Friday, November 15, 2013

Geezerhood Can Suck

[Note:  This is another blog in my Geezerhood series.  Younger readers or those still in denial might just bookmark this for future reading and go do something more fun, like doing a SnapChat or Tweeting something. Also, please be advised that the content below might be regarded as "TMI" or "over-sharing"].

I've written several times about my journey through Geezerhood, often putting the emphasis on the positive aspects of getting older (see list of blogs below).  In the spirit of being "Fair and Balanced" (choke) it may be time to talk about some of the more sucky parts of Geezerhood I've encountered recently.

I realize that my recent conditions pale in comparison to those of other people out there and I sincerely apologize for making my difficulties seem so bad.  But my problems are severe enough to make me much more sympathetic for the plight of those who are worse off and to make me admire them for their ability to face their situation and continue their lives with grace and good humor.

Up to this point I've been fairly healthy -- maybe three overnight hospital stays in my entire lifetime, no significant surgeries, ZERO prescription meds on a daily continuing basis.  Not to say there are no issues at all -- family history of glaucoma so I've been monitoring my status often, pre-hypertensive (I take my pressure at home regularly), medium high cholesterol buffered by very high HDL (the good kind of cholesterol), a few pre-cancerous lesions on my forehead, treated and monitored regularly, and of course a slightly enlarged prostate, common in men of my age but being monitored.  Oh, and an irritating susceptibility to bruising on my arms and hands attributed by my dermatologist to years of unprotected sun exposure.  She also blaims the sun for those "age spots" on my hands -- embarrassing reminders of my passage into Geezerhood, but not life-threatening. All in all, not too bad for a 69-year-old.

Then, about a month ago, I began to disintegrate.

In very short order my blood pressure went up by 10 points, I had a retinal hemorrhage in my right eye, and not long after that I had a dandy case of shingles, an affliction that has led me to reset my "worst pain you've ever experienced" index.  I went from zero prescription meds to three, all of which have potential side effects and interactions, and from visits to doctors maybe once or twice per year to once or twice a week. 

One of the most disturbing things about all this is that the appearance of the problems was so unexpected and unpredicted.  For example, the glaucoma risk had nothing to do with the retinal hemorrhage, though the spike in blood pressure might.  Of course the rise in pressure is a puzzle that so far none of my platoon of medical experts can explain.  Shingles can occur in anyone who has had chickenpox, and though the risk increases with age, it can strike young whipersnappers as well.  By age 80, 50% of the population will get shingles. Having the shot (which I did) only cuts your chances by about 40-50%, though in my case it lulled me into complacency and a false sense of invulnerability. The trigger is uncertain, though some research suggests high stress (which I don't have) or a compromised immune system (which I don't have) may be causes.

Another disturbing aspect is the feeling that I've been sucked into a giant medical-industrial complex that seems designed not to let me go.  I've seen a half-dozen doctors, all of whom make me fill out the same forms over again, then perform the same tests the others have performed shortly before, apparently not trusting their colleagues or not liking the exact way the tests were performed.  They then have prescribed medications that have possible side effects that have a good chance of limiting my fairly active life-style, leading to other kinds of problems. And of course they all want me to come back in the near future to do the same tests over again.

The drug side effects are potentially very problematic and it is troubling to me that my doctors, while aware of the effects, are so focused on treating my symptoms that they don't fully appreciate the impact on my quality of life, i.e. , their impact on me as a person.  Here are a few of the possible side-effects from the drugs they have selected for me:

  • Drug A (Eye Drops): Eye discomfort/itching/redness, blurred vision, dizziness, dry mouth, drowsiness, or tiredness (my emphasis).
  • Drug B (Blood Pressure):  Dizziness or lightheadedness may occur ...
  • Drug C (Shingles pain):  Drowsiness, dizziness, loss of coordination, tiredness, blurred/double vision, unusual eye movements, or shaking (tremor) may occur.
Note, these are possible side effects, not things that invariably occur.  Each drug's highlighted side effects has a fairly small (but known) probability of effecting any one person.  But when all three drugs are being taken at the same time, the probability that at least one of them will produce the side effects is much greater.  And guess what -- I feel tired, dizzy and clumsy. Of course which drug(s) is (are) causing these problems isn't clear because I started taking all three at the same time. Oh, and I checked online and found that these three drugs have the least severe side effects of those available for my conditions.

So the good news is that I'm receiving treatment for my retinal hemorrhage, my Shingles pain, and my blood pressure.  The bad news is that my fairly active lifestyle (hiking, working out in our pool, aerobic exercise of various types), is possibly extinct.  For the potential negative consequences of this, see my blog How to Compress Your Morbidity.

