Ann Brenoff’s “On The Fly” is a column about navigating growing older ― and a few other things.
I spent my 68th birthday on an exam table at the doctor’s office, squinting at my X-rays on the wall and listening to the man in the white jacket talk about why my left knee has betrayed me.
It buckles when I go up and down stairs, yelps loudly when I try to cross my legs, and jolts me awake from a deep sleep if I accidentally shift positions and bump it. The discomfort was enough for me to choose to spend my birthday in the company of the nice knee doctor.
Before my left knee started acting up, I spent a few weeks with my right thumb doing this weird snapping thing. Not really painful, more like a seriously major annoyance for someone who types for a living ― and yes, I still type for a living. And the snapping thumb came on the heels of my big toe joint aching in a way that WebMD was pretty sure could only be gout. It wasn’t. A few months before the non-gout episode, there was a flare-up of my plantar fasciitis ― a foot problem in which every step makes you wish you had a bullet stuffed in your mouth to bite. That one forced me to hang up my hiking boots until the prescription orthotics arrived. I may have proposed marriage to the physical therapist who saw me three times a week and rubbed my feet in all the right places. The man is gifted; I mean it.
So what does this all mean, all these aches and pains and weirdness affecting my body parts? It means that I am getting older. It also means that I might actually meet my medical plan’s deductible this year.
But mostly what it means is that if I want to avoid becoming someone who spends half her week seeing doctors and the other half waiting in line at the pharmacy, I need to get out in front of this.
I understand that body parts wear out, and my superhero may be Bionic Woman, but that’s about as close as I’ll come to ever being one. I also know that pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. But I’ve come around to believe that the key to successful aging rests in your ability to ignore the creaks in the floorboards.
If you run to the doctor for every twitch or tingle, you will spend (the rest of) your life there. Me? I’d rather keep company with folks less focused on growing old together and more into staying young together.
So this is my plan: I’m going to will myself to rise above what hurts. I’m putting my mind over my matter. I won’t ignore serious pain ― nor am I suggesting that you do, either ― but I will raise the bar on what constitutes “serious.”
My first line of defense will be my ice pack and my heating pad. I will continue to walk my dogs, hike my trails, and park the car in the spot farthest from the door to get my daily steps in. I will sing a song in my head to distract myself from any body parts that don’t feel like going along for the ride. I will take stairs, not elevators; I will stand, not sit; I will follow the “use it or lose it” rule whenever and for whatever possible.
It’s not greater longevity that I’m seeking. Frankly, I would rather die than live to be 100, which I suppose is actually what would happen. What I want, though, is to live as fully as I can for as long as I can. But when doing so requires a visit to the nice knee doctor who proclaims it is “time for surgery,” I may just reserve the right to take my ice pack and walk away singing “Have A Little Faith In Me” on behalf of my knee.