Sunday 20 October 2013

61 down, 19 to go

You may now break into song, "Happy birthday to me."

19 to go? Yes, it may sound morbid, but based on genes and statistics; it is a realistic estimate of the time left before this ride is over. And if you knew that your vacation was going to be over next Tuesday, would you not plan accordingly? Should you not plan accordingly?

Last year, in my 60th birthday posting, I spoke of the traumatic upheavals of the past six years: nearly getting fired from my career, losing my way in life, losing my mojo as a man, having my sex life go in the toilet and suffering from E.D., going through what was for me an emotionally and financially painful divorce, then suffering the worst sports injury in my life that saw me locked up in my apartment for four months straight in pain twenty-four hours a day and now, eighteen months later sees me dealing with issues that I suspect I am going to have one way or another for the rest of my life. Boo hoo hoo. Blah, blah, blah. I will now break into song. "Don't cry for me, Argentina."

I may sound like I'm trying to be Mr. Macho Tough Guy, but when you get down to it, what does any of us do in such circumstances? You get up, dust yourself off, and then get back in the saddle. What else is there to do? Roll over and die?

So, if I have 19 left, or 20, or 21, whatever, what do I do for my remaining years? I haven't walked on the Great Wall of China. I did do a tandem parachute jump. I have never visited Australia. I tried jet packing in Florida. I have never stood in the middle of St. Peter's Square in Rome. I did step off a 200 foot (60m) platform recently to do my first and probably my only bungee jump. The world is a big place; the choices are numerous. The sky's the limit, yes?

Sometime before my 65th birthday, I am going to publish a book. Yeah, I can hear you snicker. Who do I think I am? Well, I'm just another person like every other person and guess what? Some of those people publish books, a lot of books. Last year, I took my second, and successful I might add, crack at NaNoWriMo. New York Times Best Seller list? Movie rights? Fawning literary groupies? Hardly, except for those unmedicated delusional episodes, but I'm much better now, thank you very much. I compared it to running the marathon. Fat chance (Or is that FFC?) I would ever win the marathon or even place in the top one hundred. However if I did run a marathon and managed to complete it, I would have accomplished something not everybody does. In fact, the majority of people never run the marathon. So, if I do publish a book, I will be accomplishing something not everybody does. So there. I will now stick my tongue out at you and make a silly face.

I feel the pressure
This ride will come to an end. Life is a finite experience. Make it a good one as it's the only one you get. Yeah, yeah, supposedly there's reincarnation but why take a chance when those believers may be wrong? Hold out for the next life then discover there isn't one. Gosh, wouldn't I feel stupid? Wait. I'll be dead and if there's nothing else, I won't feel anything.

I watched both of my parents die. It's an odd take on death. We read that so and so was surrounded by their family when in fact, the person dies alone.

My mother succumbed to the big C at the tender age of 67. From the time of the announcement to the time of her death, it was all over in six months. The disease had ravaged her body and left weighing about 88 pounds. In the last few weeks, she was in so much pain, I don't think the morphine pills gave her much comfort. I watched her curled up in the foetal position shaking in agony. Due to my 2012 sports injury where I suffered from pain twenty-four by seven, I have a new understanding of what agony means. Your brain is bombarded by so much pain, you are on sensory overload. You can't formulate a rational thought as your consciousness is overwhelmed by the sensation of pain. Holding a conversation is virtually impossible as you are so distracted. I believe that at some point, the brain shuts down as you attempt to survive the next 60 seconds of excruciating pain. Under these conditions, what is the quality of life? In standing there as an observer, patiently mopping the sweaty brow of the victim, we have no idea of the incessant and constant horror taking place in the person's head. Living shrinks to the head of a pin where existence consists of trying to get through the next 10 seconds of agony with no reprieve in sight. It is hell.

Alone? You are disconnected from the world around you. Your world becomes your head, your consciousness. Your entire focus is devoted to pain and nothing, absolutely nothing else matters. Life around you ceases to be any importance whatsoever. You don't live your life; you endure it. It doesn't matter if family and friends stand around in vigil as you are totally unaware of their presence. They are insignificant in your struggle against the unrelenting pain.

My father died just two days short of his 80th birthday. He had a heart attack and was dead 48 hours later. The doctor told me my father's heart capacity had been reduced by fifty percent. If he had lived, his quality of life would have been so degraded, he would have been unable to walk more than ten feet as it would tax his heart. For a man who still enjoyed playing golf, death was a preferable option. In the last 12 hours of my father's life, his damaged heart was unable to pump enough blood and my father drifted in and out of consciousness. I was there but he didn't know it. He was alone in his head.

Recently in Canada, Dr. Donald Low, an infectious disease specialist who played a part in the handling of the 2003 SARS crisis in Toronto, died from a brain tumour at the age of 68. Eight days before his death, he made a video to appeal for the legalisation of assisted suicide. (Winnipeg Free Press Sep 24/2013) He knew his condition was progressively incapacitating him and he wanted the option of choosing when he would die, before the disease rendered him incapable of walking, swallowing food or using the bathroom without his family's assistance.

The debate continues in Canada. The quantity of life seems to continue to trump the quality of life. While in my case, I survived; I got better. But both my parents were on a one way street; there was no coming back. It is all very well and good if one dies peacefully in their sleep, but what about those whose condition severely impacts their quality of life? I don't think my father had much pain or his pain was kept under control in his last 12 hours. My mother, however, was in hell. The last two weeks of her life were utter torture and I believe the morphine used to control the pain was wholly inadequate to the task. A healthy person has no appreciation for the horror a person is going through. Pain is one thing, but the question of the quality of life is another. Quantity should not trump quality. If life sucks and I mean sucks royally, prolonging it can be the equivalent of torture.

Why am I bringing this up?
It's 18 months later. I'm better. I'm not perfect, but I'm better. Despite spending over two hours every other day working out at a gym, I feel things, a lot of things. At one point last year, my left hand was completely numb; I couldn't feel it at all. For about five months, my entire left hand felt tingly and my right occasionally. Today, the end of my left index finger still feels tingly all the time and I estimate I only have fifty percent of my feeling in it. Last year, as part of this trauma I suffered, I seem to have slightly herniated the C6 cervical disc which caused shooting pain in my left arm and hand. It's better now, but every once in a while I have moments where I feel tingling in both my hands. I have no idea if that herniated disc may come back. An MRI did show some disc degradation but that was qualified as attributable to age. Age or not, are further disc problems on the horizon?

The lesson out of all of this is that old saying, "Health is everything." If ya ain't got health, ya ain't got squat. Growing old is one thing, but having your health taken away from you is ageless. For four months in 2012, I looked out my window and saw people jogging, walking, and just enjoying life outdoors. I could barely move. That was truly frightening. I had no idea if I would ever be better again.

Final Word
A Comedian wrote, "If you hang in there long enough, you'll grow old and die." Ha, ha. So, here I am trying to figure things out, that is, figure things out for the rest of my life. This is the fourth quarter. And that is the last quarter. This is my last kick at the can. As I quoted last year:

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
-Mary Oliver: "The summer day"; New and Selected Poems 1992

Now to figure out what to do with those nineteen wild and precious years.


my blog: I'm 60. Now what?
A friend a few years back referred to us arriving at the age of 60 as entering the fourth quarter. While an interesting football metaphor, I pointed out to him that the fourth quarter is also the last quarter.

my blog: Health: One Year Later, One Year Lost
April 7, 2012, this is the red letter day in my personal annals marking the worst physical injury of my entire life. At the one year anniversary, I am much much better, thank you very much, but I am still trying to climb out of the hole and still have a way to go.


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