Saturday, March 4, 2017

Not For Sissies

Years ago I first saw “Getting Old Is Not For Sissies” posted on the wall at my mother’s nursing home. It’s proved truer--and truer sooner--than I could have ever imagined. Here I am, suddenly (who knows how?!) into my seventies, telling a disease of the week kind of surgery story, just like my grandmother's friends used to. 

A decade back, I had life-changing surgery which ended five years of suffering from Ulcerative Colitis. That’s one of those “down there” diseases, like colon cancer, recently out of the closet of unmentionable ailments.  One of the worst things about UC—besides the relentless belly-aching (!) was being virtually housebound whenever the disease was active, which became progressively more and more of the time. I spent most of one year in and out of bed, fatigued, sick, and in all over pain. (At least, if you are having a tough pregnancy, you may, at the end of the trail, have something nice to show for it.) 

Finally, when I'd gone in for yet another scope, I came to in a hospital bed, with a kind Asian Gastroenterologist explaining that the look-see had been impossible because my gut was about to rupture. It was decision time. Either take a chemo-type infusion treatment that would reoccur every six weeks for the rest of my life, or big, cut-and-paste surgery. 

Being an old fashioned girl, I took "the knife." It's an awful phrase that smacks of melodrama, but there is a certain truth to it as well, because there are some glaring body-concept changes to face.  

"Why?" I'd wondered to the surgeon. My husband was only three years past a colon cancer operation. The female surgeon just shrugged her white-coated shoulders and said we'd been hit by diseases common to people with our history. We'd lived for a decade in farmland Connecticut, drinking from a well. The old run-down house in which we lived sat amid fields of corn, tobacco, and potatoes, all of which require a lot of Ag-Chem. Cancer and immune diseases go with the territory.

Surgery left me with an ostomy, but freed me from the burden of all those ruined body parts. Once again, with a bit of strategy, I could travel, go out to eat, go to the movies, or even just out to the mall. I could ride my bike to the farmer’s market and load the bags with vegetables, or hop up onto the back of my husband’s motorcycle and go out to admire the rural Pennsylvania countryside for hours, a pastime we both enjoy.

For three years I felt better. I could lug sacks of mulch around the yard, yank weeds that were hoping to settle in my garden. I was attending Silver classes at the gym and generally enjoying life again.

Unfortunately, post-surgical patients of my kind are digestive Rube Goldberg machines.
Lots of things can (and do) go wrong. I'd considered myself well-educated about possible problems this drastic re-engineering might create, but it turned out that post-op adhesions are a common occurrence. I'd probably read that somewhere before I made my choice, but now it was in my face--or remains of my gut, I guess is better--another blockage. 

So, once more, there was hospitalization followed by a dreary, kick-the-drugs convalescence. I was crestfallen, scarred, and physically weak.  It was far harder after that to imagine a nice seamless future.

So once again, I sucked it up, and bravely head “Onward, into the fog.”* which, I think is a pretty good description of the future.  Once again, I'm alive and well some years past surgery.

The beauty of the right-now-moment--hearing the voice of a grandchild or an old friend, seeing the blood red just-bloomed Christmas amaryllis, or enjoying the pleasant sensation of a lean-against-my-leg-please-pat-me from a fluffy cat—must take precedence over all those middle of the night "what if's?"  

Whatever it took to get to today, I’m thankful to have been given a little more time in which to celebrate the small shiny bits of life, those marvelous happenings of every day.

*R. Crumb's Mr. Natural

~~Juliet Waldron    Historical Novels by JW at Amazon  A Master Passion   ISBN: 1771456744
(Alexander Hamilton and his Eliza, their story) Angel’s Flight  ISBN: B0098CSH5Q
Adventure and romance during the American Revolution


Sydell Voeller said...

I love this message of hope and the appreciation of seemingly small things in life (which really are momentous). Thanks for posting.

Books We Love Ltd. said...

And I love the fact that those surgeries, no matter how horrid, kept you with us so we are lucky enough to read more of your wonderful books. Here's to many, many years ahead and many more books. Jude

J Q Rose said...

So sorry you have had such serious health issues, but so glad you shared the fight is worth it "to celebrate the small shiny bits of life, those marvelous happenings of every day." We don't take time enough to appreciate those tiny bits. Thank you for this timely message.
JQ Rose

Victoria Chatham said...

Celebrating the 'shiny bits' gets to be the norm, I think. My grandmother once told me her brain felt betrayed by her body. Now, like Juliet in my 70's, I have a much better understanding of what she meant. Not giving in, maintaining hope for those moments, are what makes life more bearable as we progress through our allotted time.

Juliet Waldron said...

Thanks to Victoria and JQ Rose...those little moments are, I think, our little share of heaven on earth.

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