Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nov 19, 2011: On Growing Old, On Being a Patient from Annals of Internal Medicine, 2002.

     I have been delinquent in writing on this post for a while. I have no excuse. No recent lengthy travel like my last gaps. We are all healthy. I was just lazy and decided to take a break. It happens.
     I decided in order to get back into the swing of regular writings, I would take it easy this time and just use what someone else has written. The source of this item is a place where many of you probably do not read: Annals of Internal Medicine, March 19, 2002, Vol 136, No. 6. 
Written by Myrtle Lundberg, Duluth, Minnesota 55805. Written for a regular feature called: On Being a Patient. Printed by permission of Annals of Internal Medicine.

     What happened to that skinny kid -- the one so skinny her ribs, could be counted just by looking Today, she is a twittery, purse-clutching, cane-wielding, pill-popping little old lady living alone. Still skinny, she prefers the term petite. It sounds better.
     I am that skinny kid. I'm missing a few parts and have replaced several of the worn-out ones. then, there are all the abuses suffered by this 88-year-old body. Nothing prepares you for old age. You get out of bed one morning and voila! A bolt out of the blue and you can no longer function normally. What to do? Now, there is ample time not only to smell the roses but also to discuss my aches and pains with others of my ilk.
     What an impressive array of pills I have. Group one is simple -- just one pill to take when I get out of bed. For a half hour after group one, no eating, drinking, or lying down. ( My comment: I know what this pill is -- it is for osteoporosis. I have to start on this one myself. Prednisone for my polymyalgia rheumatica has weakened my bones.) The group two pills must be taken on an empty stomach. Then, I can have breakfast and take group three pills. Group four are doled out into a little dish, and I take them on a catch-as-catch-can basis, meaning when I remember. I keep the group four pills in the cupboard; otherwise, they clutter the counter. As soon as I have a workable system, my doctor changes everything. From four pills to two and a half, for example. I do not have much luck splitting a tiny pill, so I guess I am healthier on some days than on others. Whatever.
     About the missing parts: The clerk at the shoe store did a double take when he removed my right shoe and saw that a big toe was missing. he shook my shoe and when nothing emerged, he peered into it Emptiness.
     The first sight of the disfigurement caused by my breast removal prompted me to tell the doctor he needed sewing lessons. he had left me lumpy and bumpy. Today, I have a hard time telling whether anything had ever been there. Hardly a scar shows. Although I think a Ban-Aid would have sufficed. I went to the store to see about a prosthesis. I was shown what looked like a bird cage made of iron. If I put it on, I would have fallen on my face. My daughter-in-law gave me  some small shoulder pads removed from a garment. Just the thing to even me out.
     My right total hip replacement is working out just fine. My dentures fit most of the time. I need a cataract operation for the left eye. I bought hearing aids so I could enjoy a sermon, a play, a movie, or just nice conversation. I wish. I plainly hear the rustling of the day's calendar, sneezing, coughing, and babies fussing. On occasion, I hear a word here and there, but the minister's jokes go by me like a bat out of a cave. Coffee time after the service is bedlam -- the Tower of Babel. The aids reposing on the mantel do nothing to enhance the decor of the room, but I do use them to watch television when I am alone, when I remember. More often, I forget, and the volume is such that I do not hear the phone or the doorbell. Hard as I try, i cannot adjust them to my liking. I have met only one person who has admitted to being satisfied, but then, I have not met everybody. My condition seems to have worsened, so maybe I should learn sign language. But with whom could I converse? I doubt lipreading would be the ticket for me. Have you watched people speak? In my opinion, no tow pair of lips form a word in quite the same way. Simply put, I would be at sea.
     Everyone is quick to tell me that my pacemaker protrudes because of lack of fish. Had I known this in advance, I would at least have asked that the pacemaker be installed a few inches lower, under a fleshier part of me. I check it at home every 3 months by phone and once a year at the hospital. So far, all is well, although it did show that I had a heart attack somewhere down the line. I have not the faintest idea when or where -- nor does the doctor. I think they are called silent ones.
     Ulcers? How many bottles of Mylanta and other medications have I taken without relief One test turned out rather worrisome for a particular individual -- me! Rubber tubing, about the width of a pencil, was to be inserted into my stomach, withdrawn, and reinserted for a certain number of times. All went well the first time. The next time, 14 inches of the tube broke off and remained in my stomach. I was closely monitored. I even posed for a picture during the week or more that the tubing remained in my stomach. I clearly saw it stretched out full length in my intestines -- an interesting sight. Another test took some jostling to get me into position before the nonflexible tubing was inserted into my stomach. My delight at the successful completion of the task dwindled when I heard the words: "the light isn't working, Mrs. Lundberg." The arrival of Tagamet on the market did the trick for my ulcer.
