My mother lived to be over 100, my father dead of a heart attack at 58. I am balanced somewhere between the two, 14 years older than my father (which brought strange feelings when I went zooming by his last benchmark), and I am more than twice that many in years from my mother right now. She was three decades older than her youngest son when she died a couple of years ago on Christmas Night.
I can use facts and now something new called “alternative facts” to list why the three of us made it to the ages we did. My father drank too much and smoked all his life, having one of his Kent cigarettes to calm his nerves while walking into the emergency room where he would die a couple of hours later. By the same mixology of real facts, until a couple of years ago, I was following my father’s footsteps and drinking too much and smoking a pack a day.
My mother had an amazing life free from major illnesses. Oh, there was the time at the family camp on the Amite River when my father was rebuilding the rotten back steps, warning her they would be gone, and she stepped out the back door anyway and broke her arm after crashing to the ground. The flu, colds, her teeth pulled early in life. Older, during Jen’s illness, my mother had arrhythmia and a pacemaker was installed after shocking her old tumbling heart back into normal rhythm. Late in life she took a handful of pills morning and evening: one for her heart, one for blood pressure, others for memory and blood-thinning and to keep her bathroom visits regular while clumping down the hall and grunt-sighing. But all those pills and infirmities, spread out over the course of her long years, a century of them, revealed a graph heavier at the end, sure, but plenty of white space for all the good health during the years of putting up with my father and raising three sons.
Despite all my drugs and drink and nicotine and unprotected sex (in the early days), knock on wood, I have followed more at this point along my mother’s trail that I must have blundered along while ignoring any signposts. A tonsillectomy and a few broken bones early on, I have battled the more serious RA and diverticulosis since I was 33 years old, the latter finally catching up with me in a big way. So cruising along, ignoring the healthier route usually, I had my first scary detour two years ago. Mild discomfort for a day and a half and I drove myself to the hospital (not recommended by the experts) and in thirty minutes I was being wheeled down the corridor to the cath lab. The hands of nurses pulling at my shirt, I emerged sometime later with three stents in an artery that had a 99% blockage. Waking after an emergency or suddenly being free of long aggravating pain is like being a goose in the morning in a new world, everything fresh and the clear absence of what came before. I was glad I had more time.
Seven months ago a backdoor check of the plumbing revealed a 6” stricture in my colon, a crisis, scary, the abdomen pain and discomfort during the previous decades blooming into emergency surgery and again emerging, glad to be alive, thanking young Dr. Cook for saving my life. Now all vanity forever gone, hanging for only moments from a colostomy bag, the first abhorrent thoughts of carrying a bag of shit around at times. It was a worse nightmare coming true. But eventually I traded the dropping away of the horror for being able to watch my granddaughters continuing to discover their world.
Five months in and looking forward to reversal surgery and the pain was back, scary again, enough so even after dealing with severe daily arthritic pain for 40 years, I had to walk the floor during the night. Blockage in the colon again? The pain radiating from stomach to bowels perhaps diverticulitis, or the pain now higher in the chest perhaps the old once-blackened heart sending broken signals from a life made hard? A week in the hospital having chest x-rays and CT scans and blood work and sonograms and urine-checking and eating what passed for a liquid diet: bad Jello, watery grape juice, rancid coffee. Another test, a MCRP (Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography), and I had a “nasty, diseased gall bladder.” Unsure until the surgery began, it was touchy but the surgeon was able to operate laparoscopically. So only a few more puncture scars joined the foot long scar from the colostomy that insures a t-shirt on the beach to avoid stares at a never ever very firm six-pack.
So here I am, recovering still, from both operations, my daily walk now limited to the end of the driveway, the reversal surgery for the colostomy delayed for now, but the idea (like my mother) that my more severe health tumbles are coming on this far end, and I am still here to enjoy family and friends. And after a long year of nothing, just reading, reading, reading, whether only okay or otherwise, these finger taps left on cyber paper are the first impressions left outside of myself in too long a time, with more to come, I hope, the spark of being driven to open a hardening vein over the keyboard never quite dimming out.
No profound lessons here, folks, you are free to move along to the next post. These musings at age 72 are the same as experienced by millions: old age is a tough journey with a payoff kick in the ass like no other. But one of the good things is that most of the useless shit continues dropping away and you are left with more appreciation for the good times, the times the granddaughters do “sleepovers” here like my two daughters did at my mother’s house when growing up. Old age and you do learn the old circle is unbroken, and you learn the circle certainly does grow ever smaller every day.