Blood. Gore. Triumph.

Been awhile, hasn’t it?

I’ve been busy building a company while working full time, too busy to keep this blog at the level I need it to be.

But all that busy-ness will come to a crashing halt next Wednesday as I’m wheeled into the operating room for a total knee replacement. This time my left. My right follows suit after the first one heals.

First surgery. First experience of staying in the hospital. Then a longish three month (minimum!) recovery.

I’m excited about walking pain free and cane free. Eventually. I’m curious about the surgical procedure-the plan now is to avoid a general anesthetic and do it via a spinal block and a “cocktail.”  I told them to make it a double. And I can’t imagine what having an entire three months or more to focus on getting better is going to be like. I’m the woman who dictates emails to Siri from the shower. I’m writing this during my commute. I’m accustomed to doing at least three things at once.

Focus on me? Seriously?

Thing is I’ll need an outlet or two, for recording this journey, for thinking aloud, for pondering what comes next.

And while what I have to say may not always be joyful–or at times loud enough to be noise, you’re welcome to stick around to how the story goes.

 

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When I am old(er): A manifesto of sorts.

As one ages, people tend to ask what does 50 feel like, or 40 or 25 or whatever number they can’t quite get their head around. Thing is, we baby boomers seem younger in our aging process that any generation before us.  My grandmother seemed very old at 53…at least older than I am now. But maybe that was just my perception, as someone much younger.

Sometime in the 1990s, I found a book in a Provincetown (MA) bookstore entitled When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple Humm, I thought. Being a 30-something dyke in the 90s, purple was my gang color, the genderbending mid point of pink and blue. Leafing through it, I loved the premise of how aging offered women a chance to shed their inhibitions, stop playing by the rules. By losing value to society, they gained freedom. But had I known that the title poem would spark the Red Hat Society—well, clearly they didn’t get it. I hate the spectacle this group makes of older women. The emphasis on the wrong things, the portrayal of aging women as comical (and color blind) stereotypes. Besides, you don’t need a group to tell you how to celebrate your individuality. Think about it.

As I have written about here before, my love and I are in the process of looking for a home that will suit us as we grow older. One floor, requiring little housework, walking distance to stores and not too much space to stuff things we’ll never use again. We want to be free of all that. But it’s made me think about the fact that old age may be the only stage of my life I get to consciously plan. Childhood is not a choice; adulthood is generally thrust on one after leaving school. And I don’t mean retirement planning. Hopefully there will be a little Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security left for us — we did pay into it all our lives. Plus I’ll have a small pension from my job and someday our investments will start to grow again. Besides, sailboats make my queasy, I don’t ski, I don’t play golf and I never liked sitting on a beach when I was young, so why would I want to do it when I’m older. I’m talking about planning how I will age, what kind of older woman I’ll be. And I think I’ve got the basics covered.

When I am old(er):

I will not ride public transit at rush hour. I have all day.

I will avoid bingos, casinos and Tim Horton’s. They are time and money wasters and I won’t have a lot of either.

I will continue to work for as long as I can, even if it’s just a day or two a week or one project at a time. It will keep my mind active and my pocket a little fuller.

I will have weekends. Real weekends. I will do what chores and errands that need to be done a little at a time during the week. To me, this is the freedom retirement brings. Getting off the clock.

I will go to movies. In the afternoon.

I will not mall walk. They make claws for ice and snow and even if I only get around the block, it will be in the fresh air.

I will not knit, crochet or do crafts. Never liked doing that stuff. I doubt that will change.

I may however, join a church group. I’m not at all religious but they have the best bake sales and I like to show off.

I will not purse my lips so tight they eventually disappear.

Further to that, I will wear lipstick. But not old lady colors.

I will continue to wear jeans. Real jeans. With real pockets and zippers. Not mom-jeans and not that awful dark wanna-be stretchy denim with visible seams. Not denim pant suits. Real jeans.

I will not make fun of fads or fashions I don’t understand, keeping in mind the toe socks and pet rocks of my youth.