     I am inclined to believe my Graves disease is the most dismaying. Although I fell down a couple of times without injury or pain, I felt robbed of my self-confidence. I do not really need a cane, but I have come to depend on one, even though I just carry it.
     I recall the 9 days I spent in the hospital for an operation on my football knee. That time was a vacation for me. I had no discomfort. I just had to keep from bending my knee. I was free to scoot around the halls in a wheelchair.  I played cards with a young man who was badly injured in a car accident; I combed the gorgeous, curly, auburn hair of a young lady; and I generally kept myself busy.
     My thyroid problem continues off and on. Once, I was isolated in a Chicago hospital and given radioactive iodine followed by pills. My feet began to swell, but the doctor assured me that it would be okay to go on an already planned 2-week trip. By the time my traveling companion and I got home, I could hear water gurgle in my heart. But I did have well filled-out legs -- for once. Back into the hospital. By the time they let me go home, I weighed next to nothing. Years later, I had a similar episode in Duluth, and was given on $500 pill. No muss, no fuss. I didn't even get into the doctor's office; received it standing in the doorway. My, modern science!
     One of my more humorous (and true) events was when I received a mailing from, I think, the Mayo Clinic. The mailing contained an article on the seven signs of prostate problems. Oddly enough, shortly after ascertaining that I had every one of the symptoms, I had yet another medical problem and found myself in the emergency room. Of course, I asked the hospital staff to please check my prostate gland. the doctor in charge said, without a smile, that if I had that problem it would be one for the books. The next morning, the head nurse mentioned to me that she heard I had prostate problems.
     The month spent at the nursing home after hip surgery was fun, except for the iron pills. I will have to be paid to take those pills ever again. I was fortunate to share a room with an old acquaintance. She did not speak very clearly, and I do not hear all that well, but we managed to enjoy ourselves and each other. We targeted the male nurses. Imagine my consternation when one came into the room and announced that he was taking me for a shower. I am innately shy, but I think I carried that one off rather well.
     I've had arthritis for ages and ages. I began to get pain in my lower back and beyond, but the doctor did not put a name to it and just suggested Advil, so I called it arthritis. Some days, it took a good hour or more of activity to be able to move around comfortably. Quite suddenly, the pain decided to leave the lower part of me and settle in my upper half. After several blood lettings and other testing, the doctor finally came to the conclusion I had polymyalgia rheumatica. I was impressed, but the best part was yet to come. The doctor prescribed prednisone, and believe it or not, two pills left me pain free. Although I will gradually be taken off the pills, I remain pain free. I feel like a new woman -- well, an old woman with some new parts!
      Could it be that most families have an accident-prose child? If so, the numerous small scars from head to toe must mean that I am that child in our family. I acquired some when I was well into adulthood. I have had just one fracture, in a wrist. Then there are the cramps you have when you must get out of a warm bed and walk around until your big toes (toe, in my case) become normal instead of being locked in an upright position. Their shape always reminds me of the soft shoes worn by elves. An through the pain, I still manage a weak smile 0r is it a sickly grin) when I hear, "Oh grammahh!" from the grandchildren when they see the shape of my knuckle-locked hands. Grotesque, but fortunately, the condition is temporary -- as is every condition, I have learned.

     Unfortunately Mrs. Lundberg's endocrinologist wrote me that Myrtle Lundberg is no longer with us. Over the years that Dr. Sjoberg took care of her, she told these several anecdotes about her health. He asked her to write them up and he sent them in to the Annals of Internal Medicine. She was tickled that her writing would be published. Well, here is another honor for Myrtle! Published again right here in the electronic world.
     I don't know if Mrs. Lundberg looks anything like Edith but this whole story kind of reminds me of Edith. She is an actress from Chicago who happens to be a Green Bay Packer fan even though she is from Chicago. She was recently hired to do a couple commercials with Aaron Rodgers for Associated Bank. She has quickly become a Wisconsin favorite and she took part in the sideline activities of the Football game against the Vikings at Lambeau Field recently. Some of you readers may not be familiar with Edith, because I think these commercials are fairly local. I decided to attach a couple of them and some of the outtakes for the commercials to this article for a little added touch of humor.



 What is the conclusion? I think it is possible to grow old and still maintain a strong sense of humor, to not take yourself too seriously and to still live life to the fullest degree that your "older" mind and body can accommodate. May all of you have this opportunity!

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