STILL TIMELY: A 14TH-CENTURY CASE OF OF ASSAULT

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[This is the second of the two lessons from law school I mentioned in my last post.  The first was instructive. This one’s illustrative. Anyone following the circus surrounding the Judge Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in the United States Senate will be able to find connections with the seven-hundred-year-old foundational case on assault recounted below.]

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THE ILLUSTRATIVE CASE OF I. de S. and WIFE

(At the Assizes, 1348)

In France, where the legal system is based on the Napoleonic Code, law students spend five years learning the nation’s codified statutes. By contrast, in the United States, law schools generally follow a three-year instructional method developed at Harvard Law School during the mid-nineteenth century which is based on the study of decisional law  — that is, the study of how individual cases in the major branches of law were decided and why. These decisions are collected in casebooks, and assigned — usually three at a time in each course — to be read, outlined and assimilated sufficiently to enable the student to explain the court’s reasoning if called on.

Not surprisingly, it tends to be the earliest cases we read in the first weeks of law school, when all this was new, which linger long in the mind even after the student becomes a real lawyer and confronts contemporary problems which may have little, of anything, to do with those long-ago decisions. I will probably remember into the grave an early nineteenth-century property case, Pierson v. Post — otherwise known as “Who Owns the Fox?” It concerned a man (Mr. Post) who was chasing a fox, apparently for some time, without having come close enough to injure or capture it. Then another fellow (Mr. Pierson) spotted the fox, and did wound and capture it. In the end, who was entitled to the fox, or what was left of it?  Hint: effort is not enough.

Another first-year case recently surfaced in my mind around the time the #metoo hashtag was born. It has refused to go away ever since — especially after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accused Judge Brett Kavanauugh of sexual assault. It’s the fourteenth-century case of I. de S. et ux. This was the very first tort case reported in Anglo-American case law, and the first case I read in law school. I think “I.” stood for “Isaac.” I’m not sure where “S.” was. Suffolk? Smithfield? Sheffield?  “Et ux” means “and wife” in Latin.

Now we come to a glossary of terms from lawyer-speak. Lawyers have an English language all their own; after you learn it, you tend to forget that non-lawyers may not be sure what you mean. I just mentioned “Anglo-American law.” American law derives from English law.  No big surprise there. We were English colonies before we went off on our own. English law was all there was. Moreover, the law is thrifty; it keeps everything that gets decided, and builds on it. Even after a revolution. It’s all “stare decisis” — meaning “it stands decided.” So early English common law decisions crossed the Atlantic with early settlers and became the antecedents of our own common law.

I referenced “case law.” It’s also known as bench-made law. Or common law. (In contrast to statutory law enacted by legislatures. Although there’s also bench-made law construing statutory law, including of course the Constitution.) It’s what judges decide, usually on appeal, after all the factual evidence is in, and after they’ve considered all the relevant case law that came before.

I called “I. de S. et ux” a “tort case.” A “tort” in the law is not a misspelled Austrian pastry. It’s a branch of civil law having to do with various kinds of intentional or negligent harm people inflict on each other — excluding breach of contract, which is part of contract law. It has to be harm for which the court can provide relief, usually in the form of financial compensation.

“Civil law?” Not criminal law. No jail time. No executions. It can get expensive, though.

Ouch. But how can I tell you about I. and his wife, who both lived in S. in the middle of the fourteenth century, without the vocabulary? Anyhow, that’s all out of the way now. Onward!

As I recall — and it’s been a while so some of the details are fuzzy — I. was a tavern keeper. After he had shut up shop for the night, W. — also of Suffolk, or Smithfield, or Sheffield — came over to buy some wine and found the tavern door bolted. He had a hatchet with him, and swung it at the door, cursing and “caterwauling” near the window.  I.’s wife stuck her head out and told him to stop the noise, whereupon he swung at her with the hatchet too. Although he didn’t hit her, she was “afeared” that he would. I. — her husband — went to the local assizes, which functioned as a court of law in the counties, and brought suit against W.

The judges decided there had been an assault, even though W.’s hatchet hadn’t actually touched or cut I.’s wife. It was the first actionable tort, and its facts provided us, the students, with the legal definition of assault. It’s any intentional act or conduct which creates in another person a reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm. Stare decisis. Significant words that will be on the exam: (1) intentional; (2) reasonable; (3) imminent; and (4) bodily. But never mind that.

