A couple of months ago, I celebrated my 60th birthday.
[To answer the question everyone has been asking me:] No, it doesn’t feel any different than 59.
But I definitely don’t feel as good as I did the last time I hit a milestone birthday.
At 50, I felt so good about myself that I purchased my first-ever European car, which I jokingly referred to as my mid-life crisis. Ten years later, I still have that car and it’s no longer a joke: Even minor repairs cost a small fortune and my sleek little automobile has peeling paint and a creaky transmission.
We have a lot in common.
Last month, we took a trip to New York with a friend who also was celebrating her 60th, my sister (who was celebrating her 57th) and her husband, my brother-in-law (also 60 that week). I had a great time, but I found myself struggling physically – a problem I that first became noticeable last year, when we traveled together to the UK and Italy.
The only exercise I truly enjoy is walking, so I was looking forward to walking around London, Rome, Florence and Venice. But my feet had other ideas.
You see, I used to care a lot about fashion – and I especially loved wearing pretty shoes. From the time I was 16 until my mid-30s, I wore 4″-heels to work five days a week. And then the pain started.
Or rather, the pains – because there’s more than one issue here: corns from wearing shoes with pointy toes. Callouses on my soles. The loss of padding on the bottom of the feet that occurs naturally with age. A weakness in my ankles that flares up if I dare to wear anything but flats.
I stopped buying pretty shoes a long time ago. In recent years, I started spending good money at places that specialize in shoes that are made for comfort, but even those cause me problems.
When my daughter was a baby, I noticed that kneeling a certain way hurt my knees. As the years have passed, the pain in my knees has become constant. I’m pretty sure it’s just arthritis. No, I have not seen a doctor for it yet (because I HATE doctors). But I did get a referral to a rheumatologist and will be making the call soon – because I don’t LIKE the way I feel.
It doesn’t help that I’m once again overweight. In fact, losing weight would likely solve some of the problems with my feet and my knees. I know I need to move more. Every night, I go to bed telling myself I’m going to get up early and put on workout clothes and get some exercise before I shower and start work… and every morning, the alarm goes off and I drag myself out of bed two hours later.
I’m working on that – mainly, by trying to get used to a CPAP machine my doctor swears will result in better slumber and infinitely better energy. So far, all it’s done is stop my apnea-induced snoring enough that my husband can sleep – so that’s something.
I think part of my problem lies in an inability to get to sleep in the first place, something I’ve struggled with since I was a kid and has become worse since I’ve had to deal with the joy of hot flashes. My husband seems to fall asleep the moment his head hits the pillow, while I toss and turn and think about all the things I should have done better and fret about all the things I need to face the following day. I am getting better about turning in earlier, but there are nights when my allergies kick in and I can’t breathe into the machine – and other nights when I simply cannot sleep. When that happens, I stop trying and move to the extra bedroom so I don’t wake my husband. After that, I wake up feeling sleepier than I do when I manage a full night on the machine – so I guess the CPAP is doing something.
“Of course, it’s doing something,” my doctor insists. “It’s preventing you from having a stroke or a heart attack.” These are not things I worried about when I was 40. But it’s at the top of my mind now at 60.
I could go on yet another diet. In fact, I do that nearly every single day – And by evening, I’m done. That’s if I’m lucky. You see, after 45 years of restricting what I eat in some form or another, I have trouble remembering what it is I’ve decided I’m going to forego THIS TIME. The truth is, after I went through the extremely low-calorie, low-fat, low-carb regimen that helped me shed 60 pounds nine years ago, my body doesn’t seem to respond to diets any longer. Believe me, I tried. But I think decades of on-again, off-again dieting have given me the same result that’s happened to all those Biggest Loser contestants who gained everything back.
And the truth is: I’m TIRED. I’m tired of feeling guilty every time I eat a piece of bread. I’m tired of being sober when everyone around me is enjoying a glass of wine. I’m tired of saying “no thank you” to dessert. I actually do prefer to eat a nice salad at lunch with just a teeny bit of dressing – but if I am craving a sandwich, by golly, I’m going to have one. Because I’m tired.
That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. I’m just trying to navigate the highway to hell – I mean, senior citizenship. As Auntie Mame said, “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.” Especially if they’re on a diet.
Boy, was that a good weekend. Did I already say that? What was the icing on the cupcake is that it was Daylight Savings Time. (Or was it the end of DST?) Fall backward and get an extra hour goes a long way.
I was feeling pretty good last night after having a restful weekend and feeling a bit productive on Sunday with some chores and odds and ends I caught up on. Went to sleep early to keep my cough under control, but this morning was cold and I slept in until 6:15! I’m almost walking out the door at that time, so it wasn’t a good way to start the day.