I will not go to the bank when it opens or at lunch hour. I will not take a place in line from people who have to rush back to work.

I will not wear floral prints or anything bearing the image of a cat. I will continue to wear my black arty-boho-preppy combinations until they put pennies on my eyes.

I will give away things of value before I leave this world. I won’t need them and the last thing I want my legacy to be is a fight over a teapot or some folding chairs.

I will eat right. I will wear a warm coat. I will get the sleep I need.

I will not bitch about the weather.

I will continue to nurture my sexuality. It’s good for my health and my self-esteem. And if my “little deaths” bring on my big one, think of the laugh riot my memorial service will be.

I will not guilt younger people into visiting me. We all have lives.

I will wear comfortable shoes. But they don’t have to look that way.

I will continue to talk like a sailor. Particularly around those who will be the most scandalized.

I will retain my love of things innovative linear and post-modern and not develop a fondess for doilies or poultry-inspired kitchenware.

I will keep up with the latest technology.

I will care for my love and myself as long as it is reasonable to do so. Then I will cheerfully go to a “home.” I will not allow my aging to impact the lives of others. I will not surrender my independence to anyone.

I will continue to plot, plan, scheme and dream.

I will, in as much as possible, face the end with dignity and courage. Realizing it is those I leave behind who will be saddened. Not me. I’ll be off on an another adventure.

And if at all possible, I will come back to see how things are getting on without me.


What falls away

I took a day off work to go shoe shopping a few weeks ago. I had ample time coming to me, warm weather was then just around the corner and I needed a few pairs to go with the summer clothes I’ve been itching to wear the last few weeks of unseasonably cold wet weather. I needed to be prepared for that first hot barelegged day.

Normally, shoe shopping would not simply be a process of procuring necessary footwear; it would be a treasure hunt. Entertainment at its finest. I had a clean Amex card and a mall with an obscene number of shoe stores. What could be better?

After the third store and at least two hours spent trying on cute flats that cut violently into my skin or made my calves look heavy or were far more interesting on the shelf than they were at the end of my legs, I got the sense that I just wasn’t into the experience at the usual level. My efforts quickly burnt through the morning crepes I’ve enjoyed alone with the paper in a chic café—and I found I needed a cappuccino kick-me-up much earlier than expected. In one tiny and cramped but oh so hip store, I rose too quickly and banged my head on a shelf. I learned that my feet are widening with age. While that makes sense, I have been on them for 51 years, give or take (I was so slow in learning to walk, I think my mother feared I’d be taking my walker with the busy board off to college); the news pained me more than the knock on the noggin.

Finally, frustrated, I wound up at what I would have even recently referred to as “an old lady shoe shop.”  Still, there were a few things that would work. A nice pair of not too high wedges, very big this season. Very hip gold canvas flats. And these wonderful blue Mary-Janes that felt like a running shoe inside. No more blisters. No more cracking knees. Get this—they measured my feet. I don’t remember a shoe store doing that since grade school, when the end of August meant new Buster Browns.

So I got the shoes. And a bottle of the perfume I always wear, the one of three scents that doesn’t choke my love. I spilled Orange Julius on my shirt. My tights were getting elephantine near the ankles from a succession of footwear changes. And then some seemingly 400-pound teen who must have been carrying a piano in his knapsack stepped on my foot in the bus. I yelped aloud.

Wounded, nearly blooded, it dawned on me. Shopping isn’t fun anymore.

WHAT?

But it’s true. I’ve found lately there are a lot of things I used to enjoy that I really couldn’t care less about these days. When we lived in the city, we ate out two or three times a week. Now I much prefer to eat at home. It tastes better, I can have exactly what I want and I know what the kitchen looks like. I’m more comfortable and unlike one’s fellow restaurant companions, my love and Zoey aren’t that demanding about adhering to a dress code at the table. Or in front of the TV for that matter.