What was really significant — to me and all the other women in the class — which in 1983 was 50% of us — was I.’s wife. Because she was so in-significant. She had no name. She had no right to bring her own complaint. I. had to do it instead. In the eyes of the law — which were the eyes of the contemporaneous fourteenth-century world — she was not a person, and therefore could not be injured. She was I.’s appendage, his property, his chattel.  (Not so different from the fox in Pierson v. Post five hundred years lateralthough the legal issue was different there.) Frightening her — by causing her to experience a reasonable apprehension of imminent bodily harm — was an injury to him, for which he was entitled to compensation. Perhaps he loved her, but the law wouldn’t care about that. Perhaps he went to court because W.’s assault had made her too “afeared” to work in the tavern. We will never know. In any event, we will probably say it sounds nuts, and thank goodness we’re not living then.

Not so fast. As recently as the mid-twentieth century, when I was in college, a wife in some states still couldn’t sue her husband, except — under certain limited circumstances  — for divorce. If the brakes on his parked car failed and the car rolled down the driveway and hit her as she was coming in from the street with the groceries — she couldn’t file a claim against his insurance company. Why not? Because of the time-honored legal doctrine of marital harmony, with which the courts, and the insurance company, chose not to interfere. Man and wife were one flesh, went the reasoning. So how could a man pay himself through his insurer for hurting his own flesh?

The Marital Harmony Doctrine may have finally faded away. And now we have decades of state and federal legislation prohibiting sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace. But much of the country sat glued to their televisions or other devices a few weeks ago as the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings touched on “boys will be boys” conduct in high school and the hallowed halls of Yale — conduct demonstrating that when some young men get drunk and their inhibitions dissolve, at bottom they still believe women are not quite people but prey — prey for touching, and grinding against, and sexual manhandling, and also fair game for sexual conquest by any means. A woman is still — to too many men, including those no longer young — not quite an autonomous person but flesh to be grabbed or bargained for when the woman appears not to belong to — that is, be the property of — a husband or father or other man.

This did not of course begin in the 14th century with I. de S., his wife, and the assizes court that awarded him compensation for her having been made afraid that a would-be customer was about to hurt her.  In reading a biography of Cleopatra, I learned that the Romans of the pre-Christian era were surprised to discover Egyptians of that time treated women as the equals of men, permitting them to own property and run businesses by themselves without oversight or supervision. The Romans themselves were required to raise only the first-born of their daughters; they could dispose of any subsequent others at birth if they so wished.

But I digress. To sum up: long after I shall have forgotten just about everything else I learned about the law in law school, I will probably go on remembering I.’s nameless wife. Not for the definition of assault with which she provided us, but for how her husband’s case illustrates millennia of male attitudes towards women. Unfortunately, I very much doubt Mrs. I. de S. will become a mere historical curiosity in my lifetime.

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LIFE LESSON FROM LAW SCHOOL

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[As some of you may know, I became a lawyer in my mid-fifties.  The process of becoming one has therefore probably remained clearer in my memory than it might have been if I had done it in my twenties. I’ve even occasionally blogged about certain aspects of law school that seemed to me to remain relevant to life outside the law.  This piece, and the one to follow, appeared in “The Getting Old Blog” about four years ago. But who digs back in the archives that far? So here they are again, in slightly different form — because they’re still useful to me, even now that I’ve embarked “On Being Old.” This lesson is instructive.  The next one will be illustrative.]

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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE TOO NERVOUS TO DO IT

In England I believe it’s known as “reading law.” That makes it sound very grand, although I understand you can get right to it after finishing secondary school, as long as you’ve passed three A Levels in “hard” — that is traditional academic — subjects. Here in the United States, it’s just called, quite casually, “going to law school.” But you need four years of college or university education and an undergraduate degree in something or other in order to apply.

Nonetheless, unlike many other graduate programs, and contrary to what you may have thought, law school is much more a glorified trade school than an immersion in higher thought. When you finally acquire the J.D. degree — “J.D.” meaning juris doctor, or doctor of law — you’re not yet entitled to practice. There’s another hurdle ahead: you must take and pass one last big test in a state or states of your choosing. And that’s what you really need the J.D. degree for. It’s your entry ticket to “sitting for the bar.”