Work was work. I like the people, but there are other issues I’m having a hard time managing. I won’t go into detail here, but if someone from the workplace were to read this, it wouldn’t come as a surprise so I’m not worried about writing that. There are just things that have to be worked through so it can be a fun job.
It was getting dark when I left work at 5 and it was dark by the time I got home 50 minutes later. The animals were happy to see me. Dog spit up. There’s always some body fluids to clean up around here from the pets.
Right now it’s still a novelty to come home and eat whatever I want, not have to talk with anyone, watch anything I want (I normally control the TV anyways, but there are sometimes snide comments), and just hang. By myself. It’s Day 5 of All About Me. Will it get old?
Sunday I woke up feeling good. The cough from the cold I got about a month ago was not as heavy in my chest. It must have been that Xanax I took to sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep really, really helps me with colds. Who would have thunk that those health nuts were right?
I had a very pleasant weekend overall. I don’t ever want my family to think I don’t care or want to be around them. But there’s such a sense of freedom to do what I want, when I want, with nobody asking anything of me. I know it sounds very self-centered, and it is, but the reason I’m enjoying it so much is because I know it isn’t permanent. It’s a staycation for one. Me. Myself. And I.
I’m on Day 3 out of 15 of being alone for the first time in almost 30 years. I think there’s been the random night once or twice, but this is different.
My husband, Mark, is traveling with our son in Peru for a couple of weeks. So far, I’m digging it. And I bet most people who are reading this are a bit envious. For whenever I tell someone, usually a woman, that it’s just me, myself, and I for two weeks, they get this look in their eyes that tell me they are fantasizing about the experience. I may be wrong, but I think women crave being alone more than men.
When I came home for Day 1, it felt a little weird. What was I going to do? Turns out, I didn’t do anything. Fed the animals, ate some leftovers, watched TV and went to bed. It was boring and I thought about whether or not I was going to waste my great opportunity and just watch TV for two weeks.
Day 2 – It was Halloween so I made sure to get out of work on time because it was going to be an hour and 15 minutes to get home on a big night like that. Came home to feed the dog and then right back out to meet friends for a glass of wine at a new place. This is a couple that we normally see as a couple, but it was perfectly fine being on my own. When I came home, I went to my neighbor’s house to visit. They had a total of three trick-or-treater groups knock on their door. It was a rainy evening. I didn’t miss much.
Day 3 – A Saturday! Showered, paid bills and watched two movies by noon! That was a productive morning in my situation. Took the dog on a long walk for about an hour and then came back to watch more movies while I worked on a new website. I really enjoy those stupid Hallmark movies and even have an idea for one that I would love to develop. Wish I had talent.
I just returned from going back to my neighbor’s where we caught up a bit on some TV viewing. We started watching Sunday night shows back when Desperate Housewives was on. Now we watch Once Upon a Time and The Good Wife. And maybe a Shark Tank here and there. It’s always a good time to catch up on what’s happened during the week, watch TV and do a little gossiping.
I’m not sure I’ll get everything I want to do done tomorrow. I will have to leave the house to do a little shopping and visit a friend who is moving into a new condo. What’s scary to me is how much I don’t want to leave the house. I picture myself growing old and never going out or even showering. I’ll wear sweats all day, or anything with elastic, and will go out once a week to replenish my wine, cheese and prepared meals. I know what I’m capable of and it’s not pretty.
Ebola is a scary disease, and it’s a shame that most Americans watched silently while the epidemic hurtled out of control in a few countries in West Africa… and didn’t begin to pay attention until poor Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed in Dallas — after initially getting sent home from the ER at Texas Health Presbyterian.
I’m not surprised that the folks at Texas Health did not understand the significance of Duncan’s announcement that he had recently arrived from Liberia, because — as I said, we Americans weren’t paying all that much attention to the raging epidemic so far away.
But now that Americans are being diagnosed here in America, we’re not only paying attention – we’re obsessed. And that’s not such a good thing, either.
Thanks to breathless media coverage and politicians who have seized on the disease to spread fear and misinformation, the entire country is in a panic, calling for closing borders and mandatory quarantines for anyone and everyone who enters the US from one of the affected countries. Last week, a friend posted on social media that a medical professional had refused to see her because she had recently visited Ethiopia (which is 3400 miles from the countries with the epidemic).
And on Facebook this morning, I was dismayed to see a discussion among acquaintances about how “selfish” nurse Kaci Hickox is for protesting her quarantine after her working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone.
Selfish? A medical professional who has spent years in nursing people in underdeveloped countries under difficult conditions … is selfish?
If she’s selfish, what does that make the rest of us?
