My right eye is doing the heavy lifting; my left, just along for the ride for now.
Six months ago, I had a detached and torn retina in my left eye. Thanks to micro- and laser-surgery techniques, they can fix that. Not that long ago, I would’ve lost the sight in the eye. The cause? Old age, my friend, old age. While detached and/or torn retinas can happen as the result of an injury, in folks my age, they’re caused by 1) a misshapen eye (mine are extremely myopic; I had worn glasses for distance since third grade until I had LASIK a decade ago) and 2) retinas deciding they have had enough of hanging on to the back of the eyeball, thinking enough is enough, and just saying, “to hell with this; I’m givin’ it a rest. You’re on your own, buddy; good luck.”
A enjoyable side effect of a surgeon rooting around inside your eyeball for a few hours is that – shocker alert – the vision in that eye goes for an extended vacation. Severe blurriness has been my best friend for six months. And – bonus! – you get a cataract. Again, thankfully, they can fix that, too. If all goes well, in a couple of months, they’ll fix the cataract, and my eye should be almost back to normal.
I tell you all that to tell you this: one of the things old age means is getting to know the delightful inner workings of the health care system. And oh, what bliss that is! In the last year, I have:
- Seen no less than six different specialists: ophthalmologists, a gastroenterologist, a dermatologist, the list goes on. Even now, I get wistful, longing to be back in a waiting room, idly flipping through months-old magazines. (Speaking of which, have you ever thought about how seething with nasty, crawly, disgusting bacteria magazines in doctors’ offices are? You’re welcome.).
- Had a medical device inserted into a location that might politely be described as a, uh, “one-way street,” if you know what I mean. And he didn’t even dim the lights and call me “sweetie.” Jeez, buy a guy a drink, at least, would ya? Speaking of drinks, the stuff – the “prep” – you have to drink the night before: mm-mm, good! And how much I enjoyed running – nay, sprinting – to the bathroom every 15 minutes that night, an invigorating cardio workout. So, bonus.
- Experienced the sheer pleasure of hours of phone conversations with medical offices, billing departments, and health insurance bureaucrats:
Me, calling the doctor’s office: “Hi, I’d like to talk with someone about my bill; I think there has been a mistake.”
Them: “We can’t do that here; sir, you’ll need to call our billing office.”
“OK. What’s that number?”
“I don’t know, sir; I think it’s on your bill. You need to look at your bill.”
“Ah. Well, thank you very much; you’ve been a tremendous help.”
Me, calling the billing office: “Hi, I’d like to talk with someone about my bill; I think there has been a mistake.”
Them: “We can’t do that here, sir, you’ll need to call your doctor’s office and ask them to submit the right codes.”
“’The right codes?’”
“Yes, sir, we can’t correct a bill until we get the documents with the right billing codes from your doctor.”
“Ah. Well, thank you very much; you have been exceptionally helpful.”
I’m so thankful that life is long enough to have such satisfying conversations. There just aren’t enough such endless-loop runarounds, if you ask me.
While I’m on the topic of health, let’s talk about entropy. Entropy, in broad terms, is the natural, universal tendency of orderly systems to become chaotic, to break down. Think of a nicely-cleaned house after a few days: dishes in the sink, clothes on the floor, dust on the furniture. That’s entropy…or procrastination, or laziness. Entropy is what’s responsible for our once healthy and toned bodies to go from lean and smooth to fat and wrinkled. OK, maybe procrastination or laziness, too, but I’m sticking with the undeniable force of the universe. For one thing, I don’t have to get off the couch if I stick to that story. Aching backs, thinning hair, blotchy skin, weakened retinas: all entropy. Organs I used to rely on to get the job done that now require medical attention: entropy. As one elderly gentleman told me, “What don’t hurt, don’t work.” Bastard entropy.
I try to resist the bastard entropy (for simplicity’s sake, hereafter referred to as “Satan”) by giving up good food and adopting a high-nutrient, low-enjoyment diet. Supposedly, I shouldn’t eat like a teenager in my so-called “golden years.” I’m evidently not supposed to eat so much fried food, so much red meat, so much ice cream…all the things I thought were supposed to lead to a happy, healthy life. Apparently, all along I should’ve been eating more “low fat, high fiber” foods, more of things called “fruits” and “vegetables.” Who knew? So now, I’m basically on a cardboard-and-pine-cone diet. If only I had known sooner; I could’ve been bitching about food much longer. (Which is another thing old folks are really good at: bitching about stuff. You damn kids git offa my lawn.)
I have also begun fighting entropy – excuse me, I mean Satan – by exercising more. My options are limited because of my bad back (of course I have a bad back). My choices are basically walking, bicycling, or swimming. Not having access to a pool means the last one is out. So I walk. And I cycle. Every evening, I walk my dog for a mile. Three times a week, weather allowing, I ride my bike about three miles. I bought a very used 15-year-old “Trek” 27-speed (27 speeds: really?) touring bike with a seat only slightly harder than granite. To ride it without fracturing a butt-bone, I had to buy biking shorts, which have padding in the, ahem, appropriate place that provides about as much relief as, oh, I don’t know, sitting on a hot plate with a sheet of newspaper as “protection.” Wearing biking shorts also feel like you’ve got a full diaper. Which is probably good practice for a few years from now. (Oh, for the days of my youth and my Schwinn “Stringray” bicycle with the banana seat and chopper handlebars and way-cool car-like gearshift on the upper frame, directly in front of the seat. We called that thing the “nut-buster,” because that’s what happened when you slammed on the brakes and you slid off the seat, but man, did it look cool. The bike and the shifter – not the nut-busting.)
And here’s the thing: I hate exercise. I know I need to do it, but it’s so damn boring. I walk the same mile, ride the same path, day after day. When I’m walking or biking, all I can think about is finishing. About retiring to my recliner for supine, sedentary rapture. And there’s this: I’ve never sustained a La-Z-Boy injury.
Entropy – uh, Satan – has affected my brain, too: I’ve started forgetting things. Mainly words and how to spell them. Really simple ones, which is extremely disconcerting. For instance, I couldn’t think of the name of the little room in our house where we keep our clothes. My wife asked me where something was. I knew where it was, but I couldn’t – absolutely could not – think of the word for that place: “It’s on the shelf in the … the, um… whaddayacallit… the place where we hang up our clothes…” “You mean the closet?” “Yeah, that’s it! The closet!” I went to a neurologist (speaking of going to doctors) about it. He ran a couple of tests. It’s not Alzheimer’s; it’s “just” “cognitive decline.” Oh, is that all? Well, color me relieved. He suggested reading more, doing things like crossword puzzles, things that would “exercise my brain.” I believe we’ve established how I feel about exercise. Plus, sometimes I don’t know what the words in puzzle clues mean, much less what the answer is.
So, to sum up … to live longer (and maybe avoid seeing so many doctors), I can eat right and exercise more (body and brain) and hate it all. Or, I can eat poorly and sit on my ass like a slug and enjoy myself. Hmm …
What was the question again?