I Ache, Therefore I Am

Age Gracefully. I Dare You!

“I think, therefore I am,” Descartes said. Yet, as people age, many switch to a different, less inspiring paradigm, namely ‘I ache, therefore I am.”

I have, for instance, a cousin who spends entire telephone conversations reciting litanies of medical ills, without offering even one hosanna for the medical miracles that keep him alive and kicking and well enough to bitch and moan the whole time on the phone.

For my part, I have always vowed to age gracefully and suffer silently whatever slings and arrows come my way.

Well, that pledge has been put to the test lately and I confess, I have to give myself barely passing grades in the dignity and grace department.

Wimpy and Whiny
I have been challenged of late by a leg problem. It started almost a year ago. I thought it was phlebitis, a blood clot, which I’ve had before, and is serious. The doctor quickly ordered a test and determined it was a Baker’s Cyst, which is (a) not serious, but (b) quite ridiculous since I don’t bake. I later discovered that a Baker’s Cyst has nothing to do with the culinary arts, but is a fairly common ailment and that it’s “no big deal.” “No big deal” is, of course, a relative term. No big deal if somebody else has it, but a slightly bigger deal if you’re the one in pain. Anyway, I went for a few weeks of physical therapy, limped around a bit, and sorta got better.

Then, unrelated to baking or the Baker’s Cyst, I got a new prescription for reflux aka heartburn, another “not a big deal” medical problem. In and of itself, the new prescription really isn’t a big deal. It helped solve the problem it was supposed to solve without any unpleasant side effects. However – and with me – there always is a “however,” this new pill increased the total number of meds I take daily, which is, you see, a big deal. A very big deal.

Prescription Nation
In my mother’s last months, she took so many pills on such a complicated schedule of morning, noon, dinner, bedtime, every four hours, every six hours, every 12 hours, that when I needed to organize her medication into those plastic organizers, I had to go into another room and close the door so I could do the sorting without distraction. At the time, I swore I would sooner let my life end than ever reach a point where I needed more than six medications a day.

Well, I now take five prescriptions, although only three of them are daily. Even so, I may soon need to rethink that “six-pills-or-die” pledge.

Then It was Back to Square One
And then the knee started hurting again. This time the doctor ordered an MRI. While I waited three weeks to get the results, I conducted my own “high level” medical research, i.e. I searched the Internet. Dr. Me quickly concluded I needed knee replacement surgery. The mere idea of this made me feel old. I started practicing the “I feel like a spring chicken” phrase used by oldsters who have had successful hip and knee replacement procedures.

I’m Not Old. I’m a Jock!
Then came the medical verdict – a torn meniscus. Praise the gods! I didn’t have an arthritic, worn-out knee. I didn’t have an old-age problem. I had a sport’s injury. I had joined the ranks of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Big Ben Roethlisberger, Minnesota Vikings’ star running back Adrian Peterson and Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. I didn’t have to moan like an old lady about my aching, arthritic joints. I could howl like a mean, lean sports machine. I could limp with the best of them off the field (or in my case, into the supermarket parking lot).

So, now I have visions of post-arthroscopic surgery rehab with the big boys, bench pressing weights with champion athletes, talking smack about rival teams and whatever else we tough sports types talk about while doing physical therapy (PT for us cool kids). Of course, the conversation might falter a bit when they ask what sports I play, but, hey, needlepoint is arduous. I get blisters, headaches and who’s not to say that sitting cross-legged on the couch for hours wasn’t the cause of my torn meniscus?

It’s Like My Cousin Martin Said
Whenever I feel like complaining, along with my middle-aged friends, I think of my second cousin Martin.

“Martin, how are you feeling?” I once asked my 92-year-old relative.

“Karen,” he replied with that lovely Eastern European accent he never lost even after living in the US for six-plus-decades. “It’s like I told my doctor. If it wasn’t for my legs, I’d feel like I was 80. And at my age, 80 sounds pretty good.”

That was Martin in a nutshell – funny, wry, observant and grateful. This was a man who had lost a wife and two young children in the Holocaust, who had served in the Czech military and then in US military intelligence, married a second time and had a second family.

Now widowed a second time, Martin was living in a retirement home. My brother and I were coming from Las Vegas to New York to visit him. We arrived on a wintery Friday which – Martin had informed us in advance – was a busy day, since sunset and therefore Sabbath observance began early. His legs might ache, but his mind was active and his heart – and day – were full. He left a morning Torah study group to visit with us. We rode the elevator up to his room, which was sparsely decorated but filled with pictures of his family. He pointed proudly to the exercise bike he still tried to use every day and then regaled us with charming stories of his beloved Aunt Ida – our grandmother. It was a delightful, special time – the last time I saw my sweet cousin.

I think of Martin when I consider how people should age. To say the obvious, here was a man who had lost much and yet carried on with such grace, charm, and dignity. I think of Martin as I listen to people moan and groan about their aches and pains. I think of Martin and remember to stop myself from doing the same.

As Martin observed, if it wasn’t for my legs, I’d feel like I’m 80. Of course, I’m only 63.

1 reply
  1. Jane Anne Staw
    Jane Anne Staw says:

    So very true. I cannot encounter anyone these days who doesn’t lead with a list of physical complaints.


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