Tag Archives: aging

To Work or Not To Work?

That is the question.
I have to start thinking about it, whether I like it or not. Even writing this makes me anxious. Of course, a lot of things make me anxious, so what’s new?
For the non-U.S. readers here, here’s how it works: people who work pay into a government fund called “Social Security”. The law establishing it took effect in 1935. When you work, a certain amount of each paycheck goes into the fund. When you reach a certain age (currently, 62), you become eligible to start getting that money back in monthly installments.
That’s the simplistic explanation. Age 62 is the earliest you can begin receiving retirement benefits (earlier if you are disabled, but that’s a whole other topic), but you only get a percentage at that age, currently 75%, Depending on when you were born, your “full” retirement age, at which you get 100% of your benefits, is later. In my case, age 66. And I’m almost there. And I don’t want to retire.
I know a couple of people who are recently retired, others who have been retired for a while, and many others who haven’t yet retired but are greatly looking forward to it. But I wonder, what would I do with myself? And I like the validation that work brings.
Last week I met with a bunch of contractors and a developer regarding an operation I’m about to be in charge of. It was about eight guys and me…not uncommon in my business. The contractor guys were like a bunch of chained pit bulls. Teeth bared, waiting for signs of weakness from the other guys, lots of testosterone flying around. Once the growls and the posturing died down, developer guy would turn to me and say, “Do you think this idea will work?” That was very cool. Where else would I get that?
Later, in the elevator, developer guy said he wanted to thank me because he so appreciated my advice and counsel. As long as I can continue to get that sort of reaction, and form those sorts of relationships, I’m safe.
But the reality is…I am getting older. My company can’t fire me for being old, but they can fire me for failure to perform. I’m a manager. I know how this works. And I fear that will happen at some point, but I don’t want it to.

The Perils of Aging…and Folic Acid

Aging has many perils and I don’t like any of them.  Just so you know.

I recently had bloodwork drawn, and week before last, the doctor’s office called and said I had low blood sodium and the doctor said to eat more salt.  What?  Did I hear this right?  This must be the first time in history that a doctor said to eat more salt rather than less.  So I said, well I guess that won’t be hard to do!  The nurse said, I hear you.  I spend all my time trying to eat less salt.  I wish someone would tell ME to eat more salt.

But guess what?  It IS hard to do.  Once I thought about it, I realized it wasn’t going to be that easy.  I already use salt on my food.  If I added more, it would be inedible. So I did a little informal survey on Facebook, and got two interesting suggestions.  One was, take salt pills. I thought that was a little extreme, but it may be the route I have to take.  The other suggestion was, eat a lot of potato chips.   Well, I don’t hate potato chips, but I don’t like them that much either. How could I eat them every day? So, so far, I’m not doing anything about that advice.  Which is not really a good idea.  Limited research on my part tells me that normal blood sodium is a very good thing to have.

At the same time we had the sodium discussion, the nurse informed me I also had a low red blood cell count, though not enough to count as anemia, and they would get back to me.  The doctor had ordered more tests, fortunately on the same blood.  Because pigs would fly before I went back to give them another sample.

So last week they called to give me the results of the further testing, which revealed that I have low folic acid.  Really?  What the hell is folic acid?  The only bell it rang for me is that I remembered pregnant women are supposed to have a lot of it.  But whatever it is, the doctor wants me to take 1 mg. a day.

So of course, I looked it up.  It turns out folic acid (aka B9) helps in the production of red blood cells.  Aha.  Among many other good things it does.  So I decided this was advice I would take. (Actually, I would take the advice about sodium too, but I just don’t know how much is “more”.)

So  on Friday, I get to the pharmacy section in my home-away-from-home, Publix grocery, and the only size folic acid they have is 400 mcg.

So I take it to the counter, and I lucked up and got the little spiky-haired, Buddy Holly glasses-wearing, never-smiling pharmacy technician named Josh.  Josh is a technician because he is a pharmacist-in-training. He gets to wear a blue lab coat like the real pharmacists.

So why, you may ask, was this lucky?  Because I like him.  Behind that wry, stoic exterior is a guy with a great sense of humor who is trying to stifle it in the interest of being serious and professional.  I recognize a kindred spirit when I see one.

Once I went there to pick up a prescription and Josh said, Hi, Ms. Fakename, what can I do for you?  I said, NOOOO.  This is really bad when the pharmacist recognizes you.  He said, Really?  Why?  I said, it means I’m here too often, and must be taking too many medications.  Actually I only take three, but they all seem to expire at different times so I feel like I should get frequent flyer miles for the number of times I’m at the Publix pharmacy counter.

