Monday, August 4, 2014


Like the Sword of Damocles, the ugly specter of turning sixty dangles over my head. Over the next nine months, I have to find a way to cope with my next (undesirable) milestone of life because to many, this watermark symbolizes the dilapidated, gray, second to last gate that ushers in old age, (the last gate of course…is pearly).

In 1968, on a handful of occasions, I babysat for the couple next door, (the husband was the cheapest man on the face of the earth…but that’s another story). One time while getting paid, (never more than two bucks), Mr. Miser gravely griped, “I just found out I got arthritis.”

I was thirteen and sophisticated enough to know arthritis was a health problem but because I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, I thought it was a death sentence. So a few days later when I saw him throw his golf clubs and tennis racquets into the back seat of his "beater" convertible, I thought it was odd. Then shockingly, he leapt over the closed door into the driver seat. That’s when I knew he was a lying sack of shit!

Down through the years, I learned the complexities of life. Perhaps the clearest of all my lessons is that the world is infrequently black or white. Certain issues, especially regarding aging and health are layered, and come in far more than fifty shades of gray.

In 1995, I was diagnosed with my own painful arthritis. I was bright enough to correctly assume that it wasn’t life threatening. My doctor directed me to use an over-the-counter remedy. Over the next twenty years, other than a rare flare-up, my problem was been 97% held in check.

Now forty-six years later, even though my thrifty neighbor never gave me a tip, I’ll give him one. If you’re stricken with arthritis, and willing to spring for about fifty dollars a year, Chondroitin and Glucosamine is well worth it.

There is something mystical about hitting forty. We gradually start having new health issues. Each passing year, the number of episodes grows as well as their severity. There’s a gazillion reasons why we shouldn’t complain about our health, but the number one reason is, it doesn’t take long before we bitch to someone who is in far worse shape.

My first surgical procedure was kidney stones about ten years ago. The doctors knew the stone was obstructed but to run up the bill, it was better for them heavily medicate me and wait two days for it to miraculously dislodge itself, (which we all now know…it didn’t).

While it’s true this was my first over-nighter in a hospital since birth, I honestly don’t think I ever went into to panic mode. But apparently I said something to my terminally ill (cancer) roommate that suggested I needed emotional counseling. Despite his plight, this man was so pleasant, confident and reassuring. So the last thing I wanted to do was upset this brave soul…in ANY way.

I woke up feeling nauseous at 3:00AM on my second night, (as instructed I called for the night nurse). There was no response. I rested quietly over the next ten minutes hoping my putrid impulse would subside. It didn’t, so I pressed the signal button...and a minute later, I hit the buzzer again.

During those queasy moments, I rationalized that the floor nurse must have been helping someone else. I braced for the impending emergency. I dreaded the thought of disturbing my kindly roomie so I looked to see what was involved in disconnecting the multitude of feeder tubes and sensors that were attached to me. When my sickness suddenly spiked higher, I imagined the nurse downstairs, in the cafeteria with her face buried in a pint of butter pecan ice cream or hiding in the utility closet, having phone sex. Like a madman, I repeatedly and obnoxiously started wearing out the signal button.

Seconds before the arrival of my “V-Moment,” I realized that I had run out of options. I ripped off all my tubes, jumped out of bed and puked all over the wall…as blood from my arm splattered everywhere. What a great release/relief it was for me…until I heard my roommate’s commentary on the smell and length of the clean-up crew’s stay. Incidentally, embarrassment was added to my awful experience when my saintly roommate, the following morning, sincerely was concerned about my health.

You’d think that nightmare would make me more careful about what I said, (and to who). But seven ago while at work, (dealing craps in a casino), I felt a little pop in my lower back. The radiating twinge of pain varied in intensity as I struggled to find a comfortable position. I was experienced with this recurring problem but this time, no matter what I did, the different levels of agony wouldn’t subside.

LJT, (my supervisor) saw my situation and probably thought I needed to pee. He asked, “You okay?” I whined, “I tweaked my friggin’ back and it’s killing me.” LJT said, “You know I had a heart attack. I almost died. You don’t even know what pain is!” He had someone temporarily replace me. I took extra strength aspirins did some stretching and was much better. Later, I apologized to LJT. He said, “And make sure you never complain about back pain to any woman who gave birth either!”

I never learn from my mistakes. Five years ago, I felt like there was a burning hole in my stomach. These acute symptoms were incapacitating for a couple of hours.  Then they’d mysteriously vanish…only to reappear and tear through my innards in similar way, three weeks later. Like a schmuck, I waited months for my routine check up…it was a hernia.

I survived the operation and put it behind me. Well guess what? Last year, the symptoms returned. Lucky me, I had a new hernia. No you don’t get a reduced rate as a repeat customer so I was doubly pissed off in September 2013, when I had to go through the nonsense again.