I used to like spending weekends touring museums or quaint “on the edge” neighborhoods. Now I’d have to restrain the desire to trip rude tourists (or give them bogus directions). And I find that most of what these chic enclaves are on the edge of is pretension. My love and I used to be spend weekends wandering through one model home after another. Now just the thought of taking off and putting on my shoes that many times makes me feel the need for a nap.

Maybe age makes us lazy. Or disinterested. Or more likely, it’s just that our wants and our priorities change. Trying to have fun isn’t fun anymore. But I spent hours at the garden centre this afternoon, carrying out armloads of brilliant oranges and yellows and reds, new silvery mauve roses and summer-smelling tomato seedlings, which I’m looking forward to planting. I’m happy planning the coconut and banana crème tarts, and brownie ice cream sundaes I’m making for a BBQ on our new deck this weekend. And when this blog is done, I’ll crawl into bed with that new Kathy Reichs mystery. Her mutilated, decomposing body finds and close calls tend to ease me into sleep.

The thing is I’m content. More content than I ever remember being. And I know I’ve earned the feeling. So I’ve got wide feet and a bump on my head and swollen toes. Tomorrow I’ll have dirty nails from planting the cucumbers and scratches from wrestling down the roses. Those tarts are going to pack on a few pounds. Big deal. And I’ve finally earned the right to read trashy books and stay home as much as I want without excuses.

When we were kids, we were told it’s the little things that matter. I found the sentiment rather limiting. I wanted the big things. That was important to me. But it’s amazing how gradually and subtly but surely the superficial stuff falls away. Leaving you with a far better view of what actually matters.

P.S.

I would have loved to share to gory details of the colonoscopy I wrote about preparing for last week, but the truth is, the last thing I remember is the nurse telling me that she was putting something to help me relax in my IV. Relax? I was out for the count. I’m just hoping I didn’t snore or talk in my sleep. The prep was a bit trying, but certainly not the horror show I was warned it would be. Here’s the thing—other than this procedure, there’s no other way to screen for colon cancer—and while it’s a widespread cancer, it’s one with good survival rates if caught early enough. So do it. Get your GP to refer you to a gastroenterologist who practices patient sedation, grit your teeth and do the prep day, then lie down, have a nap and get screened. If everyone could have the experience of the procedure  I did, I’m sure a lot more people would get tested—and a lot of lives could be saved. 


Being tested

I was one of those kids you hated in school. Most people fear tests—they get the shaky, dry-mouthed, sweaty sensation; lose every bit of knowledge they have even if they’ve studied for weeks. Pulses race, breakfasts return.

I liked tests. I enjoyed them. They appealed to my inner-showoff. They let me prove my abilities. I was calm and collected, happy even. I used to go to the movies the night before the big exam. Yes, you hated me.

Last, week, I lost a great deal of sleep staying up until the wee hours of the morning two nights in a row writing a test for work. It was grueling, but it did let me take the more corporate side of my brain out for a walk, which I have to admit I enjoyed. I’m presuming the tight 48 hour time period for two fairly weighty assignments was part of test itself—to see how one managed multiple tasks in a short time frame.

Afterwards, I felt like I bet really physically fit people must feel after a tough workout—that I could take on anything. Bring it. I’ve got the stuff.

This coming week, I have another kind of test; the kind everyone over 50 should have, me in particular considering my mom is a colon cancer survivor. It’s one of those messy, embarrassing kinds of test that take place below the belt, the kind most people aren’t comfortable talking about.

Luckily, my mother has had enough of these tests to give me the inside dirt. Pun intended. And again, luckily, two of my neighbors are nurses; one practicing, one retired. Neither of them had any reservations about explaining the “ins and outs” of this particular procedure. Although the funniest explanation I’ve found is by columnist Dave Barry. Anyone one having one of these has to read it.

Time was when you couldn’t exactly study up for a medical test, but the Internet has changed that. At this point, I know so much about what’s going to happen, that if I wasn’t going to be sedated and had better coordination, I think I could do it myself. But I’d actually rather not think about that.

