Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The highest level of vegetation....?

     I wonder who decided to call aging a process? Seems to me that the minute I turned fifty, it happened overnight. I woke up one morning to the sound of my knees popping and my ankles snapping as I rolled out of bed. My back refused to crank into an upright posture, so I hobbled into the bathroom in an inverted u-shaped position. I cried as I peered through my reading glasses into the mirror and plucked two gray hairs from my eyebrows (gasp!). I continued to cry as I stood in the steaming shower, hoping the hot water would loosen whatever stricture was contorting my frame. Struggling to reach body parts to wash, I discovered that gravity was rearranging my skeleton without my permission, and I could not twist or turn or bend as I had before.
     "This is not good," I remember thinking (thankful that at least I still had my mind). I was soon to discover exactly how right I was.
      Part of the "process" of aging is that all those rearranged, sagging, deteriorating body parts don't work as well in their new positions as they did in their original.  Joints that were made to slide smoothly against one another tend to scrape and grind when misaligned.  Discs that no longer retain adequate layers of cartilege to cushion the load (a load, I must admit, that has enlarged just a tad over the years)--those discs begin to bulge and slip, press on nerves, even rupture as they struggle to perform adequately under less-than-adequate conditions.
   No, this was not good. This was going to take some professional help.
   I had my first steroidal injection in March.
   Now, steroids are a good thing. They make your body think it is twenty and your mind sixteen. Suddenly, you're standing straighter, the pain dissipates, and you're full of energy and vigor and vim. The problem is, however, that the effect is only temporary.  The first injection gave me about a six-month reprieve from my aches and pains, enough time to shed fourteen pounds and learn to walk upright again, but not enough time to return my skeleton to it's pre-aging state.  While hiking and horseback riding in Montana, I discovered that my body no longer functioned at full capacity, and once again, the pain indicators that signal the need for professional intervention registered at the "HELP!!!" level.
   So this morning, I arrived bright and early at St. Mary's Hospital for injection number two. 
   "I have private insurance," I  blurted to the admissions clerk before she had time to ask for a medicare card. I wasn't going to go there, no sir, so I proudly slapped a Healthkeepers insurance card on her desk before she had time to ask.  The body might be creeping up on AARP status, but the ego was still wrapped around pride, and I was not going to be humiliated by some young hospital employee assuming I was "of age."
    She got me back my slapping a wristband around my arm with AGE: "51" glaring up at me in bold print. It was hard enough having to check the blank on the admission form that declared I was in the "Fifty and above"  age bracket,  but staring at the numbers "51" on my armband seem to be overkill on the age-thing.  At least they let me walk into the angio-lab on my own two feet.
     Things just went downhill from there.  An extremely pleasant RN greeted me with a sunny "Hi!" as I sat down to have my vitals taken.  "Let's get your medical history," she began, stylus prompted at the computer terminal , ready to enter all my pertinent information.
     I began to give her the necessary data,  listing my height at a generous 5'7", whispering my weight behind my hand as my husband turned his head.  We went over medications, vitamins, previous surgeries, family history, etc. I answered each question promptly and efficiently,  but I was stumped when she asked, "What is your highest level of vegetation?"
     I sat there for a minute, thinking, "What in the world does she mean? Does she need to know that I hiked above the tree line while in Montana, or that I ate Brussels Sprouts last night?"
     I wasn't quite sure, but I decided Brussel Sprouts were the most current, so I went with that.
     She gave me an odd look and tried to stiffle a laugh, which signaled to me that perhaps I had misconstrued her question.
    "Didn't you just ask me for my highest level of vegetation?" I asked, feeling a bit embarrased by my answer, thinking it obviously should have been the tree line.
     At that, she burst out laughing as she tried to tell me, ""EDUCATION! I asked for your highest level of EDUCATION!"
    And that is when I knew for sure.
    I was old.
    The mind and the hearing and the body may be going, but I'm happy to say that I still have a sense of humor, and even a dodgy-old coot that can't walk, can't see, and obviously can't hear, can still laugh at herself.  I laughed so much that the nurse had trouble keeping me still on the table as the x-ray machine snapped pictures of my skeleton. I was still laughing as the doctor order me to "Hold still" so he could insert a monstrously long, flexible needle into the base of my spine. I was laughing as the volunteer rolled me down the hall in an ancient wheelchair, and as he slowly helped me get into my car, I was still laughing.
     I may be old, senile, half-blind, and deaf, but I'm very proud to say that this quinquagenarian has the very highest level of vegetation, and that's nothing to laugh about.
Tree line? Did you tree line? Key lime? Sure, I'll have a margarita!

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