Posts Tagged With: old-age

VULNERABILITY

Whoever said that old age was not for sissies hit the nail right on the head. As one ages, inevitable aches and pains start creeping into one’s muscles, joints, knees, ankles, necks, shoulders and other parts of what’s left of your body. You slowly but surely begin accepting these pains as they become interwoven into into your daily life routines. After awhile, it becomes nearly impossible to imagine life without them. They become your constant companion, almost certainly for the rest of your life. Although I am generally considered to be in good health, unquestionably, I have my share of maladies. Among my list of ailments are asthma, allergies, arthritis, and that’s just the A’s. If I went through the whole alphabet, I would need a blog longer than the Dead Sea Scrolls. Along with the physical ailments comes a mental degradation, as you realize you’re no longer strong enough to take on various physical challenges or threats. Thus, as one ages, invariably, a foreboding sense of vulnerability continues to creep into one’s psyche and grows in strength. All part of the fearfulness you often see in seniors’ behavior.

One of my chief physical impairments is a loss of hearing, or as they called it back in the day, deafness. Yes, I have to wear hearing aids, which are not only obscenely expensive, but of marginal effectiveness. People with normal hearing capabilities usually don’t realize that hearing aids come nowhere close to restoring ones hearing capabilities to what they once were before hearing loss began to set in. In a crowded restaurant or other similar environment, they are practically useless. That’s because hearing aids magnify noises indiscriminately. So dishes clattering, conversations of people across the room, and all other sounds are magnified to the same degree as the words being spoken by the person sitting next to you. It’s your demanding job to try to hear the conversations of the people at your table, above the interference from the other sounds emanating in the room, and being picked up by your hearing aids. Often, an impossible task. But like everything else, you muddle through and rationalize. After all, it’s a lot better to have hearing loss than blindness. But, like all other disabilities, it feeds one’s sense of growing vulnerability.

Since we have lived in a seniors community, we have seen much disease and death over the years. Just a couple of days ago, the obits in our local paper carried the news that one of our residents had just died of lung cancer. He was 10 years my junior; so I figure that as long as I’m looking at the green side of the lawn every day, I’m ahead of the game. A few years back, a man we knew quite well, developed liver cancer in his early 60s. He was a really good guy, well-liked by everyone, and had a strong thirst for life. Hence he decided to fight the cancer tooth and nail. This meant heavy doses of chemo, with all its debilitating effects, being in and out of the hospital almost every week, and an array of non-ending surgical procedures. It did extend his life by a few months, but at an enormous cost as to the quality of that life. In the end, the inevitable occurred. I think if I were put in similar circumstances, at my age, I would opt not to undergo the chemo or any other therapy, and just let nature take its course.

This man, after he was diagnosed, told me that no one in his family had ever made it past 60. Bad genes, apparently. The fact that he had made it into his early 60s, was for him, something of a triumph. But as I get older, I see more clearly the role that genetic inheritance plays in determining one’s longevity. We know people well into their 80s, who seem to plow through life with little physical difficulty. Others have aged well before their time. It’s all in the genes. As for myself, I feel that I have a lousy genetic inheritance, (to say nothing of an even worse financial inheritance) since everyone in my family history died young, save for my father. I try to compensate by going to the gym every day and working out like a dog, but I think, in the end, poor genes will trump exercise. In the meantime, I just take it one day at a time, and continue to look for the green side of the grass.

The fact that seniors instinctively know they have far more mileage behind them than in front of them, is often what makes them so fearful and oblivious to all but their own needs. Many spend most of their remaining lives going from the doctors offices (they usually see a multitude of doctors) to the dentist office. Most cling to life with every ounce of their remaining strength. In Las Vegas, It’s not uncommon to see seniors dragging along oxygen tanks as the come to play the slots in smoke filled casinos. Some are in wheel chairs, or can only get around with walkers or canes. But they come because it gives them some form of entertainment, to say nothing of the casino noises and hordes of people throwing their money away on the machines or the craps tables. At least it gives them a chance to get out of the house.

I believe the fear of death is mostly rooted in the fear of the unknown. What is on the other side, if anything. Anecdotal evidence from those that have undergone near-death- experiences would indicate that the soul does enter a different dimension, one usually described as being  paradise. But there is obviously no sex, no food, no drink, no TV. So I’m thinking-how much of a paradise can it be? You would think that by now, some sort of a skype-like arrangement would have been set up between us and the departed, so we could know exactly what to expect. And your mother could continue to nag you from beyond the grave. In the meantime, I, along with a bunch of other seniors, will continue to value the time we have left above ground in this dimension.