On Friday, I said, Josh, I’m here to pick up a prescription, and also, I need a math lesson.  He ALMOST, almost smiled.  Setting the bottle of folic acid on the counter, I said, how much of a milligram is 400 mcg?

He said, 0.4 mg.  So you need 2 1/2 of these.  Do you have a pill splitter?  (Good little salesman.)  I do, I said, but it basically sucks.  So he showed me the model they for some reason hide behind the counter.  (Razor blades!  Danger Danger!  But the ones they have on the customer side of the counter have razor blades too.  They all do.  I don’t get it.)  So I bought one, but by the time I left the store I regretted it.  I had already decided I was only taking two of the pills a day (800 mcg.)  That is just going to have to do.

I’m just not anxious to add to that three-medication total. But it’s inevitable that I will have to.  There is only so much I can remember and pay attention to.  And I absolutely draw the line at one of those pill boxes where you put all your medications for a day.  The day I can’t remember what I’m supposed to be taking and when is the day I give up and join the zombies.  I am not ready to be a zombie.


Getting Old(er)

I am not going gently into that good night.  Getting older just pisses me off.  So mostly, I just ignore it.I know there is no turning back.  That is a foolish fantasy, but I’m having trouble “accepting” what it really means.

Case in point:  Exactly a month ago, I sprained my left knee.  It still hurts.  Once I’m up and either sitting or standing, it starts to swell, and so does my ankle.  Lesson One:  you don’t heal as well or as fast.

I should go back to the doctor, but what for?  It will mean an MRI or CT scan that I can’t afford (even though I have insurance which will pay for most of either.)  So then you start to do that weighing thing:  on one hand…and on the other hand…So, do I want to do this (no) or do I want to have trouble walking forever (no).  Great choice. No versus no.

I don’t want to take any more medications.  I take two for high blood pressure already (take the pills, or have a stroke).  Okay…that was easy.  I take one, once a week, for osteoporosis, and that REALLY pisses me off.  Why do I have osteoporosis?  For one thing, I am the queen of dairy, not to be confused with the restaurant of the same name.  I drink milk with every meal.  I eat ice cream and cheese like it was going out of style.  But…that’s only since I was 17, when it was probably too late.  And I seem to have some problem absorbing Vitamin D, which is critical to your ability to absorb calcium.  Plus, I had radiation therapy, which leaches calcium.

So what are you gonna do?  Answer:  take the drug.

What I would like is the magical nystery pill.  Not one that promises to make me younger, but one that makes me happier about getting older.  Or smaller or larger.

Reading With Fakename: E. B. White

A new biography of E.B. White has recently been published, entitled The Story of Charlotte’s Web.  While listening to an interview with the author on NPR, it was noted that a group of editors of children’s fiction voted this the best American children’s book ever written.  I was surprised, but I guess I shouldn’t be.

I never read Charlotte’s Web as a child.  In 2007, however, I saw the movie with Dakota Fanning as Fern and was just bowled over.  I knew so little about it that I didn’t even know Charlotte was a spider until the movie came out.  I left the movie wondering if it was really suitable for children.  It seems to me that all children’s fiction has some sort of morality tale to tell:  in this case, the virtues of love, loyalty, and friendship.  But this book/movie also has death, and the inevitable progression toward it.  Not to mention spiders.  I just wondered if it wasn’t too scary for kids.  But I guess the editors proved me wrong. 

If all you know is Charlotte’s Web, however, you don’t know E. B. White (pictured above with his irrepressible Dachshund Fred).  I consider him one of the best American writers ever, and in that at least, there are those who agree with me.  In 1978, he was awarded an honorary Pulitzer Prize for his body of work. 

So the publication of White’s biography made me think of his essays, from the collection Essays of E. B. White, which I read maybe three years ago.  I lost my copy, so I bought a new one, because one of the essays has been much on my mind recently:  specifically, one entitled “The Geese”.

The essays are not arranged chronologically, but rather by topic or by locale.  The categories then are The Farm (White lived in NYC, but had a farm in Maine where he eventually retired), The Planet, The City, Florida, Memories, Diversions and Obsessions, and finally, Books, Men, and Writing. 

The Geese was written in 1971, when White was 71 years old.  It is, you could say, about the indignities of getting older. 

On that topic, I’ve always tried to live as if it weren’t happening.  I know too many people who seem to think getting older is a good reason for abandoning life, in a sense.  But I’m not blind.  These days when I wake up in the morning, I find myself taking a sort of inventory.  What hurts?  What will I have to contend with today?  I have to ask other people now to pick up heavy things for me, or open pickle jars. 

