My friend called to give me the latest bulletin on her medical checkup. She had been complaining about multiple aches and pains.
Her family physician ruled out cancer, diabetes and other serious illnesses. He was also pleased with her blood pressure readings.
In spite of her clean bill of health, she took note that her doctor had not prescribed any type of medication for her symptoms. After all, her friends had offered over a dozen suggestions.
Have you noticed how generous we are with our medical advice? I am pretty quick to “prescribe” remedies, especially for my children. I will not suggest anything I have not tried. I figure, if it doesn’t kill me, it is safe.
I have a friend who actually carries a prescription pad with her and whips it out any time and anywhere someone gives the slightest hint of an ailment. We laugh about it, but I keep that piece of paper anyway, just in case. Plus she has great penmanship and we don’t have to try to decipher what she writes.
I have always wondered why it isn’t so with real doctors. Is this something they are taught in medical school?
My friend was quite upset that her doctor seemed dismissive of her condition. And when she glanced at the record of her visit, she saw that every symptom had been labeled AR. She thought it was a code that indicated some anomaly, perhaps even a malignancy. Convinced he was keeping something fatal from her, she confronted him: “Are you telling me everything? You have written AR on practically every entry! What does it mean?”
The doctor hemmed and hawed as he tried to explain her condition. Then he finally blurted it all out. “Well, Ma’am, AR stands for age-related.”
My friend was not happy. She was offended. She is approaching 75. I told her I was diagnosed with “AR everything” before I hit 70.
You don’t need a medical expert to tell you that your aches and pains are products of the passing years. And as the numbers go up, you start slowing down. Bones start to ache. Muscles hurt where you didn’t even know you had muscles.
Sadly, some of us decline rapidly. A fortunate few manage to keep the aging process at bay for a bit. But it eventually catches up with you, and not necessarily in a pleasant or painless way.
Suddenly your kids ask why you have the TV turned up so loud. You find it difficult to get in and out of a car. You are considering an eyelift. You wonder where your jawline has gone. Your knees are sore. Your footsteps are tentative, the floor seems to slip away; you realize stairs with banisters are a blessing. You find midday naps irresistible.
How did I get so old so fast?
Your feelings are easily hurt. You feel left out, excluded, forgotten. No one asks how you are anymore.
You know that you are old when your children no longer call for you to kiss their hurts away. Neither do they consider asking you for sound advice before they make a decision.
Distance is not always the reason this happens. Some of us may be sitting in the same room.
If you are lucky, they may share their plans with you. Otherwise, all we can do now is sit on the sidelines and listen. Our opinions matter little or not at all. They probably assume our thoughts and ideas are old and passé.
Dementia is our AR enemy today and it lurks a little too close for comfort. Many people my age are feeling afraid and quite helpless. We are distressed to see how many of our friends are “losing it.”
I recently came across a deeply moving “Ted Talks” video. It features multiawarded artist/photographer Tony Luciani, who tells the story of his mother Elia, who, at 93 and suffering from dementia, came to live with him, and how she became his muse and model. He took her in at the point when she had started losing her short-term memory but vividly remembered when she was a child.
Luciani shares how she once described her frustration: “Why is my head full of things to say but before they reach my mouth I forget what they are?”
He tells about the sadness in her life and of how she became involved in his projects. His dramatic photographs show only a fraction of this man’s passion and compassion. Through the lens of his camera, he captures the essence of his mother’s remaining years, with her as an active participant and his inspiration.
Luciani tells about having lost many of his loved ones suddenly, giving him no time to tell them how much he appreciated and loved them.
“With mom, I want to be there and make it a very long goodbye.”
And then Luciani gets to the heart of the matter.
“For me, it’s about being present and really listening. Dependents want to feel a part of something, anything. It does not need to be something exceptionally profound that is shared. It could be as simple as walks together.
“Give them a voice—of interaction, participation, and a feeling of belonging. Make the time meaningful.
“Life is about wanting to live, and not waiting to die.”