“Sitting for the bar” means you register to take, and then actually take, a two-day examination — three days if you’re sitting for two state bars at a time. Each day’s part is six hours in length, with an hour’s break after the first three hours for lunch and for standing in long bathroom lines. It’s administered in a huge aerodrome or covered stadium designated by the state in question as the place where its bloodless torture takes place twice a year. The size of the venue is driven by the fact that as many as 1500 newly minted J.D.’s may be taking the bar exam at the same time, in addition to the ones who failed their first or second try and have to try again.

Only when you’ve at last “passed the bar” may you finally proceed to the practice of law, and find out how little you really learned about it in law school. You will either (1) become an associate at a private law firm; (2) find a municipal, state or federal government job as a lawyer; (3) go what is called “in house” as a member of the legal staff of a corporation; or (4) “hang up your own shingle” — quaint phrase — usually because none of the other three possibilities have panned out.

But let’s back up. Although I don’t know what’s involved in learning how to be a plumber or electrician, I imagine the subject matter to be mastered for those trades must be broken down into manageable bits.  So it is in law school. Allegedly learning how to be a lawyer is broken down into various subject matters to be mastered, most of them in year-long courses. The specific choice of first-year course work may vary from law school to law school. In the end, however, all law schools will cover the six courses we took during my first year. Four of them ran from September through May: Property Law, Contract Law, Tort Law, and Civil Procedure. A fifth course, in Criminal Law, was tested at the end of the first semester and replaced in the spring by Constitutional Law, which was tested at the end of May, together with the four that had run for the whole year.

That’s right: five examinations at the end of the first year — and the first and only examinations we would have on each of those five subjects. Each exam lasted three hours, and consisted of three long-paragraph accounts of complicated hypothetical fact situations which between them raised every possible legal issue that had arisen in any case discussed or even mentioned in that course since September. We were advised to write for an hour on each hypothetical, but for no more than an hour, quickly identifying and explaining every legal issue we had spotted. Bathroom break? Take it at your peril! Leaving the room would mean less time to write, fewer issues spotted. Brilliance on one hypothetical did not compensate for ignorance on another. Failing an exam meant having to repeat the year-long course. Doing poorly in any exam adversely affected one’s class rank, an extremely important consideration in securing a first job — unless one of your parents or relatives knew somebody.

Understandably, there was much growing tension in the classroom as the weeks of May rolled by. Many of us, myself included, were there on federally backed student loans which would need to be repaid irrespective of the outcome of these exams. Some students were the first in their families to go to graduate school. Not making it would mean not making a family’s dream come true. The school had thoughtfully provided a ten-day study period following the end of classes before the first exam was scheduled to take place. But how do you study when you’re too nervous to focus on anything except the possibility of impending doom?

The youngest of our professors was an attractive woman who may have been a bit past thirty but certainly no more than thirty-five. This was only her second year as a member of the law faculty. It was known that she had taught fourth grade for a few years before going to law school; she brought a touch of the kindly and patient manner with which one instructs young children to teaching us, which was perhaps an error of style when addressing an auditorium full of twenty-somethings, plus me. What’s more, although she taught Civil Procedure — which governs courtroom practice in civil cases –she had never actually practiced law. She may not have even sat for a bar. She was slender, shapely, had great legs, and wore high heels to show them off — which was much appreciated by the young men in the class but did nothing to enhance her reputation as a professor to be respected for her knowledge.

On the final day we met with us, she did a quick review of what we might anticipate could be on the Civil Procedure exam. At last she put down her pointer and chalk, turned to us, and said she knew we were all very nervous. She had been through it herself not so long before, so she understood completely. And then this pretty woman with the gorgeous gams said something so important, and so applicable to so many other aspects of life, that I’ve never forgotten it, although by now I’ve forgotten almost everything I memorized that year.

“You may be so nervous,” she said, “that you’re too nervous to study. So this is what you do.”  Now no one was looking at her legs. We were all listening very carefully. “What you should do when you’re too nervous to study,” she said, “is study. And then the nervousness will go away.”

