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.

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39 thoughts on “SO WHAT HAPPENED?

  1. Hi Nina, glad you’re back. Sorry to hear you have had such a rough time health wise. Hope you are regaining your strength. It took a lot of courage to go to Ireland on your own. It is a lovely country.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Leslie, for the kind sentiments. But I wasn’t really on my own. As explained in the last post filed before I left in September 2017, I was traveling under the auspices of an organization called “Road Scholars.” (It used to be called “Elderhostel.”) There were sixteen or seventeen Americans in the Dublin group. Although none of us knew each other personally when we began the trip, by the farewell dinner we certainly did. There was also a group leader who was responsible for our well being. Had anything happened to any of us, she would have immediately been on her cell phone to the Road Scholar office for directions as to how to respond. So I was pretty safe.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just today I was talking about you. A blogger posted about
    fellow bloggers who drop off the face of the earth and I said that I had one who went on a vacation and I never saw a post again. That worried me (rightfully it seems) that something medical happened. I always complain that it’s not the wrinkles of getting older, it’s the diminishing energy level. Or even interest. I laughed at your trip as I would have revolted against too must tourism! I am glad that you are doing better. Stay away from the pickled herring! Donut holes! The biggest fear of anyone on Medicare.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You were prescient, Kate. “Something medical” indeed! You’re also right about the diminished energy and diminishing areas of interest. (There begins to be less and less point to anything but the really important stuff — what’s for dinner, what meds you’re swallowing, what bad things are happening to everyone else in your age bracket. Well, I jest. Somewhat.). I can’t say I’m okay with the wrinkles, though. I retouch selfies where I can. And yes, I’m now terrified of pickled herring!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the update Nina. I thought about you often and missed you. I could write a long comment about my reactions and thoughts on what you’ve written. But I don’t think it would add much to what is here. You’re telling the story of old age. I really know what you’re talking about, even if I’ve been living a different version of the same thing. You lasted longer than I did before feeling your age, and I’m happy for the good days you had… and hoping for you that there will be more good days now and ahead, even if they’ll have a slightly different character. With my best wishes always.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your warm, kind and understanding comment, Shimon. I too hope to have more good days. (Depending on how we define “good.”) Of course, one can’t say how many of those days there are going to be. So each one has got to count. Receiving all the welcoming responses to my blogging return yesterday and today has certainly made both of those days very very good ones! It’s amazing how much people one has “met” through blogging, although outside of “real life,” have come to matter.

      By the way, is the email noted in the “About” section of your blog still current? If not, please send the new one via the email in my avatar. I will write privately.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Nina, though the email address on my about page is correct, I tried to find your address without success. Checked the avatar, but just found the website. If I had yours, I would write first. But if you’re shy, you can just send your email to humpict[at]gmail.com

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  4. Thank goodness it wasn’t the pickled herring. They are a national institution where I come from. You look great and having survived those medical hiccups deserves a standing ovation. Well done, Nina.
    Your writing is as sharp and funny as ever. I too wondered how you were going. I had not taken you off my list of ‘favourites.’
    A most encouraging post for those that are also steadfastly and so stoically shuffling towards the pearly gates. What can one do?

    Thank you, Nina.

    Gerard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a terrific fan you are, Gerard! Your responses always make me feel good, and this one was a double-dip with sprinkles on top. “You look great” plus “sharp and funny” writing — what more could an eighty-seven year old want? But don’t shuffle! Head up, stand tall (no problem for you), step forward decisively, and hope the pearly gates are a long way off!

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  5. Nina! So happy and relieved to see you back. I was thinking of you, and many a time nearly sent you a message. (So why didn’t I? There was a hunch that you were probably very preoccupied with more pressing matters…and I can see my hunch was “right” – in some ways)

    Just very glad to hear from you again.
    Please do try and take it easy 🙂

    All best,
    Takami

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish you had sent a message, Takami. I’d have been happy to receive it and also to email back. I’m certainly glad to hear from you now. I’ve been following your exquisite photography blog, although I don’t comment. (Most of the comments seem to be in Japanese, anyway!). I hope you’re thinking of having an exhibit, or putting the photographs in a book!

