Old Age Is Not For Sissies

Every year on November 12th, I call my mom up to wish her Happy Birthday, at which point the exchange usually goes like this: “So, Mom, how does it feel to be (insert age here)?” And her reply is always the same: “It beats the alternative.”

That’s a pretty realistic way of looking at things, I think. Mom’s not one to blow smoke up your ass and go all Little Mary Sunshine on you. She just tells it like it is. If she feels good, she’ll say so, and if she doesn’t she’ll say that too. Thankfully, she’s not a complainer, a trait I plan to mirror in the years to come.

Let’s face it, getting older is inevitable. We all have to deal with it.

Even the fabulous Foo Fighters are facing middle age, no matter how young and fabulous they are on stage. A few years ago, when he gave the keynote address at Austin’s SXSW Film Festival, Dave Grohl pulled a pair of cheaters out of his shirt pocket in order to read his notes. On last month’s American Way cover, coverboy Dave has a few strands of gray in his beard. There’s a touch of gray in Chris Shiflett’s temples. And Pat Smear has gone totally, and spectacularly gray. Welcome to the club, guys!

Gray hair is just a part of the process. On men, it looks distinguished. On women? It just seems to make many of us look old and tired. I refuse to embrace my gray yet. Nope. Not gonna do it. I’ve only recently discovered the joy of being a redhead. Why give that up?

The aging process brings a lot of changes, and although aging gracefully beats the alternative, as Mom always says, it brings a lot of harsh realities. You have to learn to roll with them.

I had to buy a pair of cheaters years ago just to see the computer screen. Before I knew it, my optometrist was tossing out ugly words like ‘glaucoma’ and ‘bifocals’, followed a few years later by ‘trifocals’!! Sure, they soften the blow by calling them multifocals now, but you can’t fool me. That’s just code for “holy shit, you’re blind as a bat!”

Aging also comes with lots of reminders of one’s own fragile mortality. No matter how old your brain tells you you are (mine tells me I’m somewhere in between 18 and 30 most days. This could be due to my prolonged exposure to loud rock and roll music), your body will step in frequently and provide you with a reality check. Things just start to hurt.

Squat down to pick up something, and then listen to the snap, crackle, and pop of your knee and hip joints. Hear it often enough, and suddenly you find yourself on the supplement aisle at CVS, reading up on glucosamine. And then there are the screening exams. Lots of them.

Women get mammograms and bone density scans, and men get prostate exams. And then there is the true benchmark of middle age. The biggie. The baddie.

The unpleasant, yet necessary, colonoscopy.

It’s gender-neutral, so once you hit 50, your doctor will start nagging you to schedule one, regardless of what kind of plumbing you have. And it screens for colon cancer, which is preventable, or treatable when detected early. A colonoscopy is nobody’s idea of a good time, but it’s important, and you just have to suck up and do it.

Even so, I tried to avoid it for as many years as possible, despite annual harping by my OB/GYN. All the horror stories about the preparation process were so unpleasant. Like a petulant child at bedtime, I would whine to my doctor “Do I HAVE to?? I don’t WANNA!”

But finally, I resigned myself to the inevitable. It was time. Last month, I decided to stop being a weenie, and called to set up the procedure. Which happened this week.

First, I went for a consult. Met the doctor, who explained why the procedure is necessary, and what I could expect. Next I met with the scheduler. We settled on the date and time, she gave me an explicit list of instructions to follow, and told me she would call in a prescription for the prep kit. I guess it must have been the face I made, because she said “Don’t worry, it’s really not that bad.”

No doubt you’ve heard stories of the prep experience. In hindsight (Ha! Hindsight! See what I did there?), it really wasn’t as horrendous as I’d made it out to be. But it wasn’t fun. Let’s just say it’s not an experience I’m looking forward to repeating.

The day before the procedure calls for an all-liquid diet regimen. This wasn’t awful, as I was allowed dairy products until 6:00 PM. Creamer in my coffee, a chocolate-hazelnut smoothie for breakfast, and a milkshake for lunch.
Then came dinner. The dreaded laxative drink, mixed with water. It’s pretty vile. Imagine the nastiest cough syrup you ever had. Now dilute it with water and drink the whole bottle. Chase that with 32 oz. of water. You feel like a tick that’s about to pop.

I will spare you the gory details. You either know or can guess how I spent the evening. My advice? On prep night, be sure you have good reading material on hand.

The day of, I got to repeat the nasty drink about four hours before my 11:45 appointment. I got through the waterlogging process by imagining the pizza I was going to have for lunch when it was all over. Then I showered and dressed and sat on the couch and read and tried not to stress.

At the surgical center, I was called back for check-in, given a flattering hospital gown, and instructed to take off everything (I could keep my socks) and put the gown on, open in back. I was freezing, as I had been since the night before. Once I was settled in a bed, the nurse covered me with a heated blanket. Apparently freezing during prep is normal. She told me it’s a result of the laxative, which strips your digestive system of electrolytes, along with everything else. She started my IV and brought Mark in from the waiting room to keep me company.

Soon I was rolled back to the procedure room. The nurses spent a few minutes admiring my ink. Then the doctor came in and said we were ready to begin. The nurse-anesthetist explained she was about to administer the Propofol (yes, the same stuff that killed Michael Jackson – it’s perfectly safe in small, controlled doses, but not to be used as a general sleep aid, obviously), and that I would soon begin to feel sleepy.

She wasn’t kidding. The words were barely out of her mouth, and I was out for the count.

A nanosecond later, or so it seemed, I was back in the recovery area. All done. I missed the whole thing. Which was just fine by me.

The doctor came by to report on my exam. He pronounced me good to go, so Mark helped me dress, and we headed home, stopping to pick up pizza on the way. After nearly 40 hours with no solid food, that pizza was manna from heaven!

So, it wasn’t pleasant, and I’m relieved to have it behind me (HA! Another funny! Am I on a roll or what?), but I’m glad I did it. A colonoscopy is not a party, but it’s bound to beat the hell outta colon cancer, am I right? I’m determined to age well, which means being as healthy as possible while I do it.

I’m only 53. I still have important stuff to do.


2 thoughts on “Old Age Is Not For Sissies

  1. Hattie is right, “beats the alternative.” It’s also true for those of us who are Jungian by nature that we don’t stop growing at adolescence. A great book published in 2014, Jung and Aging: Possibilities and Potentials for the second Half of Life, talks about the growth that continues as we age and the important choices we make. Hattie has make the choice to keep growing, and from my perspective she is doing a fine job. You’ve got great genes and an enviable role model! Loved you honesty. I can tell you that when you reach 70 the docs don’t push the colonoscopy anymore if you had good tests up to that point.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s