I was nearly fifty-two, as old as the mothers of my classmates. They called me Mrs. Mishkin very politely, but not one of them had invited me into a study group at the beginning of the year. I had to do all the class outlines by myself. I hadn’t taken an exam, except the one in Criminal Law, for twenty-seven years. The word “nervous” doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind. My husband had been out of work for well over a year. I had two adolescent children. I had done this all on loans. But I took her advice. And studied. And studied. And studied some more. And the nervousness did go away.

When the class rankings were posted after the grades were in on all five exams, I found myself tied for first place in a class of 345. That rank opened doors for interviews in major Boston law firms, despite my age. One of those interviews — and all it takes is one — one of those interviews led to a job that brought money into our family again, paid for braces, sneakers, music lessons, good private schools.

That’s why what I heard on the last day of the Civil Procedure class in May 1983 was the most useful lesson I learned in law school. There would be many more nervous-making situations ahead, beginning with sitting for the bar. Then came standing up in court in front of judges known to be misogynist. Leaving a marriage after twenty-two years. Being let go in my sixties and having to find respectable, interesting work again at that age. More recently needing to pull myself up from a nearly fatal medical experience and its aftermath. But I’ve never forgotten that when you’re too nervous to do something, just do it. The nervousness will go away. And then who knows what good things will happen next?

 

 

 

 

GAME CHANGER, NAME CHANGER

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Readers for whom new posts from this blog arrive via email may not have noticed. Between the last post and this one, “The Getting Old Blog” acquired a new name.  It was time.  How long can you go on “getting” old without eventually reaching your destination?

“The Getting Old Blog” began life nearly five years ago, in November 2013.  (This was after three weeks or so of baby-step experimentation in “Learning to Blog” — still out there in the ethernet if you’re interested, although I don’t see why anyone would be).  Despite the scary-sounding year of my birth (1931), I didn’t feel particularly old at 82, and thought a blog marking my passage into the “later years” might be a good place to park bits of memoir (old folks tend to look back), memoir disguised as fiction, and general reflections on what was happening to me as I reluctantly rolled towards becoming 83, and then 84, and so forth.

But as you’ve already read (two posts back in “So What Happened?”) last year was for a nanosecond the end of me. Having your heart stop beating, although they get it going again, really does change the rules of the game. Not to mention the months and months of medical and pharmaceutical tribulation that necessarily follow such a near-terminal event.  Who was I kidding with this “getting old” stuff?  I was old.  I am old.  In bed at night, with the lights out, I can still fantasize that a near-crazed-with-lust eighteen-year-old is pressing hard and stiff against my luscious seventeen-year-old body. It helps, of course, if I’m on my back and an eleven-pound cat is lying vertically on top of my mid-section or else pushing in rhythmically with its two front paws. You think that’s funny? With the lights on, I do too. I know what I look like undressed; I still have a full-length mirror. I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but no one ever called me stupid.

One of my grandsons, who at twelve of course knows nothing of his Nana’s occasional nighttime fantasies, tried to reassure me last week that “you’re only as old as you feel.” Like many pre-adolescents he’s a sponge for grown-up expressions — even though he still lacks the life experience to know when they’re cliches. To which I immediately replied, “That’s a lot of crap!” and everyone burst out laughing, partly because it’s true, but also because 87-year-old grandmas aren’t expected to say “crap” out loud– at least not in the suburbs of Brandon, Florida.

I’ve therefore been thinking for a while of what to rename the blog. Some ideas — “While There’s Still Time” or “Near Journey’s End” — were too funereal. “What It’s Like To Be 87” was appealing; I could change the number each time I acquired another birthday. But it would be inaccurate. Each of us ages somewhat differently, and what 87 is like for me will not reflect the experience of every 87-year-old woman. I seem to be an outlier.  One example only: I know a number of near-87-year-old women who sleep with their cats but are glad — at least they say they’re glad — their sex lives are over. Hand-holding might be all right, but anything more than that: no-siree, an expression that dates them as much as anything. Bottom line: “On Being Old” seemed most descriptive without necessarily being depressing.  It’s also an accommodating title. It can encompass scraps of memoir as well as details of my life in a so-called “over-55,” but really more like “over-70” or “over-75,” community.  In fact, it will accommodate just about anything about being me at this stage of my life, whatever that stage is.