My mom, my nurse neighbors and the other 43 people I know who have had this test all agree one thing—the procedure itself is nothing—it’s the preparation that’s a rough and rocky ride.

There’s the pre-fasting. No nuts, seeds, tomatoes, cucumbers, Red River Cereal (Really? They still make that stuff?), nothing to obstruct the equipment. I wanted to ask if they meant theirs or mine. Then fasting. No solid food after midnight. But all the (non-red, blue or purple) Jell-O and popsicles I want. Which is wonderful because when I’m really hungry, Jell-O and popsicles top my go-to list. Lunch and dinner will be clear broth.  Good, I get a hot meal out of this. At least I can have coffee. Black. I have to slurp back three litres (that’s about a cup short a gallon for the non-metrics out there) of (non-red, blue or purple) Gatorade, plus another litre of some sort of clear beverage I’m thinking white grape juice in a wine glass to make me feel special.

But then I’ll want Brie on a cream cracker. Damn.

Last week, Miss-Always-Prepared laid in the medical preparations needed—a box of Duculax and a two-pack purchase of something called Pico-Salex, an oral “purgative”. For some reason, the name made me think of Mexican food, which obviously I really shouldn’t be thinking about at all. For a long time to come. The box boasts “natural orange flavor” and shows a milky beverage in a fancy cup. I know I detected a sympatric smirk on the very young man who had to retrieve this for me from behind the pharmacy counter—apparently, it is a fav of bulimics everywhere and can’t be kept on a shelf.

My schedule on Wednesday will include medicating myself, taking the dog for VERY short walks, lying on the couch, drinking copious amounts of fluids and hopefully, between events, watching many episodes of The West Wing, I have all seven seasons thanks to my love’s eagle eye at Wal-Mart’s. On Thursday morning, my weak and hungry body, events finished by that time, will be transported to a clinic and at 9:40, kindly nurses will stick a needle in my arm. Having been sedated before, I know I won’t remember much after that. I’ll sleep the better part of the day and wake up hungry as a post-hibernation bear. I’ve been saying that I want Almond Chicken Soo Guy from the take-out place up the road, but something tells me that may not be the best course of action.

I will have been tested. And I promise not the share the gory details next week. It’s a test everyone should take when they hit the mid-century mark and I don’t want to spoil the adventure for the rest of you.


Ib got da bed code

I want to make this clear—I almost never get sick. I don’t like the idea of being sick, so luckily, illness tends to keep its distance. For someone past 50, my blood pressure is almost perfect, my good cholesterol can wipe up the floor with my bad and my perfectly tuned digestive system runs like a train conductor’s pocket watch. This despite the fact that I’m not the most health conscious person and see no danger in just about anything in moderation. But aside from a couple of childhood cases of the flu, a mystery blood ailment that disappeared after my teens, a bad case of measles, food poisoning in my second year of university and the odd random infection—I’m pretty healthy. I was the only still upright inhabitant of my mono-stricken dorm. I’ve never been in the hospital. I have no allergies. I had drug benefits at work for two years before I had to fill a prescription—and that was for antibiotics for a mild ear infection.

However, on the rare occasions when I do get sick—that’s it. I feel like death warmed over. I’m down for the count. For me, a simple cold never is; instead it’s a vicious viral assault. And for the past five days (and the two weeks prior, when I was crunching back Airbornes and washing my hands so often they almost bled) my eyes have been hot and sore, I’m exhausted, my muscles hurt, my nasal passages feel like someone is holding me upside down in the pool and the skin around my nose and my lips is on fire. Apparently, I even had a fever, although my love might have fibbed about that so I’d rest. I even took a sick day—not that I’m such a martyr that I don’t take time off—it’s just that I seldom take it off for me.

I’ll live. I think. I still feel like crap, but it’s temporary. Still, being under the weather always reminds me how much I appreciate the good genes, good health and energy I usually have.