There’s nothing really funny (or unusual) about two hernias within five years. So when March 2014 rolled around and the symptoms re-re-reappeared, I was triply frustrated. My distress was further heightened because the doctor does not guarantee his work and another procedure would be a completely separate fee, (so much for frequent flier discounts).

Two week ago while at Camp Zimbo, I held my left arm above my head and twisted my hand to the right and said, “It hurts when I do this.” He smacked me in the head and said, “Then DON’T do that!”  That might sound like an old vaudeville routine but what it meant was JZimbo didn't want to hear about petty maladies.

JZimbo is eleven days older than me so unfortunately for both of us, the rigors of middle-age health issues always come up. That’s when he mentioned that he might have a hernia. I never told him I had two hernia operations and need a third so I pretended to NOT be an expert. I let him vent. I didn’t want to fall in the trap of complaining about my trivialities when I fully knew that he had been victimized by a laundry list of decapitating injuries (including a fractured ankle and a knee replacement…plus unsuccessful eye surgery). So after he talked his way down from his potential dilemma, (on his own), I felt good knowing I didn’t play, “can you top this” with someone who really has been punished by life’s little cruelties. My temporary victory didn’t last long.

When I got home, I came to a conclusion about my third hernia. But if you know and love me, you know…once a schmuck, always a schmuck!  Due to my (unappreciated) experience, I now know how to minimize my hernia pain. So, in protest of getting “put up on the lift” again, I have decided to “gut” it out and (for now) live with it.

Hernias are unfortunately common. One of my friends (BBF) is experiencing the joy of his for almost two years. In the beginning, I recommended getting it taken care of. But after what I went through, I can understand anyone's reluctance to go under the knife.  So, I’m in no position to tell him he’s wrong.

Recently while on duty at work, my latest hernia was ravaging my belly. Under the circumstances, the best I could do to minimize the hurt was holding my stomach. DOM, (my supervisor) asked, “I had the stuffed peppers upstairs too and my guts are ready to explode?” A smile covered my grimace as I groaned, “Nah, I would never eat that in our cafeteria. I got a friggin’ hernia.” He said, “Shit, don’t complain to me, I’ve had three hernias.” I said, “Me too, this is my third.” He said, “I got one five years ago and had the surgery. Then last year another one popped opened.” I said, “So you got it taken care of?” He said, “Hell no!” I said, “But you said three.” DOM said, “Yeah, now I got another one that makes three.  I'll wait till they invent a hernia zipper...that way when get my tenth, they can go in and out much easier.” My smile evaporated into a look of concern as I said, “You must be dyin’ inside?” He said, “What are you a wuss? Besides, with insurance being the way it is, I’d be dyin’ worse if I paid for every little ache.”

I said, “BBF has been putting his hernia off for a long time.” DOM said, “You know he was demoted to part-time. He’s not having the surgery because he has shitty insurance, he's not having it done because he has, NO insurance.”

Remember the line in old cowboy movies; there’s always someone else faster on the draw. Well when it comes to complaining about your health, be aware that few people want to hear about it and almost everyone else is or knows someone, who is suffering worse than you.

Age is relative. I truly feel it’s just a number and that you’re as old as you feel. Day to day, I overwhelmingly feel like a king and a kid at heart, (the remaining times, I feel like a specific kid, King Tut…and he’s been dead and...usually...buried for 3300+ years).

So, I accept the challenge of my looming, new reality. I feel if you don’t find a path you can handle, the stressful harshness of an advanced age bracket will eat you alive and cause problems you never imagined.

Through my sixties, I pledge to be dignified and stay the same bundle of joy that you’ve always loved and admired.

And as for my neighbor from 1968, I’m sure his arthritis never stopped him…of course he was only about thirty-five back then, (but he complained as if he was sixty). Still, something tells me, (even though I haven’t seen him since 1984), that he’s still alive and kicking today. I make that assumption because I just saw a life insurance commercial with Alex Trebek.  That ad claimed, the average cost of a funeral was $8,000.00…and my thrifty neighbor would never cough-up that kind of cash.


Charlieopera said...

Ah, to be young and pain-free again. Try it at, say, 358 pounds ... or 320 ... or 300 for that matter (see, you were right, there's always a "top this one" lurking out there.

Since I dropped 76 pounds now, my lower back no longer KILLS me and I can walk 40 minutes beyond the 5 minutes it took to hurt before. I can also pick shit off the floor that I drop without using a wall to brace myself. I can almost see my feet again ... and the other thing? Well, maybe in another 50 pounds or so ... Good stuff, Steve!

Anonymous said...

Your Reality of Saying Good-Bye to Middle-Age blog was a good one Steve. But I'm sure u heard 60 is the new 40! Enjoy --- TG in FLA