So welcome to “On Being Old.”  Don’t get hung up on the new name and go away.  It’s really just the same old same old… me.

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Selfie taken in Florida last week. (Slightly retouched but only slightly.) The sunglasses do help.

 

NEW TRAVEL COMPANION

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Bill's oxymeter, now mine

(It’s called an oximeter.)

As you may recall, in April I made a deal with the cardiologist who had brought me back from near death in a hospital procedure room the previous December — and two months later also got me out of a-fib.   He agreed to let me go off amiodorone.  Amiodorone is the med that was keeping a-fib at bay but also making me feel like a stumbling zombie. In exchange, I was to check my heart rate every morning before I got out of bed. Any number between 60 and 100 beats a minute was good to go.  Over 100 beats? The a-fib was back!  What then? Call the cardiologist and get ready for another cardioversion.  (Allegedly a day procedure the second time.)

To check your heart rate these days, you don’t have to count your pulse beats against a stop-watch the old-fashioned way.  Now there’s the oximeter, a gadget just about the size it looks in the picture (on a desk-top) and named for the first of its two functions: determining the oxygen level in your blood.  As a pulmonary fibrosis patient, Bill had two of them, one on each floor of the house. He kept sticking a finger in one or the other just about every fifteen minutes, hoping I suppose that if he did it often enough the disappointing top number on the little screen might go up. It never did. [If you’re really curious, 95-99 is excellent, 90-95 is okay, below 90 means trouble.]

My feeling about many of Bill’s medically flavored devices was that some of them might come in handy when I got older, one way or another. As the oximeter did — because it also measures heart beats per minute. You press the bottom two sides together to open the top enough to insert a forefinger. Then you press the button near the top so the oximeter lights up and goes to work. Presto! Two numbers appear in red on the lighted screen — top one for oxygen saturation, bottom one for beats per minute.

Awful as amiodorone was for me, I was nonetheless dismayed at the price of my freedom from it. “But if I have to call you and hurry to the hospital — that means I’m chained to Princeton for life!”

“Where would you go?” asked the cardiologist. He’s a dear man, and works very hard, and really cares about his patients. But he’s only 57 and perhaps feels that old-old people don’t mind rocking away their remaining years on a porch. (Especially in Princeton.)  I cast about wildly for a destination. “Well, Florida?” I began.  (Actually I dislike Florida. Heat, hurricanes, huge highways everywhere — and flat as a pancake.). “I have a son and grandchildren in Florida.”

Florida was apparently all right with the cardiologist.  I could still call him from Florida and fly home.  A day or two in a-fib might not matter too much with all the other medication I was still taking. “And suppose I want to fly to Europe?” (I think big.)  At this he looked dubious.  “Where in Europe?”

I had no immediate plans; that wasn’t the point.  I wanted him to give me back freedom, as much freedom as I could manage at my age. So I improvised: “Maybe London, Paris, the south of France?  Places where I can speak the language? (This was stretching it; my unused French has eroded badly with the years, but the cardiologist didn’t know that.)  “Or Israel!” I declared. “Bill’s favorite niece lives in Israel. I might want to go there!”

The cardiologist brightened up.  “Good hospitals in Israel,” he declared. “If you revert, have the Israeli hospital doctor call me; we’ll take it from there. But don’t forget to buy trip cancellation insurance.”

An imprimatur! I could get out of Princeton (nice as it may be) and go somewhere else.  No crossing oceans yet. First I have to learn to be an old old person in an airport. But make hay while the sun shines, say I, because who knows how long it’s going to shine? So tomorrow I’m off to (what a surprise!) Florida — for a short visit to my two pre-adolescent grandchildren who live there with their mom and dad, my younger son.  I haven’t seen these grandchildren for a year and a half.  School has begun for them already, but we’ll have afternoons and early evenings together, and there will be time with their parents during the day. Philadelphia to Tampa-St. Pete is only a three-hour flight. I fully expect to survive it.

And I’m not going alone of course. Guess what cute little black thing is coming with me? Back in about ten days.

 

SO WHAT HAPPENED?

