In the past, when elderly people would talk about their ailments, like they were recent inductees into the Hall of Pain, I would think, Oh my gosh! Is that all that ever happens in their lives? Can’t we please just talk about the weather? Everything from bowel issues to equilibrium was often covered in one phone call. I hung up feeling overwhelmed. With a few more years lived now, Flash and I are starting to understand.
Things that never pinged and sputtered before, now require trips to specialty doctors. Gone are the days of eating with no weight gain, no wild hairs growing out of facial orifices, and getting out of a chair without knees crackling like the wood in the fireplace.
We pay the price for spicy foods, at one end or the other. But I’m thankful that I can still sneeze without wetting my pants and am still cognizant of the fact when I break wind. It's all about perspective.
"I'm starting to get a heliport pad on the back of my head," Flash reported one morning, then happily added, "but George's bald spot is bigger than mine." I guess when the total hair count dramatically decreases, comparison is a big deal.
Sitting on the couch one night, I stretched my legs out in front of me. “Flash, my feet!”
“Look at my ankles! Are those my ankles?”
Huge orbs had replaced my sexy, boney ankles; they were wrapped in a fleshy casing. I couldn’t see the bone. “I have Fred Flintstone's feet.”
Flash indulged by glancing over.
“Don’t they look big to you?” I was hoping it was my imagination and that it had merely been so long since I’d seen them, my memory was the problem.
“Wow,” he said as he gazed upon my elephant feet. You know you’re in trouble when you get a “wow” over any part of your body’s being four times larger without cosmetic surgery.
I’d heard of people’s body parts swelling, but it had never happened to my ankles. It was a new dimension of being 50-something.
I responded with the old standby, “Well, I’ve had a lot of salt lately.”
“Got a salt lick in the backyard you’ve been using? That’s some major fluid retention,” my sensitive husband responded. I glared at the Skinny-Ankle Man.
A little extra water in other places would be great - across my forehead, on my heels and elbows - to add volume where things are a little saggy or wrinkly. But no. Water gathers at the skinniest part of me; I have menopausal ankles.
“Ists” are multiplying in our lives. For the first time, “podiatrist” was mentioned when Flash complained of foot pain. Also on the list are dermatologists to check out all those lovely red spots that have popped up, gastroenterologists for the adventure of colonoscopies, and cardiologists to make sure we're marching through life without missing a beat. Mom's list is much longer; if it weren’t for “ists,” she'd have a lot more free time. She schedules meals around doctor appointments. Getting older is a full-time job. “Well, I’ve had everything under the hood checked out,” she said recently.
Because the only thing I exercise is my free will, things like weeding the garden for 10 minutes result in my walking like the hunchback of Notre Dame the next day. If I must go out in public on those post-exertion days, I wear a tank top, running shoes, Nike shorts, and one of Cowboy’s medals from his baseball league so people will think I just finished a marathon. I get a lot of high-fives from fellow shoppers. It’s not the first time in my life I’ve dressed the part of the Exercisers without ever breaking a sweat. In the 80s, I donned headbands and crop tops during my “Let’s Get Physical” phase.
I once attended a “ball class” with a friend. When we walked in, it looked like a geriatric center; white-haired ladies, each with her own exercise ball, stood around the room. This will be a piece of cake, I assured myself. It’s a ball, not a shot put. If these women can do it, I can do it.
Four minutes into the routine, the instructor hollered across the room to a struggling athlete, “You okay back there?” All heads turned to see what the problem was.
“I’ll…be…okay,” I managed to get out while trying to catch my breath.
It gives me comfort when I hear Flash moan and groan after exercising; he works out much more than my six times per year.
“Ohhhh,” I hear him whine from the living room.
“Are you okay?” I run to my beloved to see if he injured himself, or to point and laugh. “What’s wrong? Is your back out?”
“I can hardly move my arm.”
“Did you pull a muscle?”
“I played Wii bowling with Cowboy last night. Guess I overdid it.” Even electronic sports leave us searching for the Bengay.
After sitting through a movie at the theater for 106 to 124 minutes, I can hardly stand up when it’s over. My knees don’t want to straighten. I walk in looking ambulatory; I leave with two ushers carrying me, still in the sitting position, to my car. I drive home and wait in the car for Flash to come home and unfold me.
I know Cowboy wonders what causes the transformation in his parents overnight. We tuck him into bed as somewhat normal people. When we wake at 5:45 a.m., before God gets up, we shuffle to the kitchen like, well, my mother. She’s 89; she has a valid reason. Perhaps all my ailments are payback for the times I laugh at her. But she’s laughing along with me, so I should be exonerated.
“You’d be surprised how long it takes me to do things,” she says.
No I wouldn’t. I see it. And it drives me crazy to not be able to jump in and help her speed things up sometimes. Being the Most Independent Woman on the Face of the Earth, she likes to do things herself.
“I can mop my floors better than you can,” she said last week, as I helped her clean house.
“Mom, how are you going to drag a mop around while using your walker?”
“I can do it.”
“Yes, but it could take you until January, and we’d miss seeing you on Christmas. I can do it much quicker.” She conceded for the sake of making family memories that didn’t involve a bucket.
Every once in a while, she gives me that “Just wait until you’re my age” look, or says that aloud.
I know, I know. I’m seeing my future.
Now Flash and I discuss bathroom habits on a steady basis. Things are becoming more complicated. “Regular" is no longer a term reserved for coffee or gasoline. Some people dream of all-expenses-paid adventurous excursions; I just want to be able to go to the bathroom for three straight days.
Perhaps there’s some ancient Chinese proverb about other people’s reality becoming our own if we laugh at them too much. If so, we'll be eating Milk of Magnesia sundaes with Beano tablets on top. It will be a Disneyland of geriatric issues that will keep Cowboy in stitches. But as long as Flash and I keep laughing at ourselves, we’ll make it just fine through the Golden Years.