My New Old Age

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So–the surgery is scheduled for January 6. At 1 p.m. Can I tell you how much it pleases me that I don’t have to get up early that morning? Really, such is my horror of rising early that the afternoon scheduling is actually going a long way toward assuaging my feelings about having the operation in the first place.

Those feelings do have to be assuaged. Of course I realize that using the word “assuaged” is my way of distancing myself from the actual fact that I’m going to walk into that hospital of my own free will and let them flip me on my belly and slit open my neck. Makes it sound like a fish being filleted, doesn’t it? Which is why assuaged is such a preferable word.

I guess I’ve assuaged a lot of my feelings about that pesky ruptured cerebral aneurysm back in 2003 as well because I don’t remember much about the weeks that I spent at Cedars Sinai tethered to all sorts of machines, unable to do anything but lie there. Funny that, considering that at the time I was sure I would remember every day, minute by minute. Instead, odd things float up every once in a while.

Like the popsicles they kept in the freezer for me. They were sent up from the kitchen and somewhere along the way, they would melt. When they came to me each night as a special treat, they were frozen solid again, but now misshapen with odd lumps and bumps. And the middle of the night visits from the respiratory therapists. One was a handsome cowboy–or did I hallucinate him? Another was an M.D. who had fled Mao’s China with incredible stories of the the Cultural Revolution. He I definitely didn’t hallucinate.

Never a patient person–now! I want it now!–I found in myself some deep reserves that I didn’t know I had. It’s almost like there was a switch that I could flip that enabled me to just lie there and let go. If you’d asked me then–and now–I’d say that I really didn’t see that I had a choice. I either found a way to get through it–or, what?

I don’t see that I have a choice now either. Cervical stenosis with cord compression is a medical condition and it has sent me into an early old age. It’s as if I’ve suddenly had to don one of those age simulation suits that researchers use when studying the experience of the elderly. Like it or not, I’m face to face with the vagaries of being old. The inability to walk very far without having to rest. The constant need to be vigilant about where and how I’m walking because I’m so unsteady on my feet. The fact that I can’t use my hands and arms as I’ve always done because they’re so lacking in strength. I cancelled a trip to New York because I knew I couldn’t maneuver around the Big Apple in the way I’m used to. I’ve shut the door on career opportunities because I know I simply don’t have the energy required to do the job.

I am at sixty-eight less capable of physical activity than my mother was at eighty-eight. I am, physically, old before my time. But mentally I’m not. Mentally, emotionally–I’m still full of beans and piss and vinegar and that energy that has kept me on the move all of my life. And that’s why I have no choice but to have the surgery. At best, with hard work in PT, I’ll regain some or much of what I’ve lost. At worst, the degeneration will be stopped in its tracks. Without the surgery, how far and how fast the degeneration can progress, the doctors can’t tell me. All they can promise is that it will progress.

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  • cass

    Hope it goes well and get plenty of rest! Sending you positive thoughts!

  • Mindy Mitchell

    Dear Jane, I had no idea that you were facing surgery and am just seeing this post now. I wish you a speedy recovery and improved health!

  • Ciaran Blumenfeld

    Xo Jane – I will be thinking of you and following your progress and rooting for your speedy recovery!

  • Ellen Dolgen

    You will be in my thoughts on January 6th! I know 2014 will bring you better days! Wishing you all the best….

    • janegassner

      Thanks, Ellen. I’m so looking forward to getting my energy and physical ability back. I have to tell you–hot flashes and menopause was nothing compared to this!

  • Kay Lynn

    Jane, I’ll be thinking of you on the 6th. Can someone post how you’re doing here or on Facebook?

    You’ll be glad you did it after it’s all over; I think waiting fro the surgery is the worst part.

    • janegassner

      If they’d let me take my iPhone in the O.R., I’d live Tweet the whole thing!!! But other than that–I’ll post as soon as it’s back in my hands!

  • Wayne Hartunian

    I have always loved Beef Jerky– but old age brings the chewing problem- found great tasting soft Jerky– Great Choices

  • Kim Tracy Prince

    can you eat homemade chocolate chip cookies in recovery? Because I can smuggle some in…p.s. could you not have had this surgery in the valley to make it more convenient for me? Sheesh.

