According to a report in The Atlantic entitled “Why We Shrink with Age”, “as gravity pulls down on us, as the cartilage between our joints wears down, and as our spines are weakened by osteoporosis, we shrink.” The process, as with most processes associated with aging, is degenerative. That same article reported that men tend to shrink an average of 1.3 inches; women, an inch and a half.
That’s disturbing news to some, including my wife, who, when called a “shorty”, would always brag that she was, in fact, five feet tall! But that’s not what’s bugging me. No, what’s most disturbing to me is not how much I am shrinking; rather it is how much my world is shrinking. And yesterday it took another giant downsizing step into oblivion.
Yesterday we took our annual drive to the north Georgia mountains to see the fall color, have lunch at Poole’s Bar-be-cue, and buy some apples at one of the roadside stands along the way.
Our critters accompanied us. Rudy slept. Sophie Mae pissed and moaned and panted the entire way for no apparent reason other than the fact we placed her in the back seat. In an effort to minimize the annoyance, I turned off my hearing aids.
Since I now must take debilitating pain medication every four to six hours, Valerie drove. Between Sophie’s panting, Valerie’s herky-jerky driving, and her endless questions about the route to take, by the time we arrived at the pig joint in Ellijay, I was fit to be tied. Even so, I volunteered to take the dogs for a potty break before we ordered lunch. So with two rambunctious critters in tow, I wobbled across the parking lot to a grassy area out back.
Twice, or was it three times, I stumbled and nearly fell sprawling. The only thing that kept me vertical was my gritty determination to hold onto my beloved critter, lest they get loose and venture out onto the busy four-lane highway that runs by Poole’s Hill.
It’s called spinal degeneration and it has affected everything I do. More accurately everything I used to do. You name it … it’s now a painful struggle. An MRI in 2013 showed that I have bone spurs in my neck, and moderate to severe degeneration all the way down my spine. The lumbar discs are herniated and bulging and I have a moderate to severe spinal stenosis from L1 to S1. I’ve tried chiropractic, acupuncture and physical therapy. I’ve had orthopedic and neurosurgical consults and been treated by orthopedic sports/pain specialists. Bottom line: surgery is not an option, and neither chiropractic, acupuncture nor physical therapy will help. That leaves me to manage the pain through drugs, and very limited activity.
No more travel, even to Ellijay. Much less around the world. No more standing in line for tickets to anything. No more walks to the lake; no more strolls down to the cul de sac with Valerie and the doggies.
No more shopping for groceries, attending church functions or playing in the church orchestra. No more performing a thousand little honey do’s that seem to always arise or doing some minor maintenance around the house. No more puttering in the yard or washing the cars.
No more erecting ham radio antennas. No more climbing up and down the stairs to ham, play the sax or make some music on the keyboard. The list goes on and on. And while my world is shrinking, my worry list is growing.
How much more responsibility can I pile on Valerie? Should we, can we, hire someone to do the things around the house that I can no longer do? For example, how will we get the Christmas tree up from the basement? Can I possibly help decorate or must we be content looking like the neighborhood Scrooge’s?
On the drive home yesterday, Valerie told Sophie Mae – the panting one – not to worry, that this would probably be our last car trip to the mountains. She’s probably right. I’ve had to cross so many things off my bucket list that it now resembles a sand pail.
So what keeps me going? I read. I write. I talk to my doggies. I hug Valerie. I explore the Internet. Thank God for the Internet!
I still fly around the country, albeit now via Flight Simulator instead of in N200RF, my old Beechcraft. Instead of playing music, I listen to it on YouTube or on some old CDs.
I miss my friends, the warmth of their smile, a handshake, laughter, and the face-to-face social contact, but let’s face it, I’m not that much fun to be around anymore, and besides, I don’t have that many friends left. Thankfully, I have made some new ones on Facebook who are content sharing jokes, pictures, and just stirring the political puddin’.
Hidden in all this malaise, there’s a moral and it’s the best advice I can give. Go see your faraway friends or relatives. Go to that class reunion. Take that trip, take that cruise. Visit the cathedrals and the art museums in Europe. Go deep sea fishing, to a ball game, to the movies, to a play or to a concert. Be as active as you can be, while you still can.
For years I listened as my parents talked about a trip to Hawaii, but kept putting it off. Then my Dad had his first heart attack, then his second, and his life, like mine, abruptly changed.
Oh, we all know that the clock is ticking and that one day we might not be able to enjoy life the way we planned, but you, like my Dad, and me, probably think you’ll have a lot more time before to reach that point.
I hope and pray you’re right. But sadly, take it from me, once you do, there’s no turning back.