      I think “taking it easy” is probably the wrong prescription, although I know it’s kindly meant. All the medication I take certainly keeps me from “overdoing,” but every source of advice to the old (or to anyone wishing to maintain health and physical happiness) is to keep moving and doing — as much and as long as one can. Perhaps I’ll even get to Japan at least once before packing it in!

      xoxox
      Nina

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Nina ❤
        Actually, I did send a brief email at the end of last year, but it was returned… I wasn't sure if you'd updated your email address, or perhaps it was my inept computer "skillz" 😉 I will try and send another test mail after posting this message…

        "Take it easy" – I meant it in a positive and figurative way. So I'm glad you didn't get the wrong impression. (Aaah, English is so tricky. Especially when it's typed on a screen. Because it's difficult to get the nuances across ;))

        I'm so happy you've still been following my blog, even if in "lurker mode" Please do feel free to comment if you are up to it! Most of the comments are still in English 😀 And thank YOU for your kind words re: photo exhibit or creating a book. I really hope to get around to this in the not so distant future.

        I also hope to visit NYC again. It would be wonderful to meet in person, even for a brief coffee. That would be grand 🙂

        Warmly,
        Takami

        (PS…this sounds very shallow. But you do look beautiful in the photos as always)

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  6. Hi Nina. I figured something not so. wonderful has been going on. Last time we spoke you were getting ready to go to Ireland. btw – love the photo with Joe Biden! I think you may remember that at the same time Jon was going down hill rapidly because of ALS. He died at the old old age of 47 on Thanksgiving day 2017. I guess that’s one holiday that will disappear from my annual calendar. So glad you are safely ensconced in that lovely apartment. If you would like a visit, please text me. xoxo Isabelle

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Isabelle,

      What a nice surprise to see you here! I was wondering who “King in 1” was. I believe you were already following the blog via email; you’re on the WordPress list of email followers. So now you’ve joined up! Are you going to begin blogging?

      I did know about Jon. After I got out of hospital the first time, I emailed you and you told me. It’s just about the worst thing I can imagine happening to anyone. Every time I drive past Queenston Commons I think of him. And you. I’m so so sorry.

      I’d also love to visit and hear how you’re managing, but I’m going to Florida on Monday for a long overdue trip to one son and his children. (My first airplane outing since the a-fib.) Will definitely text when I get back. Maybe you’d like to come over for a Windrows meal. Or we could go out. Whatever. The getting together is the main thing.

      xoxox. N.

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  7. Nina, thanks for letting the World Wide Web out here know what happened to you. I am listening. I care to hear all the details, the good and the bad. I am sending warm hugs via the internet.

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    • And warm hugs right back, Janet. If you weren’t so frighteningly busy (as per your blog), I’d even suggest we meet, being in the same relatively small state and all. But I guess the hugs will have to be virtual for now. As for “all the details,” surely you don’t mean what fun it is to be in Intensive Care, scribbling demands in a little notebook because of inability to talk while intubated? As for the good (?) and bad details of being old, that’s surely coming. Except for memoir, what else would I be writing about now?

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  8. So happy to have you back on the blog, Nina. So happy that you have survived that long episode with your heart. And I’m so happy you had the opportunity to take that trip to Ireland.

    Thank you for writing all about it. Your story was instructive, and we all need to know about reality. It is the blog post I couldn’t put down until I finished reading.

    I turned 70 in June, and already I’m feeling old. Even worse, I’ve been experiencing some fear about the years ahead. I think facing fear head on is one of the most important ways to live. It helps if one can learn about and understand the situation, and acknowledge the fear. Your excellent essay has helped me to at least begin that process. Thank you! I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to hear from you, John. I’m not sure how my experience could have been instructive (unless you already have signs of heart trouble), but I’m certainly pleased, as a writer, you found the post so engaging that you couldn’t put it down.

      From my point of view, at 70 you’re a youngster. But it’s true that illness is something to fear as one ages — both financially and physically if one lives alone, as I recall you do (or did). I do remember we had some discussion several years back about Medicare Part D; at the time you felt that you took so few meds and those generic, that you were going to forgo signing up for Part D, which involves pricey monthly premiums subtracted from Social Security. The “doughnut hole” is scary, but going bareback (without insurance) once you develop a chronic condition that requires non-generic pharmaceuticals is even scarier; it can bankrupt someone with only modest resources very soon. There’s also the question of reaching the point where you may need an aide for part or all of the day. I won’t be able to afford that and my guess is you won’t either, unless you were prudent enough to buy long-term care insurance (which I could never afford when I was younger). In New Jersey, the cost for an aide is $22 to $25 an hour. That’s $100 a day for four hours help — or $700 a week! It may be less in Florida, but not by much. The alternative is to spend down all your resources and enter a nursing facility on Medicaid. (That assumes we still have Medicaid by the time we may need it, given the Emperor currently in the White House.)

      Scary enough for you? It scares me too, but I try not to think about it much. I think we can’t second guess the future too closely, and sometimes answers of a sort present themselves in time.