    • janegassner

      Bring the cookies on Thursday when I get home. Then you don’t have to leave the Valley!!!!

  • Marci Rich

    Oh Jane…I’ll be thinking of you on the 6th and praying for a swift, painless recovery. I’m so very sorry you have to endure this. You expressed one sentiment in your post that I think is the key to EVERYTHING that life throws at us: “Never a patient person … I found in myself some deep reserves that I didn’t know I had. It’s almost like there was a switch I could flip that enabled me to just lie there and let go.” That’s all we can do, right? As Samuel Beckett wrote, “I can’t go on I’ll go on.” Wishing you peace…

    • janegassner

      Thanks, Marci. Love the Beckett quote. Now he was someone who I had to grow up to appreciate. I remember seeing EndGame when I was in college and thinking, Yuck! A couple of old people in garbage cans.

  • Ann Odle

    Sending good thoughts your way; peaceful holiday and speedy recovery to you!

    • janegassner

      My recovery better be speedy, Ann, because I have little patience with feeling sick!

  • ccassara

    Will be thinking of you and sending warm, healing thoughts.

    • janegassner

      Thanks, Carol. I appreciate it.

  • Penelope James

    Gosh, doesn’t old age catch up and overtake some of us much too soon? When you mention how your medical condition has sent you into early old age, I can relate. Wish you a successful surgery and will be eagerly awaiting news of how it worked out.

    • janegassner

      I’ll send reports as soon as I’m able…which means, considering how wired I am–ya think they’ll let me take my iPhone into the operating room???

  • Beauty O-50

    I, as will all of your followers, be praying for your speedy recovery. I wish you a New Year that will bring a new sense of physical comfort and ability, as well as the the wisdom that you, and all of us gain from adversities. You’ve been through “the ringer” but you will come out better and stronger in the end and we will be looking forward to hearing from you and supporting you all the way!!

    • janegassner

      Thanks you thank you thank you…a new sense of physical comfort and ability is exactly what I’m wanting.

  • Chloe

    I’ve been so consumed with my own shit and busy searching my way to the other side that I forgot this surgery was looming in front of you. For what it is worth, I will pray for you and that this surgery will give you back yourself. Your mind is much too young to get old yet. I simply forbid it, if it’s all the same to you.

    • janegassner

      I’ll obey your order, Nurse Chloe! And perhaps I’ll take on your squat challenge next time around.

  • Janie Emaus

    I’ll be thinking of you and your wonderful laugh.

    • janegassner

      I have a wonderful laugh? There are some who would argue with you, Janie!

  • Darryle

    Will be thinking of you and will come by and visit. Getting old sucks sometimes. xoxo

    • janegassner

      I don’t know if I’ll be there long enough for visitors, Darryle! And despite all this, I can say that I agree that getting old sucks. It just is what it is.

  • Joanna Jenkins

    I totally agree with you about disliking the very early morning hospital check-ins… it’s an awful way to kick things off. Glad you can start with an at-you-own-pace morning. Know that I’ll be cheering you on and hoping all goes perfectly well and recovery is fast, easy and complete. HOw long will you be in the hospital? xoxo jj

    • janegassner

      Saw the doc on Friday, Joanna. He says three days and two nights. So I’m focusing on Wednesday, January 8th when I’ll sleep in my own bed again!

  • mjule

    Love the way you just keep on akeepin’ on. As of course one must :) Wishing you smooth sailing through the whole thing.

    • janegassner

      One must, because–well, what’s the alternative? I’d annoy myself if I became crabby.

  • Cecfielding

    I had a vertebroplasty (a needle of glue pushed into my compression-fractured L1 vertebrae) last year. Same-day surgery. In-and-out in a couple of hours. Problem solved. I wish you the same success. I try not to take these challenges personally. We all break down, and we just have to keep trying to get back up. Until we can’t.

    • janegassner

      I bet it was superglue in the needle!

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