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Eleven months ago, with bravado I didn’t quite feel — I posted, with an exclamation point: “You’re Never Too Old for Adventure!”  Readers liked it. Liked, liked, liked it.  Although months went by without another word from me, the “likes” kept coming. “Good for her!” they were probably thinking.  “Never Too Old!” is in the same category as “Never Say Die!” and “You’re As Young As You Feel!”  Who wants to quarrel with that?

It turns out I was wrong. You can be too old for adventure, at least the kind of activity that normally passes for adventure.  In your head, you may still feel thirty-five. But you’re not.  You realize it as soon as you assess the world into which you still want to plunge like a youngster. Your body doesn’t know from thirty-five anymore.  It starts looking around for a chair by mid-morning. As for “Never Say Die!” – who’s kidding who?  Come on now.

During the eleven months since “Never Too Old!” I ‘ve had to come to terms with the idea that I’m not just “getting old” anymore.  I am old.  Geriatric medicine has categories. You’re “young old” while you’re between the ages of 70 and 85. After 85? Biologically speaking, you’re “old old “ – at least in comparison with other people. (And who else is there to compare with?)  Disregarding all that, I defiantly squeezed an extra year out of being “young old.”  Although I crossed the biological line into “old old” two months after Bill died; immediately afterwards, I sold a condo and bought a new apartment all by myself. (No, my children didn’t help. They were quite sure I could manage, and I could.) Then I went off to Dublin a couple of months after my 86thbirthday.  I looked pretty good.

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Age 86 in Dublin, September 29, 2017

Yet much to my surprise on reaching Dublin, I found I had aged out of interest in organized travel.  I used to feel I had to see everything important in the world that I could afford to get to.  Now I discovered I didn’t. You might think I’d given up, but I really didn’t want to hurry from one cultural treasure to another anymore.  I didn’t relish spending an hour in a hot crowded museum looking at hammered gold necklaces made by pre-Celts, or going to rather amateurish theater featuring adorable young Irish wannabe thespians in their early twenties just because drama is one of the three or four things you travel to Ireland for. There were too many churches and monasteries and castles and estates of the Anglo-English rich filled with opulent furniture for cranky old me. I had the feeling I’d seen it all before, in other countries at other times.

What I liked best was running into Joe Biden in the gift shop of Trinity College with another member of my travel group. (He carefully ascertained which states we were from — blue, of course — before giving a hug, a photo op, and an admonition not to despair.)

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Don’t look at me, look at him!

I also enjoyed the half day of unscheduled time, which I used to amble alone at my own geriatric pace across the Liffey and up Grafton Street to St. Michael’s Wood. I stopped where I wanted (bookstore and dress shop), sat where I wanted (on a park bench), and ate what I wanted (takeout salad from “Chopped”).

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Crossing the Liffey.

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Walking up Grafton Street.

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Lunchtime at St. Michael’s Wood.

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The Dublin lunch for me.

Then I came home – wishing I’d swallowed my pride, caved, and asked for a wheelchair in both airports instead of dragging my carry-on through inspection and miles of corridors all by myself, as I used to do. And soon  – right after Thanksgiving – a first for me came out of the blue:  a-fib, aka atrial fibrillation.  It was the persistent kind, that doesn’t go away on its own. My heart began beating wildly and quickly. This sounds romantic; it wasn’t. I was always out of breath.  I could have died of a blood clot at any time. My internist thought the cause was eating too much pickled herring over the holiday. The cardiologist dismissed the herring theory; he surmised it was because I had sustained two separate colds with different symptoms one after the other just before Thanksgiving.  But whatever the cause, they both announced (without tact or euphemism) that this can often happen “when you’re old,” and agreed I must hurry over to the hospital that very afternoon, stopping off at home only to arrange care for the cats. “Just for four or five days,” promised the internist.

I was in a hospital bed for over three weeks. Really in it. No hopping out to go to the adjoining bathroom. Bells and whistles went off whenever I moved too close to the mattress edge, even inadvertently — bringing frantic nurses admonishing, “No no no.” What happened to the “four or five days?” It seems that during the TEE (transesophogeal echo) performed to ensure there were no clots near the heart before proceeding with  cardioversion, an a-fib corrective procedure  — my heart rate dropped from crazy high to zero. For a nanosecond I was technically dead, although anesthesia prevented me from being conscious of what it is like to die.