 

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THE PROBLEM WITH LIFE

Scientists estimate that the the universe began about 14 billion years ago with the big bang theory. The theory goes that a relatively small clump of matter suddenly appeared on the scene, and then exploded and sent forth smaller pieces of matter that evolved into the infinite number of planets and other material that comprise the universe as we know it today. Which is kind of ridiculous. I mean, did this chunk of matter suddenly appear out of nowhere into what was then a total void. Where did it come from? In actuality, the universe has always existed, perhaps in a different arrangement of matter, but nevertheless, it has always been there. The universe is infinite, a very difficult concept for people to grasp, but there is no beginning or end to it. It’s not as if you were traveling in a space ship and suddenly came upon a sign that said : “Universe Ends in Two Miles.” Upon traveling those next 2 miles there would be a big chain link fence with another sign saying: “End of Universe.” Like space, time is also infinite, in that there always has and will be time. I believe time, past, present and future, occurs simultaneously, but we can only see the present in the dimension that we currently occupy. Perhaps when we enter a different dimension, more fondly known as the afterlife, time will have a whole different meaning and we will be able to see time as circular, rather than linear, as we mortals currently view it. In any event, time and space are inexorably linked, as Einstein and other scientists have pointed out, but we can only see both in limited contexts.

Which is a rather long way around of getting to the topic at hand, which is the problem with life as we know it on this planet. That problem is that we begin to age  from the moment we’re born, and then, eventually die. Of course, most people fight and strive to stay alive as long as possible. But even under the best of circumstances, even if you live to be 100 or older, (less than one percent of the population does), it’s still only the tiniest sliver of time compared to the age of the universe. After that you have to spend like forever, better known as eternity, in the next dimension. Or perhaps there is no next dimension, and what you get in this world is all she wrote. I suspect that most people harbor such thoughts no matter what their religious beliefs may be, and that’s why they strive so hard to stay alive as long as possible. When one is young and in good health, such ruminations are seldom are entertained. But when you get to be my age, they seem to crop up more often. As I’ve written before, the young person looks down the road of life, and unless they’ve inherited some serious genetic defect, that road looks sunny and clear as a bell. But when you get to my age and look down that same road, you can see Death flitting among the bushes, or peaking out from behind a tree. It’s like the lines I quoted in my last entry from the poem by John Donne: “Ask not for whom the bells toll. They toll for thee.”  Donne had worked in a church whose bells would slowly peal whenever a church member died, so the poem’s meaning is quite clear.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression that I fixate on this. I’m generally in good health, but I do have a few problems, the biggest one being my rotten teeth. I spend almost as much time at the dentist as I do at home. I was there a couple of days ago for work on a tooth implant. My gums are still sore. Because of all the work I’ve had done, implants, bridges, crowns, fillings, etc., my wife says I have the equivalent of a Mercedes in my mouth. Probably more like a Rolls Royce. I also have glaucoma, treatable with prescription eye drops, but requiring periodic visits to the eye doctor. And lets not forget deafness, requiring hearing aids that are virtually useless in a noisy environment. This requires periodic visits to the hearing aids people to fine tune the devices. Thus, you get a picture of what you have to look forward to if you make it to old age. Nevertheless, one of my daughters says, I should count my blessings that I don’t have worse problems, which is true.

As you know, I live in a large seniors community, and hardly a day goes by when an ambulance blaring its sirens doesn’t go tearing through the streets. Another senior is about to be rushed to the hospital, or perhaps, is already dead. Over the 12 years that we’ve lived here, we’ve known a fair amount of people that have died, usually of cancer, and often before their time. Others we know are battling seriously debilitating diseases. One individual we know has a condition where the fluid that continually bathes the brain is not draining away as it should. This required the insertion of a stunt to properly drain this fluid, but still leaves him weak with serious disability. Still he manages to keep positive and in good spirits. Another woman is battling serious breast cancer, but also maintains good spirits. A lot better spirit than I would have under similar circumstances. In any event, being a senior means learning about a whole slew of health issues, many of which you had never previously heard of. Many seniors make so many doctors visits that they often become better diagnosticians than most doctors. One’s health also often comes down to genetic makeup. We know seniors that will make it well into their nineties or older, because they inherited what I call caste-iron genes. I try to compensate for a poor genetic inheritance by going to the gym every day, although I often feel, “lots of luck with that.”

In any event, it helps when things get especially tough or dispiriting, to remember what a tiny amount of time we spend in this form on this planet. Perhaps in comparison, when we do cross over to the other side, it will make the pain and suffering we’ve had to endure in this life form, seem pretty trivial and insignificant. Which, in the end, would the best perspective we can have on life.

 

 

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