SO WHAT HAPPENED?

Standard

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.

fullsizeoutput_cc1

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.)

fullsizeoutput_ca0

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”).

fullsizeoutput_cf3

Crossing the Liffey.

fullsizeoutput_cf6

Walking up Grafton Street.

fullsizeoutput_e0f

Lunchtime at St. Michael’s Wood.

fullsizeoutput_cb9

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.

Advertisements

AS I WAS SAYING (five months ago)….

Standard

fullsizeoutput_9b1

Selling a house/condo/apartment takes fakery, the same kind of fakery as selling almost anything else in a market economy, including yourself.  But you read all about faking the “anything else” in my last post. ( “Faking It,” February 2, 2017.)  So let’s move on to profitable unloading of real estate.  Very few people wanting to buy seem to be really clear about what they’re looking for.  Oh, they may say it’s location — location, location, as the realtors are wont to chant ad nauseam. Or square footage.  Or number of rooms. Or a sunny kitchen. Or a good public school for the children.  And it may well be some or all of those things are what they hope for. But when the realtor shows them the location, the footage, the rooms, the sun on the breakfast table (not so easy in itself), they will still dither and waffle and toe the sand and think about it. And think about it. And think about it.  And get back you. Maybe.

For a speedy sale you’ve got to enchant them, open their minds to a fairy tale life:  the life they imagine they could have in your house/condo/ apartment. Of course they never will have that life. Nobody does.  Nobody keeps their kitchen counters immaculately empty except  for one perfect appliance (perhaps a Museum of Modern Art toaster) and a charming French pot of herbs near the window. Nobody’s stove top is free of cooking utensils, except for a little red enamel teakettle. Nobody’s rooms are junk-free, emptied of detritus, piles of this and that on the floor, children’s toys, cat trees, litter boxes. Almost nobody’s bathroom counters aren’t crammed with toothbrushes, mouthwashes, beauty aids, Kleenex boxes, deodorant, Q-tips.

But you can play let’s pretend.  You can be the fairy godmother who transports your potential buyer into never-never land. Of course, it’ll take more than just airily waving a wand to whisk away all the imperfections of real life.  You’ll have to pile the kitchen stuff in the oven, in the broom closet, in the dishwasher.  You’ll have to buy some Sterilite boxes and sweep the bathroom mess into them, for storage under the sink.  You’ll have to clear the tops of your furniture except  for one or two really good decorative objects.  You’ll have to polish those tops till they shine. Into the closets with everything else! Then up with the shades, on with the lights! Let everything be bright and cheery and uncluttered and clean! That’s what modern fairy godmothers do.

I learned about this sleight-of-hand back in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2005, when I sold a condo all by myself for the very first time. I was beginning to tell you about it in that last post  — published, alas, much too long ago. That was a post designed to set us up (in its “To be continued” promise), for an account of my second sale, which was of the condo Bill and I lived in together for ten years, until he died. That second sale would have the logical next chapter in the ongoing saga of my life after his death. However, the ongoing-ness interfered with the blog. (I won’t explain, except to say there was too much happening at once, too soon, to digest and write about it.)

And now that I’m a year past the worst of it, even selling our home last year has become stale news.  So let me summarize quickly:  The Cambridge sale in 2006 was a great success. I had bought that first condo (two bedrooms, one bath) for $200,000, lived in it for eleven years (the last four with Bill), and sold it (after learning to play fairy godmother) for between two and three times what I’d bought it for.  True, I sold in a rising market.  But still…. There was even a bidding war after the first open house.  Two potential buyers even asked if they could also buy everything in it, it looked so nice, so ready-to-move-into.  (And this “everything” was mostly my mother’s old furniture and knick-knacks, from the 1960’s). With that kind of success, “staging” (aka faking it) was a lesson I didn’t forget.

A couple of photos should give you an idea of what that Cambridge condo apartment looked like in its “wouldn’t it be nice if” fairy-tale period, until the closing:

DSC00567

Looking into Cambridge dining room from living room (after staging).  Portion of living room in photo below.

DSC00560

Thus, when it came time to sell the Princeton condo last year, I knew just what to do. In a way it was easier without Bill, although being without him was why I had to sell; we didn’t have to argue about where to put what where.  There was a garage and half the basement for storage (we’d turned the other half into a furnished room); we already had a lot of Sterilite boxes in multiple sizes; and I did a lot of dragging things up and down stairs on my own, to tuck them out of sight. Then the realtor brought in a professional photographer.  He put the camera on the floor. “Why is he doing that?” I asked.  “It makes for better pictures,” the realtor whispered.

It sure did. I may have played the role of fairy godmother to my property; the photographer played fairy godfather.  His camera placement and wide-angled lens turned a modest, nicely furnished condo, now “staged,” into a magical dream.  Who wouldn’t want to live there? Even though I knew how much trickery had gone into what we produced together, I loved his pictures so much I bought a set, to keep forever and forever after they vanished from the internet, post-sale.  Although it never really looked like this when Bill and I lived there with our two British Blue cats (their grey hairs over everything, their litter scattered on the bathroom floors), I could imagine, couldn’t I?  For one shining moment (e.g., ten days), this beautifully spacious sunlit dream house was mine.

There was another bidding war.  I don’t know what the successful buyer was thinking when she offered the slightly inflated asking price. But I didn’t ask. I needed her money to buy myself and the cats a much smaller apartment — one bedroom with “den” (a separate room, although minus a closet) — in an over-55 community, and then fix it up to my liking. (Wood floors, white walls, more lights, etc.) So I busied myself with that.  It’s where I’m living now.  A very different kind of place, and a different kind of life. I’m sure you’ll be hearing at least something about it in future posts.

