, October 25, 2009
Today, I turned 60. Son of a bitch! Why me?
Back in July, I had a foretaste of old age. I woke up in my mom's house with my leg vibrating like a tuning fork and aching like a bad tooth. I gladly would have donated my leg to science, provided they were willing to take immediate delivery. I gritted my teeth as I suffered through her recollections about the fictitious middle child she thinks she mothered, the one who apparently couldn't wait to get on the school bus each morning to face a full day of being small and nerdy with glasses. Then I happened to mention my concerns about boarding my flight home the next day and six hours of being jammed into a seat. Her reply was shut up and stop complaining.
Seriously, mothers. Okay, if it wasn’t for her, I would have been calling a cardboard box home, but really, seriously ...
It turned out my leg cramp was a pinched sciatic nerve. I managed to soldier on for about a week, then the torture started in earnest, blinding shooting pain radiating from my buttocks to the sole of my foot. For eight days, I was flat on my back on the living room couch, staring up at the ceiling fan, cursing and screaming at God. God and I have issues.
Thankfully, a buddy stocked me up on grown-up baby food - Ensure, bananas, Gator Aid - and drove me to visits to the chiropractor. One day, the pain was not as bad as the day before. I was going to come out of it. But now when I walk down the street - an endeavor I no longer take for granted - and see old men and women hobbling about as best they can without complaint, well, let's put it this way, I'm not viewing them through the same stupid eyes.
I’m entering the decade where things fall apart, what a good friend refers to as old Chevy syndrome. You know, you’re happily tooling down the freeway and - clunk! - the trannie drops out or a wheel goes flying off and suddenly things are never the same. I’ve already been through my brain quitting on me. Now a whole leg. Add in my deforested head, failing eyes, nagging aches and pains, and back teeth that resemble broken crockery, and - let’s put it this way - pretty soon I’m going to require the services of a stunt double.
Last week, I talked about this with my psychiatrist. I pay for my visits, which means I get to talk for a full half-hour about things I want, rather than be rushed out the door after a drive-by ten-minute meds check. I’m not afraid of death, I told him. If I die I die, no big deal. But to endure the rest of my life in constant pain and fatigue, with vital bits and pieces not operational, with my brain failing to boot up. Year in and year out ...
I have two choices, I told him. I can grin and bear it or I can become a grumpy old man. It’s kinda like reaching acceptance with your illness, he concurred. You acknowledge reality and learn to accept your limitations. That way, life is only a constant challenge (which I gather is normal) rather than an interminable burden.
A few months ago, in an email, I joked to my daughter Emily that age is the biggest risk factor for everything that can go wrong with you. So don’t be stupid like me, I advised her - stay young.
But age does have its compensations. Three and a bit weeks ago, I became a grandfather. On a Skype connection, my daughter in New Zealand held up little Teddy, days old, to her webcam. My beaming face, in turn, landed on her computer screen. What she couldn’t make out, of course, were my tears of joy. Today I turned 60 and life is good.