All in all I've been pretty bummed out by the whole thing.  The physical problems are themselves rather hard to deal with, but so is the treatment.  And I feel somehow cheated that my attention to diet, exercise, and precautionary actions wasn't enough to avoid these problems. I was being such a good boy, why did this happen to me?!!  The unsettling answer is, of course, "who the h*** knows?"

After lots of careful analysis, research, and intellectually rigorous consideration of the various probabilities and alternative scenarios I've come to a conclusion. My advice to myself is "GET A GRIP!"

Ok, I've got some problems that pose challenges -- this is part of living. And dying. There will be more challenges ahead, no doubt, and they may occur just as unexpectedly.  Geezerhood will end someday no matter what I do.  But I can control my mental state as it approaches, or if my mind deteriorates to the point where that isn't possible, I can still control it until my sense of self dissolves. I can choose a positive or negative path through Geezerhood.

It's up to me.
Related Blogs on Geezerhood:

Embracing Your Inner Geezer
How to Compress Your Morbidity
The Power of Negative Thinking
Thoughts for a New Year
So, What Do You Do All Day?
Jogging the Memory of a Geezer
Decision Making In Geezerhood
Don't Go To Your 50th High School Reunion!
Taste Buds Are Wasted On The Young!


Randy said...

As a hospice volunteer I have often seen that the main thing that people have a hard time coming to grips with at the end of their life is the loss of control. Of course the loss is real - they used to be a provider, a lover, a whatever - those labels were used by them and others as their identity - who and what they thought they were - and now they have strangers coming in to bathe them. People will say that they have come to a complete state of acceptance of their condition and then say that either (A) they want to die soon or (B) they want to live another x amount of time. Most of these people felt that they were in charge of their lives the whole time. They made good decisions that got them where they wanted to be. Now none of their decisions are “working” anymore. But it all comes down to an entitled feeling that they need to be in control. Of course all of this is just an illusion. All of your high school friends who died in sundry and various ways way before you - they thought they were in control too. Sure choices that we consciously make do make a difference in our lives - but we are never really in control. But you hit on the one thing that we can control - and that one thing is rarely totally taken away from us. The one thing that we can control is how we accept what is in front of us. The friction and pain comes when we do not like what is in front of us - we do not wish to accept it. As is said - Pain is inevitable - suffering is optional. The radical acceptance of what is - whatever it is - is the path to a state of grace, enlightenment, peace - call it what you may. Yes, easier said than done. But this absolute real control - the only one that matters - can never be lost - rather it has to be found.

Dennis Nord said...

Your good-boy behavior probably bought you 5 or 10 years of well deserved health, free of the issues you now face, so that's cool. I learned bad things happen real fast and good things are slower & slower, but they often do come. As for continuing your active life style, never give "a inch" (From Sometimes a Great Notion). I've scaled back repeatedly & then ramped back up to what I can manage in the way of exercise. Recently I got my BP back to normal & cardiologist took me off the med for it. Mostly that was diet. New meds came along & have fewer side effects with the same benefits. I did have some whacky side effects including blowing up my skin on my whole body in a tumescent way with much reddening, sort of phallic like, but no lasting effects & I refused that drug on the spot.
So live long enough, some things can get better and you might figure out your own patches to work around the deficit. Key to me is doing good with what I got left & letting go of what I can't regain. What Randy said here resonates much for me. I'm old enough to be dead, but mean enough to keep going! Take care my friend! Oh, and these "prove you're not a robot" on the comment page often defeat me. Can't hear 'em, can't read 'em, so you may never see this post here, but I did learn to copy the whole thing so I can email if this doesn't work.

Cecilia Shore said...

Dear Dick,
So sorry to hear you have been slammed so hard in so many ways all at once. I hope that things improve for you soon. In the meantime, as you say, you CAN take charge of how you construe it.
Thinking of you, and with best wishes to Karen, too, for whom this must also be wearing.

Coleen Hanna said...

I appreciate you sharing this with us. Misery loves company? I feel like I have performed more than my share of mental gymnastics in trying to come to terms with being on this side of vitality. So, much of what you mentioned resonates...although some of your concerns don't bother me as much as I thought they would. I am finishing semester 4 of a part-time associates degree program in Health Information Technology. A very surprising bonus for me has been the knowledge gained from the medical portion of the program. I feel so much more confident now in the Medical-Industrial complex. After my Pharm course, my understanding of drugs has gone way up. I still hate the aging process, but I have to say things are going better for me. Keep writing, Dick.

Coleen Hanna said...

Randy's posting...very helpful...thank you indeed Randy.