Aging is not your friend

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on March 31, 2017 # Health

Here’s what’s been on my mind a lot lately: getting old. Not getting older – that’s a snap -- getting inarguably OLD. Don’t let the “age is only a number” Pollyannas fool you -- when you cross the seventy-year-old line, give or take a few years, you are in the fourth quarter of life and overtime is rare. This is when you start thumbing through those “hilarious” books at the book store on getting old, accepting your three chins and hair growing out of your ears, and loving every minute of it! Nora Ephron made a fortune off one called “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” Your grandmother is probably self-publishing one as we speak. Like the time she couldn’t find her walker in the parking lot…what a hoot!

I became paralyzed at 51 and immediately I was way ahead of my peers in the getting-old-early sweepstakes. While they were doing comb-overs and squeezing into slim jeans, I was already dealing with the many sorrows of aging – fatigue, incontinence, wheelchair maintenance, even the indignity of being called “sweetie” and “honey” by every grocery clerk in town. And as 70+ oldsters tend to do everywhere, at 51, I could blab at nauseam about my health problems and most people politely listened because hey, I’m paralyzed!

There was a long period in there where I stopped being so focused on such matters just as my ambulatory friends were becoming more focused – and whinier. One more drawn-out knee replacement saga and I was ready to scream, “Knee replacement? What about a waist to toe replacement. Does your doctor do those?”

Then, I got officially old.

In the aches and complaints department, my non-disabled friends caught up with me. We were now on the same irreversible trajectory to our inevitable demise. The turning point for me was a rotator cuff tear on my right shoulder about three years ago. I was starting to wear down. But the real turning point was a second rotator cuff tear last year, this one on the left shoulder. Unlike the first, this one was not caused by an accident. It was caused by the wasting away of shoulder tendons. In time, I forgot about the first tear. The second tear didn’t bounce back. A year later, despite many rounds of PT and home exercises and keeping pressure off of that shoulder, it is still weak and intermittently hurts like all-get-out. Intermittently, as in a good chunk of every day. It’s unlikely to get any better. I could have an operation, but that would mean I’d be rolling around in circles, using only one arm, for a long time. Intermittent pain or months of incapacity? I’m still struggling with that one.

My brother has metastatic melanoma, a heck of a lot more serious than a bum shoulder, and in talking to his doctors at MD Anderson in Houston, I learned an important lesson. In treating most cancers, they no longer use the word, “cure.” Some cancers do go into remission and not come back, but many – Stage 3 or 4 lung, breast, and pancreatic cancers, not to mention metastatic melanoma – are not considered curable. But, with modern therapies, they can be mitigated, or slowed down, to give the patient a longer lease on life. You’re never cancer-free, but you might have a chance to live with the damn thing.

In the same way, if I zealously attend to my shoulder daily, I can live with it. And if I zealously attend to this rest of my other ailments of aging, I can probably live with them, too. The older you get, the more your day is consumed by mollifying these health matters. There was a book out a few years back called “Younger Each Year,” preaching the benefits of fitness and optimistic aging. The one quote that stuck in my brain was: “Health is not your first job; it’s your only job.” Think about it.

In my next blog, I’ll look at the greatest fear of all certified oldsters – losing your mind. Sounds like fun, no?

© 2017 Allen Rucker

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The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life