Science has had decades to study Ebola. We know that even if someone is infected, the disease cannot be spread until there are symptoms – and even then, you would have to have contact with the person’s body or bodily fluids. You are not going to catch Ebola by breathing the same air. You are not going to catch Ebola by sitting next to someone on a train or touching something that person has touched (unless he put it in his mouth first). Dr. Craig Spencer, the New York patient who was hospitalized last week, knew the protocols established over years of experience by Doctors Without Borders. Dr. Spencer followed them and reported to health authorities as soon as he started exhibiting symptoms.
The nation’s Ebola panic truly began when nurses Pham and Vinson contracted the disease after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan. But what of the other 70 or so people who came in contact with Duncan before he was finally admitted to the hospital? No one else in Dallas has been stricken with Ebola — not even the family members who were confined to a small apartment that likely contained linens and towels he had used while suffering from the virus. That’s a pretty good indication that the experts are right: the majority of us are in graver danger of dying from the flu.
There have been missteps in our response to Ebola, but I think this is understandable when dealing with something new. The CDC has been quick to correct their course: They did not have sufficient guidelines in place when they allowed nurse Amber Vinson (one of the two stricken nurses who treated Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian) to travel on a commercial airline. That won’t happen again. But they also likely prevented further infections in Dallas by moving Vinson and Nina Pham from Dallas Presbyterian to special facilities at the NIH and Emory University Hospital. Both women have recovered and have been released.
Quarantines are a necessary means of keeping the disease from spreading — but I believe that imposing them indiscriminately upon everyone who returns from West Africa is overreach. Exiling Kaci Hickox by to a tent without heat or a toilet is a terrible way to reward her for her service. Hickox was right to get on to social media and expose her mistreatment at the hands of the state of New Jersey. And as she has been tested and is definitely NOT INFECTED with Ebola, she’s equally right to protest the quarantine imposed in Maine, where she currently resides.
If New Jersey and New York are determined to quarantine health workers returning from West Africa, let’s do it right. I say we give them a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria and pamper them during their confinement. Instead of a quarantine, let’s give them a vacation – reward them for their sacrifices instead of treating them like pariahs.
Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a 21-day quarantine for troops returning from West Africa. Let’s put them up in a suite, too and show them some real appreciation for a change.
At the very least, we should have a reasoned discussion about this before imposing quarantines willy nilly on everyone who might be exposed. And those discussions should be based on science – not fear.
Unfortunately, what we’ve had has been chock full of the latter. It makes me wonder whether we live in the 20th century – or the 14th.
Sorry about the title of this post, which was meant to update you on last week’s total hysterectomy, when doctors removed my uterus, cervix and yes, both ovaries. I cannot resist a bad pun centered around a movie or song title, so it’s a good thing the whole ordeal is over or you may have been subjected to a flurry of posts with titles like “Come on Ovary,” or “Ovary the Rainbow.”
The surgery went well. I don’t remember a thing from the time the anesthesiologist shook my hand until I awoke in recovery, with my doctor smiling and giving me a thumbs up: No cancer.
We did not think the growths on my uterus and ovaries were anything but benign fibroids, but it’s good to have that confirmed.
The next morning, my doctor had told me a little more: “Your uterus was the size of a small turkey,” she said. She actually had photos of the surgery, which she whipped out proudly, the way I used to show off my daughter’s baby pictures. They’re pretty gruesome fascinating. She said she’d get me a copy after she’d finished scanning them and adding them to my file. I may use one for my Facebook cover photo.
I ended up spending two nights in the hospital. I have to say: the nurses are heroes. They took good care of me, even though I was cranky from the pain and the painkillers. That said, I’ll be very happy if I never have to experience surgery or recovery again.
But that’s not likely, is it? I’m pushing 60 and my life is bound to follow the same pattern I watched as my grandparents and parents aged. My days of unflagging good health are coming to an end. Maybe not next year or in five years – but I’m pretty sure there will be at least another issue in the next decade that will require some hospitalization. And I’ll probably be just as big a baby about it as I was about this one.
In the meantime, the recovery from this hysterectomy is going a lot smoother than I expected. Before going in, I kept comparing it to the c-section I had 18 years ago, and there were a lot of similarities. But one week after the c-section, I was more or less bedridden… while today, I am sitting at my desk and writing this post without the benefit of painkillers.
The ease of the physical recovery is a little bit misleading. I have been warned not to resume my usual routine too quickly, not to push myself into doing anything strenuous like housework. Um, I’m okay with that. Besides, I don’t have a lot of energy. My husband, who has been amazed at how easily I’m moving around right now is just as amazed that I’m not bored yet with basically just laying around and watching television.
This is where members of my family will shout, “Do you even know Donna?” Laying around and watching television is what I do best. And that’s what I’ll continue to do — for the next week, at least.