For me, that’s the worst part about being sick. It’s not that everything tastes a little like soap. It’s not that the skin on the bottom of my nose is going to chap at any moment—I can feel it drying and tightening. It’s not the bloodshot eyes or the sweating or the fact that I almost fall asleep in my office after lunch. This afternoon, dragging myself through a mall, sipping a $6 Booster Juice icy concoction of orange juice and yogurt, the only thing that made my throat stop feeling like it was going to dry up and fall out of my body, I realized that the worst thing about being sick is that’s the most boring thing ever. It’s tedious. Time drags. I can’t do the things I want to do. And that… I just can’t handle.

So I’m determined I’m going to be better when I wake up tomorrow. That’s it, I’ve had enough. I want my energy back. Pronto. I have plans. I have lists and deadlines and things to do. I have errands to run and brownies to make (this particular brand of cold seems to make one crave sweets). And too, since there’s a new puppy coming to live with us next week, I have to turn the house inside out making sure it’s safe for her—and safe for the electric cords, shoes, cabinet doors, scatter mats and everything else that is chewable, tearable or easily mistaken for the lawn.

It all comes down to the fact that I simply don’t have time for any more of this runny-nose, coughing, cold chills nonsense. I have no patience with pulling myself through the day. And I am sick and tired or being sick….and …well, tired. So end it must!


One sick bunch

I have finally figured out the real reason people retire.

It’s not so they can leisurely stroll the golf courses or wave from the railing of a cruise ship as in the commercials that present us with a lovely fairly tale of our just reward for a lifetime of work. (Looking at our retirement investment statement this weekend, I see a lot of tomato soup and crackers in our future—and not the good brand name stuff either.)

It’s so they have time to see the multitude of medical professionals that our aging bodies demand.

Having our annual check-up in December means putting all the follow-up stuff off until after the holidays. Which concentrates the process. So the past two weeks have been filled with making appointments, moving appointments, coordinating appoints, getting to the appointments–generally in bad weather, packing up the receipts for health insurance claims and trying to keep a job, a home and lives running with the time left in between.  My brand new magenta daybook is already looking ragged.

Last week it was mammograms for two (certainly not most people’s idea of a date, but it works for us), blood work for my upcoming colonoscopy (oh yay!) and my love’s hopefully final post-op physio session. I got word that I have a B-12 deficiency, so that was another trip to the pharmacy. (There are 42 kinds of B-12 supplements, none of which differ in any significant way.  I picked the one with the biggest bottle and the smallest pills.) The dog had a vet appointment that needed to be reschedule due to a blizzard. Then there are the calls that need to be made to the pharmacy because we actually read the paperwork they give us and need to know if we’ll grow a third eye or drop where we stand if we take an Advil for a headache.

Thing is—we’re not alone. There is barely a soul I know on the other side of 50 who isn’t in the same boat.

I still think when it comes to medical care, we’re lucky to live where we do. One comes to truly appreciate socialized medicine the more one leans on it. Without public health insurance and my private plan at work, this aging thing could get costly—my love’s major surgery and five days in hospital would have amounted to roughly the cost of a new luxury sedan. Our co-pay for her semi-private room was a mere $150 and another C-note for her post-op drugs not covered by either plan. And there’s the $4 for the Rice Crispies and potato chips I had to sneak into her room when she wouldn’t eat the hospital food. Her $90 physio sessions cost us $18, thanks to what is still a fantastic family plan at my job. Blood work, breast screenings, preventative care—and my love’s twice-annual post-op look-see—they’re all free for the taking. The biggest financial hardship is the hospital parking fee, which I rationalize as a generous donation to the hospital’s foundation.

True, it can take a long time to see a doctor and our waiting rooms are crowded, but on the whole, it’s an amazing system, albeit difficult to sustain and there are those of us who didn’t vote for the guy now in charge who worry that it may not be around for much longer.  But given the fact that no one in Canada has to sell their house if they want life-saving surgery, we can’t complain—even if that is the one thing Canadians do well.

