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Friday, September 3, 2010

Getting Old is NOT for Sissies

Years ago I first saw the saying: “Getting Old Is Not For Sissies” on a hallway wall at my mother’s nursing home. It impressed me then, but Time has proved it far truer than I once imagined.

A few years back, I had life-changing surgery which put an end to years of suffering with ulcerative colitis. That’s one of those “down there” diseases, like colon cancer, recently out of the closet of unmentionable ailments. One of the worst things about UC—besides the pain–was becoming virtually housebound whenever the disease was active. Surgery left me with an ostomy, but brought about positive changes, freeing me from the burden of various now ruined body parts. Once again I could travel, go out to eat, go to the movies, or even just out to the mall. I could ride my bike to the farmer’s market and load the bags with groceries, or hop onto the back of my husband’s motorcycle and go out to admire the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside for hours, a pastime we both enjoy very much.

I’d been feeling stronger every month for the last three and a half years. I could lug sacks of mulch around the yard, pull tough weeds and interloping maples that were hoping to settle in my gardens. I was going to the 50+ classes at the gym, planning a trip back East and generally enjoying life.

Unfortunately post-surgical patients of my kind are digestive Rube Goldberg machines. Lots of things can (and do) go wrong. I considered myself well-educated about possible problems re-engineering might create, but I missed the early signals of adhesions, which are not uncommon after this surgery. Mine formed a total intestinal blockage. I’m just emerging from a long hospitalization followed by a longer convalescence, crestfallen and weak. It’s much, much harder to imagine a nice seamless (literally!) future.

I’ve got to suck it up, though, and head “onward, into the fog.” The joy of the right- now-moment, from a phone call from a beloved grandchild to the flight of a late summer butterfly has to take precedence over fears and “what if’s”. Certainly, life has always required this, but it has never been so clear or so imperative as it is to me today.