55 and Downhill

It all began to go downhill when… Well, I don’t really know why so many problems occurred in rapid succession. But they did.

At the end of 2012, I decided I needed a new hairstyle after decades of long – sometimes wavy, sometimes curly, sometimes frizzy – hair that I often put in a ponytail. The first cut was such a radical change that everyone who knows me well must have felt compelled to say something positive. The second cut, on the weekend of my 55th birthday, included a change of hair color as well. The hairstylist was very impressed with his work and joked that I ought to wear a signboard with his name and contact information so that everyone who saw me would know where to go if they wanted to look as good as I did. I went home. Journey looked at me and burst into tears. No one commented this time on how fabulous I looked.

I’d been having trouble seeing clearly – particularly when driving at night. I knew I was developing cataracts. That bomb had been dropped a few years ago. My ophthalmologist had told me it might be awhile before I needed surgery, so I carried on and tolerated the family’s laughter as my ability to distinguish colors diminished. Nevertheless, at 55, I thought it was about time to get my eyes checked again. After examining my eyes, my doctor said, “Why haven’t you come in before now? If you wait much longer, the surgery will be much harder.”

I also went to the OBGYN office for my annual exam. But for some reason, this time, the nurse practitioner noticed in my file that I had a blood clot in my 20s. She was troubled because one is not supposed to be on hormone replacement therapy when one has a history of blood clots. (It’s been 5 or more years now that I’ve been on HRT, and this is the first time my blood clot has been mentioned. And, by the way, what were the medical professionals thinking during those years when I was pumped full of hormones to try to combat infertility?) The nurse tells me that low doses of a particular anti-depressant can be used to counteract hot flashes. An anti-depressant for a person who is not experiencing depression, really? But I decided to give it a try. The first day I was so nauseous and dizzy, I had to lie down for a couple of hours. I was sleepy, hungry and gaining weight, constipated, dizzy, and slightly nauseous for a week before I finally said “enough,” and stopped taking the pills. Since then, I’ve been in a perpetual state of hot-flashing every one to three hours. Given the alternative – I can live with a little extra sweat.

At 55, I can’t seem to go to the grocery store anymore without being asked if I need help getting my purchases out to the car. No, I don’t. Can’t you tell that I lifted that 35 lb. bag of dog food into the cart all by myself? John says this is standard operating procedure for the employees, but I keep remembering all the years I was accompanied by three or four unruly children to the grocery store, filled two grocery carts I couldn’t push alone, and no one offered to help me. How much have I aged? Was my body holding back the wrinkles all these years until it suddenly exploded?

I decided to go to American Adoption Congress national conference in Cleveland, Ohio a few weeks ago. It was going to be an expense we didn’t need to incur and extra work for John with the kids. But John is always so supportive of my need to participate in professional activities that stimulate my brain because he understands how mind-numbing most of my time is spent. Unfortunately, the conference coincided with spring break for two of my kids. I had already scheduled K.J. to attend four days of driving school and to complete the lifeguard-training course that would allow him to get a job this summer. The issue was: What will Becton be doing while K.J. is occupied, Journey is in school and John is working? Resolved: Becton will fly with Rebecca to Cleveland. Airplane flights and staying in a hotel room were enough incentive to bring Becton on board with the plan.

We had moved and I needed a new driver’s license with my correct address. In the process of trying to change the address online, I became unlicensed! (I won’t bother reciting the ridiculous details of how this happened.) But I needed a valid license before I could do anything else – like perform my daily chauffeuring routine or fly to Cleveland. I could not find my birth certificate. It was supposed to be with all the other family members’ birth certificates – but it wasn’t. I did find my passport. Turns out – it had expired three months before and I couldn’t get a new passport without a birth certificate either. But off I trouped to the DMV with the documents I did have, to stand in line for five hours, and to receive my temporary paper license with the mug shot of some scary lady on it. (Becton said, “Don’t show that to anybody, Mom.”)

The pace of catastrophe picked up.* The night before our scheduled trip to Cleveland, John discovered that he had booked our flights FROM Cleveland to Atlanta and back to Cleveland. For a mere $900 we could fix the problem! Instead, we compromised on flights to Columbus, a rented car, and a two+ hour drive to Cleveland. When Becton and I arrived at the airport, we discovered that ALL the people who had come to Atlanta for the Final Four championship games were returning to their places of origin precisely when Becton and I needed to take our flight. The security line was 100s of people long. We made it through security and to our designated gate only to discover that the gate been changed. We arrived at the new gate just in the nick of time to board. It was a bumpy flight and Becton’s ears hurt despite the dose of decongestant. At the rental car desk, the agent took one look at my paper license and announced, “We can’t rent a car to you. It’s a liability thing.” A call to John and an hour later, we found a car rental company that would work with us.

We made it to Cleveland and checked into our hotel. Weather conditions were rain and temperatures in the 30s and 40s for the week. Becton’s ear problem developed into a full-blown cold that kept him room bound. There would be no Cleveland Zoo or Cleveland Indians games in the rain. There would be no museum visiting when museums closed at 5 p.m., long before the conference events ended. But, in the end, it worked out fine. Becton decided to spend most of his time with two new computer games – multitasking between the iPad, computer, and TV, while I attended workshops. Becton got over his cold before the plane ride home. I managed to find dry times between rainfalls to run. John found my birth certificate at home in a different safe. (No idea how it got there.) Cataract surgery is scheduled. My hair is growing. I’m getting used to managing the hot flashes. And I’m trying to make peace with the offers to help from grocery store employees.

In the next several blog entries, I will share some of what I learned at the conference. It was worth all the trouble. Stay tuned.

*I hesitated to post this humorous entry today.  I am acutely aware that my “catastrophes” do not compare with the horror of the attack on innocents in Boston yesterday.  I have a particular passion for running, so I feel the violation in a personal way as well.  Life is full of this confusing mix of trivial and profound, yet it keeps moving on.  This day, my life circumstances seem markedly trivial — and for that I am grateful.  But my deeper thoughts and prayers are with the victims, survivors, and families affected by the bombings — as I know yours are too.

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