I hate bitching about getting older. I hate whining about things that can’t be changed. I think aging gracefully is about more than preventing wrinkles,  keeping the grooming up and switching to a sheer lipstick, it’s also a state of mind; it’s about embracing what’s to come as a grand adventure. Something I plan to keep doing that, no matter what physical affliction might come along.

Only thing is, I see now that I may have to do a lot of that embracing from a waiting room chair.


Trying to be alone in the crowd

Tonight was the last time I’ll see the inside of a Wal-Mart until after Christmas.

It was our last chance to stock up on slightly cheaper brand-name toothpaste, body wash and dog food. Corn Flakes, the big box, were less than half price.  There was also the West Wing box set complete with a pilot script that I probably shouldn’t have seen. But whatever we needed, we scooped it up fast—and we weren’t a moment too soon.  Tree-trimmings and sales signs seemed to hang close over my head. The ceilings, usually high and vast, seemed to tilt towards me. Every aisle I walked, from cake mixes to cosmetics to craft supplies, was jam-packed with early-ish Christmas shoppers. They weren’t at the panic point they’ll be in two weeks from now—but there was still a cloying whiff of frenzy-to-come in the air. The only place that offered any breathing room at all was oddly, the electronics department—and good thing too, since my love was adamant about me trying on the 3-D glasses and experiencing the wonders of a multi-dimensional Disney film. It was pretty cool—and for a few moments, it took my mind off the crowds I’d have to stand in to get through the cash and out the door.

Truth is, I won’t be able to be in any department store or mall—unless I take a day off work and go very early in the morning on a weekday—until long after the holidays. I usually spend at least one December morning a year sipping Peppermint Mocha on a bench in a near empty mall, waiting for the stores to open. It’s not so bad; the muffins are still warm then.  We’ll shop for food very early in the morning, on Sundays. And if we run out of toilet paper or coffee or I decide I we need to replace that box of Turtles I used when I forgot to buy a hostess present, my love will handle it solo. Because at this time of year, I can’t cope with being in a crowd.

I don’t know if I’m part of the six percent of the population who actually have claustrophobia but I definitely have claustrophobic feelings. They’re selective. I always hated phone booths and don’t miss them at all. At work, I get uncomfortable when someone stands in my office doorway.  I don’t like my escape route blocked. I have to sit on the aisle of the plane.  If you wanted to torture me, I figure a tanning bed would be your best choice. I don’t like small cars or tight sweaters and I can feel trapped by a phone conversation or a hug that goes on too long—but I have absolutely no problem with elevators, one of the most common locations for panic attacks. I have a big issues with store dressing rooms, so I buy a lot of my clothes online (thank heaven for Lands End) and know my sizes so well, I can usually eyeball something on the rack and know whether it will fit or not. I was attracted to the open-concept bungalow I live in now because it had no tight cramped spots—and very few walls. Difficultly in placing furniture was an easy trade for all that open space. We’re already scouting out apartment layouts for when the house gets to be too much work, to find some nice city flat where it won’t feel like the walls are out to get me.

Crowded public spots are the worst. I would love to go downtown when they turn on the Christmas lights, to go to an outdoor concert, to Time’s Square for New Year’s Eve—but I know those things would make me miserable, panicky and disoriented. I pride myself on my six incident-free trips to Walt Disney World—but I think that has something to do with all the open spaces and an uncontrollable passion for Dole Whip and Ice Cream Mickeys—and the fish and chips at Epcot’s British Pavilion.

Happily, with a little planning and some deft moves around those who can’t see the panic in my eyes and move in too close, it’s mostly possible to stay out of situations that bring on claustrophobic moments and keep those instant headache-waves of nausea-can’t breathe-want to scream moments to a minimum.  If you share this affliction, you’ve probably developed your own protection strategy. For me, it means staying away from midnight madness sales, opening day at movies (although I did brave it once on a Sunday several years ago to see The Hours—but the members of the half-dozen book groups who shared the theater with me were a pretty calm bunch), sporting events and airports during school breaks.

I’ll do whatever it takes to not be another face in the crowd.