Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Perils of Growing Older

For years I've related to friends, doctors, dentists, nurses --practically everybody I've conversed with - that I'm planning to live to be 140 years old. I didn't announce this because I was attempting to equal or compete with the oldest man in the Old Testament; no, I needed a goal.

Yes, I saw those within my bragging circle grin  slyly when I announced the high number. I knew the age was unattainable, that no way in this world I'd reach that goal. I felt enthused, full of life, until that day arrived when I turned eighty years old.

You don't look eighty, says the cashier at Walgreens, as she notices the anti-wrinkle cream I'm buying; Are you sixty? asked the movie ticket seller when I ask for the discount ticket; or former students from the 1970s and 1980s whose eyes turn the size of plates when we meet at a 60th reunion.  I acknowledge I take after my mother who remained young looking.through her eighties.

The years following eighty seem to plow through my life like a runaway car with me in the back seat. There's this sniffle, that leg pain, this fatigue, that catch in my knee.  Why, I ask myself, why is this happening to me?

I retired at age sixty. The first appointment I made was for an exam to understand  how good or bad my body was behaving. I entered the waiting room of a new doctor and what did I see? Everybody over the age of ninety -- or so it seemed.  I asked the Doc "Hey, I've never seen so many old bodies in one waiting room. What goes?"  I went on to say "I thought when we reached retirement age we had a yellow brick road to skip down."

He smiled. "Every illness and pain you had as a child returns in your later life. Most of those folks out there can relate their troubles now to what a they suffered from as youths.  I'll bet after our visit here you'll agree."

Later at home I dug deep into my mother's diary. Her words reminded me of the illnesses that plagued me since birth. Stomach problems heads the list.  No local doctor could tell her why my stomach ached so often. Mother found through a friend of an Indian doctor south of town who could "cure" anyone. So we traveled to Magee to see this doctor from India. He wore his turban, which to my four-year-old eyes made him interesting, not scary.  As I recall he turned off he lights in his exam room, sat opposite me on a stool. After a few questions he reached over and punched around on my stomach, saying "Does this hurt here? Here? Here?"  I shook my head no.

As we drove home Mother said the Doc told her I had worms. Well, I did go barefoot often. I don't recall any medicine I had to take but to this day I know "worms" wasn't my problem. The term for my  problem was not found until I was thirty years old. And it was in a magazine advertisement.  Prior to that my internist of 20 years insisted I drink less milk. Milk was my favorite. drink, especially in milk shakes.  But the advertisement claimed a new over the counter pill would solve disgruntled stomachs. Lactose. I sent the coupon in for a free trial, used it after that for many many years. Voila! I had been lactose intolerant since birth.

Beginning with  junior high school years I had aches in my joints. No MD seemed to know why. I'd never heard of arthritis in the 1940s, but a visit to an ophthalmologist one summer in NC where I was a camper, revealed his opinion that my weak eyes (I'd worn glasses since grade one) caused the aches. I took tons of pills which seem to ease the pain. The aches lasted through college and suddenly disappeared. At age 65 joint aches rejoined my seemingly healthy life.

A point I want to make is that those of us who were born before medicine had a good foothold and prognoses depended on the Doc's education, most of us didn't know what we know what was w wrong with us unless it was heart trouble. As we age if the Doc doesn't tell you what is wrong with you,  you'll find your answer your on Google!