So…The Geese.  White has two old geese, a male and a female (whom he refers to as the “wife”).  One day White finds her dead on the path from their pen to the pond.  The old gander is bereft and moping.  White buys three little goslings to keep him company, and he is re-energized, and takes to foster fatherhood like a pro. 

As the little goslings grow up, it turns out that two of them are female.  The gander “takes up” with one of them, so to speak, and is quite loyal and monogamous.  He won’t have anything to do with the other goose–but he won’t let the young gander near her either. 

One day, White is aroused by a great commotion in the goose pen, where it turns out the young gander has had enough, and not to put too fine a point on it, is kicking the old gander’s ass.  The old gander manages to stagger away, injured, and crawls under the rail of the pen to reach the meadow and the path to the pond. 

White writes, “I felt very deeply his sorrow and his defeat.  As things go in the animal kingdom, he is about my age, and when he lowered himself to creep under the bar, I could feel in my own bones his pain at bending down so far”.

Finally, “Toward the end of the morning, he walked back up the lane as far as the gate, and there he stood all afternoon…Through the space between the boards of the gate, the old fellow watched the enchanting scene:  the goslings taking their frequent drinks of water, climbing in and out of the shallow pan for their first swim, closely guarded by the handsome young gander.”

He ends it by saying, “I don’t know anything sadder than a summer’s day”.

Aging Gracefully

Having turned 60 just four days ago, I’ve been contemplating the idea of aging gracefully.  In order to figure out how one goes about that, I’ve been discreetly watching old people. 

Here in Florida, we have no shortage of specimens to study.  Granted, the supply is far greater in South Florida than here in North Florida, where it generally gets too cold for the species.  In South Florida, old people are like one of the greatest hazards you face.  It’s like living in an earthquake zone, except you can’t buy insurance for it. 

Fortunately, old people in South Florida are easily recognizable even from a distance, because they are all driving Chrysler Sebring convertibles.  And no one else does.  When driving on I-95–which in and of itself is about as safe as hang-gliding–there are only two things you need to watch out for.  Semi trucks, whose drivers will remember to apply the brakes mere seconds after running over you and the four cars in front of you from behind, and Chrysler Sebring convertibles. 

The typical Chrysler Sebring convertible on I-95 will at first glance appear to be unoccupied, since the driver will be too short to see over the dashboard, and in some cases, will be too short to be visible through the driver’s-side window.  The driver will also always be in the far left lane, since he or she is pretending to be living life in the fast lane.  Suddenly, a brain cell will fire and he or she will realize that the exit he/she needed to take is four exits back.  Then he/she will veer across five lanes of 80 mile-per-hour traffic to take the next exit, blissfully heedless of the horn-blowing and brake-screeching.  I guess there is an advantage to losing your hearing. 

But I digress.  I’ve lived in North Florida now for 9 years so I have fewer specimens to study, but it is, after all, still Florida.  Home of the brave, land of the Senior Citizen.  In the week before my momentous birthday, I observed the following situations: 

Old guy gets dropped off in a parking garage by the elevators, while younger woman (daughter, granddaughter, wife?) goes to park the car.  He gingerly makes his way to the elevator landing and casually leans on a nearby handrail  What?  He couldn’t walk from the car to the elevator?  Is this in my future? 

Scenario Number Two:  Also involving parking.  Old woman gets into her car, parked in a handicapped space.  It then takes her 15 minutes to actually start the car and get moving.  Oh no.  This hits way too close to home.  Except in the opposite direction.  When I get IN the car to leave somewhere, I’m ready to roll.  It’s when I reach my destination and get OUT of the car that poses the problem. 

It seems to me that when I was younger, I would reach my destination and hop out of the car in a veritable heartbeat.  Now it’s like, should I take my whole handbag, or just the wallet and the book?  Do I need my sunglasses, or should I leave them in the car?  And what about the umbrella?  I see a dark cloud in the distance.  Should I take the sunglasses AND the umbrella?  Did I turn off the headlights?  Is the emergency brake on? 

Much has been written about how boomers are re-writing the idea of aging and I believe there is a lot of truth to that.  It seems to me that it used to be that at a certain age you were supposed to adopt a sort of aged  persona. You’ve now risen above all those little annoyances that used to be such an important part of your life (you know, like sex, and Twitter). 

My preliminary conclusion is:  I’m not aging gracefully.  First of all, I hear perfectly, and I can walk a long way.  I don’t have a handicapped license plate.  I don’t own a Chrysler Sebring convertible.  The logical conclusion is, I’m not old.  And I refuse to be old.  But wait…is that a wrinkle I see? Not to worry.  I’m pretty sure there’s an app for that.