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No segue

I'm happy to wake up alive every day.

April 1st, 2012

The All-Medicine Issue

BY ROD FERRANDINO

Most of the major transitions in my life have been, if not seamless, at least gradual: from toddler to little kid to teenager and all the way into middle age. Some changes were a bit abrupt: college cocoon to “real” world, drinker to non-drinker, not-dad to dad, but overall the process of life seemed to roll along without quantum leaps or falls.

My merry little apple-cart was dumped in July of 2011. There I was, an active middle-aged guy playing full-court hoops, jogging, pumping iron, cutting firewood, swinging a maul, and doing a lot of “etcetera” when, suddenly… Bam! Heart attack!

Just three days later I’m an old man shuffling out of a hospital and my wife has to drive me home. Instead of popping a couple of preemptive Advil tablets before going for a run, I stand in the kitchen and scratch my head as I try to remember if I already took my umpteen unpronounceable meds that morning.


Okay, as heart attacks go, it wasn’t a big one and my prognosis is pretty good, for which I am truly grateful. But I’m an official “geezer” now, and I wasn’t ready for that. I wasn’t prepared. My butt is sore from all the sitting and my mind has difficulty understanding all the things my body suddenly can’t or isn’t allowed to do.

Three of my jobs took a big hit. I couldn’t continue as a summer camp counselor. I missed out on yearly training so no tax-prep this winter. I had to seriously curtail a crafting business because I couldn’t do all the required lifting, pulling, pushing, tugging, and shoving. I’ve been relegated to some keyboard-for-hire blog/article work, and I thank lucky stars and an understanding agent for that.

Mentally and emotionally I’ve kept a good attitude about the physical changes and limitations. The part that gets to me is how precipitously I changed from being middle-aged to being old.

It isn’t that I feared getting old. In fact, I was looking forward to the golden years. There’s a lot of good stuff related to being an official “old fart.” Parts of the transition have been downright easy. I already loved sitting around and reading books. I already loved taking an afternoon nap. Lounging on a pier for hours not-catching-fish has never fazed me. The biggest problem I have is that my certainties have been shattered. Intellectually, I accept the notion that I could get hit by a car or struck by lightning at any time, though I’d never “felt” those possibilities in any real sense. Now, the errant auto and the stray bolt are always in the back of my mind and they are palpable and visceral. There are no guarantees. The next breath could be the last one. I could wake up dead. Wow.

A good friend called to check up on me, and he asked if I was feeling “puny.” I thought about it for awhile, never having looked at it that way before, and it slowly dawned on me that he had hit the nail squarely. The way I felt wasn’t necessarily bad, but definitely “puny.” I was no longer a vital fountain of energy, a pillar of strength; I was now a “survivor.”

Part of the “new” old me feels like a spectator. I observe myself as I make the rounds visiting various doctors and nurses and lab techs. I watch how I wait, bemused, in the offices and examining rooms, wondering how many times I’m going to get stuck with needles before the smiling white-coated vampires are satisfied.

Over-self-analysis has been a lifelong affliction, so I spend a lot of time assessing my new station in life. I’m relieved to find that I have given myself the time to make adjustments without going bat-crazy. My wife thinks I’m trying to do too much too fast as far as “getting back to normal,” but it’s not that I’m trying to push the pace; I’m just trying to “find” the pace. A couple of weeks ago a neighbor came over to cut me some firewood. I helped load a fair amount, but the next day I could hardly move. Poor wife Deborah thought something was seriously wrong and heart-related, yet I was sitting in the living room groaning and grinning. I had to tell her that I was happy because these were just “old guy” aches and pains. The ticker felt fine. She said she didn’t think that colleges could graduate “complete idiots” who weren’t professional athletes, and that she fervently hoped I was a rare exception to a rule. Hmmm.

The other day I fired up my chainsaw for the first time since last June, and I took my time and cut myself a truckload of wood. I just eased along and didn’t try to split what I had just bucked. I merely rolled it off the back of the pickup, tarped it, and called it a day. The following morning I felt good. I’m learning.

I’m not running, but I’m parking in the far reaches of the lot when I go to the store. I’m making up reasons to get something upstairs when I’m at home. I bring in more firewood than I need to, but I only carry a few pieces at a time. I don’t play basketball, but I am holding that out as a carrot.

I like carrots. I also like waking up alive. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Medicine Issue, Ferrandino | Link to this Entry

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