The hospital doctors decided I had been unusually sensitive to the anesthetic.  That may be debatable…or not.  Who knows?  My own cardiologist — whom I credit with saving my life on the spot and keeping me alive during the ensuing three weeks it took to bring me out of congestive heart failure — assured me no oxygen was lost. (Meaning no loss of intelligence, ha ha.)  But now I know what it really means, and feels like, when ER doctors on television shows cry out, “Intubate!” They mean they’re going to shove a thick blue tube down the throat of the patient, preventing speech, swallowing, even screaming. There was also a catheter,  the aforesaid confinement to bed (initially in intensive care), and an extremely unattractive thirty-five pounds of water retained during all this which had to be taken out of me, slowly, with strong diuretics and bedpans that kept me awake all night. They also gave me a pacemaker – which involved another “procedure.” It was inserted, again with an anesthetic, near the surface on the left side of my chest.  It will prevent my heart rate from ever dropping below sixty again. Every time I take my clothes off I can see it, looking like a Zippo cigarette lighter with wires tucked just under the skin. It – or its successor – will be there for me to look at all the rest of my life.  Lest I forget what’s keeping me alive.

I got out of the hospital at Christmas – with a walker, and then a cane, still in a-fib and wobbly. I then spent the next fifty-six days at home on Eliquis, a very strong blood thinner, until it was deemed safe –meaning no further danger of clots — for me to go back to the hospital to have another try at the cardioversion which would shock me out of a-fib.  It did. You could say I got my heart back on Valentine’s Day.

There followed another two months of learning to walk on my own again, and struggling with a particular anti-arrhythmic called amiodorone of which it is said, “Your doctor believes the benefit outweighs the risks.”  What they mean by “risks” are unpleasant to dangerous side effects.  During the period I was taking it I had increasing vertigo, uncontrollable tremors in hands and legs, and a foggy brain. I walked like a drunk. I was afraid to step down a curb.  I even fell. The fall persuaded my cardiologist to let me stop taking it; a fall is the almost worst thing that can happen to an otherwise okay old person. In exchange I had to promise to measure my waking heart rate every morning before getting out of bed. (There’s a little machine for this called an oxymeter; I don’t have to count out loud.) If it’s ever over 100 I must let him know at once.

Alas, amiodorone has a half-life in the body of fifty-six to a hundred or more days.  In my case, it took nearly three months to clear. I could tell by the ebbing of the vertigo when I got up from a horizontal position or got back into bed from standing up, and also by my increasing ability to walk a relatively straight line. I think the half-life has finally expired.  But that also means the chance of a-fib returning has risen from 10% when taking the amiodorone. to 50% now. I knock wood, and keep my fingers crossed.

By the way, don’t think it’s over. The pacemaker has to be checked every three months to be sure it’s working.  I also now need to take five medications a day (although not amiodorone, thank God), three of them twice a day (including the Eliquis). They don’t bother me particularly, although one of them does slow me down.  My brain says, “Move!” and I can’t, because something in the body holds back. Moreover, the costs of the non-generic meds have pushed me into the doughnut hole this year, where I’ve never been before. Only Americans over 65 with Medicare Part D insurance for the price of pharmaceuticals will understand what this means.  Once you reach the doughnut hole you’re on the hook for 45% of the cost of your medication for the rest of the calendar year (until you’ve spent $5000 on your own), despite  substantial monthly premiums. One of mine (Eliquis), which you see advertised on the evening network news quite frequently in the United States, costs $1,100+ without insurance for a three-month supply. They don’t mention that in the commercial. But that’s another post.

Oh, I mustn’t overlook my jolly internist – the one who blamed the a-fib on too much pickled herring; he says that at my age (that word again!) it takes a year to get back the strength lost from three weeks in bed. Of course you don’t just wait for it to come back. You have to exercise, keep moving. God forbid you spend a day just reading, or writing, or lollygagging around.

It all keeps you aware you exist only as long as one small, tired 87-year-old organ goes on valiantly beating – with lots of medical and pharmaceutical help.  I never felt particularly vulnerable and fragile before. Now I do. Which hasn’t stopped me from making new plans.  But still…. It’s a different universe I inhabit.

