Life Can Turn On a Dime…

The following posting comes from a guest writer:

September 4, 2014

Two months ago, I turned 68 years old while in the ICU. I was propelled there, almost literally, by being hurled over the handlebars of my bicycle while speeding downhill on a familiar back road. The accident left me with a major concussion and 14 fractures (including five ribs, my right clavicle and right forearm), only two of which required surgery.

I was nominally training for a sprint triathlon, the same one I had completed in the prior three years. ‘Training for a triathlon’ was the easy cover phrase for my staying vigorous physically as long as I could. Many of my peers are avid cyclists. Some of us, like me, are married to men older than ourselves; and in my heart of hearts I admit I needed to feel physically stronger, faster and more robust than he. It was a point of minor irritation between us that I needed to walk faster than he is comfortable.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be alive and almost whole, without paralysis or permanent impairment. I also feel lucky to have total amnesia of the accident and of the eight days I stayed in the ICU, and to have suffered only nominal pain since I left the ICU for three weeks in a rehab facility.

Now that I am home and substantially healing – and am able to swim again – I take stock of the body that remains mine. I woke up, as it were, undeniably an older person. I fatigue more easily. Cycling will not be part of my future (since this accident occurred without apparent cause and thus was unavoidable). I am much more risk averse. I don’t want to do anything that is likely to cause me grievous injury, since there is no prediction I will be so lucky if I fall again. I still have some double vision related to the concussion and wear eyeglasses with one side obscured, so as that I can walk and read. I walk more hesitantly, and considerably more slowly and carefully. When I descend stairs, my hand is on or very near the handrail. When I board or leave a bus, the driver gives me extra time, and I feel totally justified occupying the forward seat reserved for seniors and disabled persons. In the grocery store, other customers make way for me (the old lady with the weird glasses).

I walk either behind or next to my husband, grateful for his hand. I sense the physical world much more now as he does, with due respect for what might prove harmful. I tend to see the world much more in his eyes and feel far more sympathetically to him than I did before. This feeling of ‘being in the same place’ with him, on both a physical and attitudinal level, is the biggest hidden gift of my accident. Instead of needing to distinguish myself from him, I take shelter in him, walk more with him literally and figuratively, and feel immensely grateful for his support and medical expertise.

I will still need to address, cope with and adjust to being ‘old’ in general. On a superficial level, there is relief (aah, I don’t need to worry about whether I can do the triathlon). I know I don’t feel deprived of any external adventures; I have already experienced most of the exploratory trips I ever wanted to take in this wide world and cherish having done so. On a deeper, internal level, I have not yet taken in all of the adjustments. I know I can still use my mind, and that is a huge source of comfort. All I can say for sure is that I am in a new, later stage in life’s journey. My body is now my reminder of the limitations that accompany old age rather than my armor against it.

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About Albert

I am a 75 year old retired physician. My life now includes various volunteer activities, out of doors activities like hiking and biking, travel and photography. I, like others my age, am trying to make sense of the physical and emotional changes that come with growing older. Rather than trying to avoid or ignore the changes, I chose to be active in exploring them, and I invite others to join me on my adventure.

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