      All best,
      Nina

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      • Your point about Medicare part D prescription insurance is spot on. I was fortunate to find the Humana/Walmart part D insurance, which is not the best available, but is probably the most affordable. I think nobody should take the chance of going without the part D prescription coverage. As for the other medical expenses you mentioned, I just don’t know. One thing for sure, I won’t have to try very hard to qualify for Medicaid If that time comes. Taking all things one day at a time. Maybe even one step at a time. 😉

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  9. Gosh, Nina… quite a time you’ve had of it. Like so many of your readers, I was concerned that something serious had happened, and I returned many times to your blog, in case my ‘auto email’ had inadvertently neglected to advise me of a new post. That’s the thing with blogging, isn’t it… you become connected with people you have no ‘real life’ link with, and when the blog posts inexplicably dry up, you’re left wondering and worrying, in the ether. It certainly sounds as if you’ve had a very tough time, emotionally as well as physically, I suspect, in the last eleven months. Doubtless your wellspring of inner strength and positivity, about which we have learned so much over the years you’ve been blogging, has stood you in good stead. I’m so glad you have pulled through, and it’s just great, really, really great, to see you here on your blog again. x

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    • What a fine, warm, responsive “virtual” friend you are, Julie. I really do appreciate it. But I don’t know about “inner strength and positivity.” What other choices are there? You either give up and die, or struggle to the surface again. I used to think women were more resilient than men in confronting life changes. I may be wrong about that. But as one grows older, resilience does seem to be key. Acknowledge what is, and adapt to it: change what you can, and learn to enjoy what you can’t.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Resilience is not so easily come by, but it’s a precious asset. It’s served you well, Nina. I’m so happy you kept struggling back to the surface.

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  10. Seth Malin

    Hi Nina.So glad you survived purgatory and are now back in the land of the living.I had been to Ireland a few years ago and loved it.Just prior to trip had read “Ulysses “.Then discovered exhibit at Chester Beatty Museum of beautiful glass creations each of which represented a chapter of Joyce’s novel.

    Love your picture with Joe Biden.Hope he stays in good health and runs in 2020.

    Betty Davis once said that “old age ain’t for sissies “.I think she would have admired you.

    SM

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was in that “Ulysses” class with you, Seth! So was Bill, at least for a while, until Joyce defeated him. It was the main reason I went to Dublin. I wanted to get out to the Martello tower (where the book begins) too, but it wasn’t on the itinerary and would have cost 80 euros round trip by cab. So it didn’t happen. We do what we can. The Chester Beatty Museum we got to on the last day; by then I was feeling “Meh” about a lot of what was in it. (Sorry.) Are you still taking classes over at the Suzanne Patterson Center?

      About your hoping Biden runs in 2020: Me too. He looks fit and trim for whatever age he is. I told him he’s even better-looking in life than in his photos. He laughed and said, “Tell that to my wife!”

      Glad you think I’m not a sissy!

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  11. Oh my! Glad you’re back although I wish your story had a better middle part — after your meeting with Biden. Hospitals are no place for the young OR old! Glad you have a happy-ish ending, though, that’s for sure.

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    • Thank you, Elyse. I’m glad I’m back too. And yes, hospitals are terrifying places, although almost all of the personnel really do try to be sympathetic. Except maybe the phlebotomists — coming round every four hours, 24/7. I got out of there black and blue all up and down my arms and hands: partly the result of the blood thinners, but mainly of the five to six heartless — “we’re going to get blood out of you no matter what!” — sticks a day!

      P.S. The middle parts of stories are where all of the plot is. As plots go, mine was pretty exciting — at least to me. A matter of actual life or death!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Nina, I thought of you in January 2018 and left a message on your last blog post. Wondered how you were doing! Now I know! (shakes head) So sorry to read about your A-fib medical problem. It’s a definite slowing down of your usual living pace. The getting your head around the change more than likely difficult. My sister has A-fib and experiences anger & frustrating moments. Understandable. The aging years sometimes not what we’d like them to be. Sending you good thoughts and peaceful days! 🎉 Christine

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  13. Thanks so much, Christine. Unlike your sister, though, I’m not angry or frustrated. Just grateful I got through it and am now out of it, with the help and support of a wonderfully caring cardiologist. Actually, I feel pretty good. For how long, who knows? But isn’t that true of all of us?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you for the thoroughly explained medical process. Although I am still in the ‘young old’ category, no amount of good diet and exercise can trick me into thinking I can forestall the inevitable medical problems that will come my way, whether it be atrial fib or something else. I do hope I can be as clear thinking as you when it comes knocking on my door. Be well – or as well as we can be.

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