Why didn’t I blog about all this while it was happening? Well, for one thing, I didn’t know how it was going to come out.  For another, until recently I couldn’t.  In bed, shaky hands, foggy thoughts?  Really?  But now we’re all caught up. If I ever figure out how to change the name of ‘The Getting Old Blog” to “On Being Old,” you’ll understand why.

NEVER TOO OLD FOR ADVENTURE!

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Am I still up for adventure? I’m about to find out.

I haven’t been overseas since 2009. In 2010, I had my right hip replaced during peak travel months. (The hip decided the timing, not me.) For much of 2011, Bill wrestled with erythromelalgia, a  rare nerve disease of the extremities — in his case feet.  It causes extreme pain and you don’t want to get it. Thank God it’s intermittent. All we both hoped for that year was for it to go away, not for us to go away. In 2012 and 2013 came more physical deterrents of one sort or another, none fatal but none travel-friendly. And then his asymptomatic pulmonary fibrosis developed its symptoms, which put the kibosh on any kind of intercontinental movement, even if we had wanted to go in such gloomy circumstances.  But now it’s 2017, my passport’s good, and I’m off tomorrow — age 86 — for seven days of a sponsored program in Dublin, to discover what I can still do.

Why Dublin?  Because (1) it’s one of the very few short programs in the Road Scholar brochure marked “Easy.” Baby steps to begin with. And also (2) I needed a euro country, preferably one where I hadn’t been before.  When downsizing last year, I found inside Bill’s old wallets and mine 380 euros left over from all the lovely summer and autumn traveling we did together in Greece and France and Italy and Portugal.  Every year when our holiday was over, we would bring euros home as a magical promise to ourselves we were going back.  These last ones certainly aren’t accomplishing anything languishing inside my passport case inside a bureau drawer. They need to be where they can do their business.

I had forgotten going away takes such a lot ofpreliminary work (and dollars). But now I’ve arranged for cat care and plant care and being driven to the airport and back… and had my hair cut (and colored) and toenails done and did my own fingernails and notified family and the front desk downstairs as to my coming whereabouts and how to reach me…and broke in a pair of ankle-high wine-colored leather walking shoes and trimmed the packing list down to whatever will fit in a carry-on — challenging, because it’s not summer weather in Dublin anymore. It looks like if I’m ready to go.

I realize every brochure is partly PR, but Road Scholar usually delivers.  So if you’re curious about some of what I might be doing and seeing starting Wednesday, and if you can read the print below on whatever device you’re using to access this post, here’s what they’ve promised:

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Spoiler alert: no more blog posts till I return and recover from jet lag. Not that I’ve been the soul of regularity in the past year or so.  But I have been trying for a post a week lately. Alas, this one will have to do for at least two weeks. However, I shall return.

Wish me luck, wish me fun.  

OLD’S NOT ALWAYS BAD

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For cut flowers bought in a shop, these carnations are very old.  Survivors, you might say.  I carried them home two weeks ago today, part of an ill-advised purchase of red wanna-be petunias that were really something else (what I still don’t know), plus these rimmed carnations, plus a large bunch of spiky greens, all of which I disliked intensely once I had managed to stuff every last stem into an oversized container fit for major floral condolence.  I had wanted yellow flowers, or orange ones, and not too many. I had wanted to put them in my own much smaller rectangular glass vase, wanted them to look at home.  Instead what I let myself be talked into was stiff, institutional, fancy. (SeeMeditation on Flowers,” two posts back.).

But after ten days, the petunia wanna-be’s began to shed their red petals all over the glass table top. The spiky green things wilted and yellowed.  The carnations hung on. Time isn’t always the enemy.  Now that I have only the carnations, they seem more orange. And now they do look the way I wanted them to, a little sloppy, a little droopy, just right next to Bill’s orange bowl.

They’re not going to last, I know that. If you look closely, you can see one carnation has given up, its stem bent sharply towards the ground.  Several of the others are beginning to wrinkle. But even if it’s just for now, that’s fine.  Isn’t now all any of us have, even the young who feel they’ll live forever?

For now, there’s also a bonus.  It’s on my other table, in a little vase I’ve had since I was twenty-seven.  That’s fifty-nine years ago.  Old can surprise you.  Hang on.

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