But I still have the photos of what 35 McComb looked like through the photographer’s camera eye just before its sale. And although I know it’s not really a good idea to keep looking back — I might turn into a pillar of salt  — I do take those photos out from time to time.  So you’ll have to see them too, to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. The front door is at the top of the post.  You can leave whenever you like.  I left out photos of the three bathrooms and the laundry room, so as not to overtax your indulgence. But if you do stay till the end of the tour, just remember — this is what “faking it” looks like:

fullsizeoutput_9b2

fullsizeoutput_9b3

fullsizeoutput_9b4

fullsizeoutput_a18

fullsizeoutput_a17

fullsizeoutput_9cc

fullsizeoutput_9ca

fullsizeoutput_9c8

fullsizeoutput_9c6fullsizeoutput_9c2fullsizeoutput_9bdfullsizeoutput_9b9fullsizeoutput_9b7fullsizeoutput_9b6fullsizeoutput_9b5All the same, and even when you’re too old for fairy tales, a little make believe is nice….. (Sigh.)

 

AND THEN…

Standard

I can’t tell you what happened after I drove away from the Princeton hospital in the middle of the afternoon on May 6 because I don’t remember much about it, other than that I kept swerving erratically as I turned the wheel and was repeatedly honked at.  I suppose I survived because the honkers were also good drivers.  But I did manage to get myself back into my own driveway behind Bill’s red Honda, and then into the house through the garage door, carrying the hospital plastic bag containing everything he had had on when we had checked him in seven days before.  I couldn’t unpack it.  I just put it down.  It was all I had left of him.  It would still smell of him.  And I had to save that until I could cry.

Just then I couldn’t cry.  I sat on the family room sofa to call my two sons to tell them it was over.  They must have said the right things, each in his fashion, but I don’t remember what they said.  Did my voice shake? It must have.  I don’t remember.  Then I must have used Bill’s phone, which had a reduced overseas rate plan, to call his oldest niece in Israel and afterwards his Swiss first wife, mother of his older son, in Geneva.  His niece, who is a psychotherapist, was very kind. I do remember the kindness of her voice, but not her words. It was something about now I had to take care of myself.  His first wife (who speaks English and also likes me) was so matter-of-fact that I actually do remember what she said. It was that she was sorry but after all he had lived a long life, and I had my sons. She also invited me to visit if I ever come to Switzerland.

After that, I must have fed the cats and petted them and petted them.  They knew something was wrong.  Bill hadn’t been home for a week and I was clearly not myself.  They kept rubbing their furry cheeks against me in an unusual display of either affection or distress. I cleaned the litter boxes, and forced myself to drink an Orgain, of which there were over a dozen left in the fridge for Bill.  (Orgain is a somewhat more nutritious, and expensive, version of Ensure, that last nutritional resort for people who have difficulty eating enough).  I was numb.  I put my checkbook in my purse for tomorrow and went upstairs with the sole thought that I had to get some sleep because the next morning I needed to drive to the undertaker, who would have by then removed the body from the hospital — to pay him for having done that and for the cremation that would follow.  We had some old sleeping pills in the bathroom cabinet, but I was afraid to take one, or even half of one, lest I not wake up in time.  I stayed in bed all night, but if I slept I don’t remember it.

The undertaker was professionally solicitous. Sleepless and still in a state of shock, I resented it. He didn’t know me, he didn’t care about me, he was really only interested in my business — which he was going to get anyway because he took care of 90% of the dead in Princeton (as he was quick to assure me when I inquired).  I particularly resented his oily deference and lowered voice when, after obtaining the requisite information for the death certificate, and learning that I had no interest in buying any of his pretentious urns, he informed me that the fee for having removed the body and for the cremation would be $3,000, payable before I left.

Does anyone haggle in such circumstances? Did I really have any viable option?  Deciding it might be more prudent to hold on to cash for the time being, I kept the checkbook out of sight and gave him a credit card in payment.  My mother’s identical cremation in Palm Springs, California, sixteen years earlier, had cost slightly over $300.  I asked him what he charged people who couldn’t afford the fee.  He said if they could prove they were being supported by the state, there was a reduced price, which they could pay in installments.  He also said because his establishment was in the center of town and he needed a lot of space in back for mourners to park, his real estate taxes were very high. He was sure an educated, professional woman such as myself would understand.

The educated professional woman who was allegedly myself didn’t understand much at that point, but she did understand that in a money economy, everything costs.  Even dying.  However, she didn’t have time to brood about it.  There were many other things to attend to.  I had to finalize Bill’s affairs. As important, or even more so, I needed to decide what to do about the condo, which was both too big and too expensive for me to maintain by myself past the end of 2016.  The best time to try to sell it was soon, because people with young children who were looking to buy in Princeton wanted to do it in time to register those children in the Princeton public schools before the beginning of the school year.  So if I were going to sell, I had to get it staged and on the market by early July.  But first, I had to get myself back in shape to function.

Easier said than done.  Bill died on a Friday.  By the following Monday, I felt — felt physically, in my nearly 85 year-old body — as if I might be dying too.

WHERE HAS SHE BEEN? WHAT’S SHE BEEN DOING?

Standard

Reading a Shakespeare play every week in a six-week seminar attended exclusively by “students” well over 55 where everyone but me seems to be an expert. I thought it would end about now, but it’s been such a success the professor agreed to extend it by one more week. So instead of being over last Monday, we’re ending next Monday. With The Tempest.  (There goes much of my weekend.)

Trying to learn the first movement of a Beethoven sonata. A very easy sonata. (No. 20) Not easy for me, though. I can’t play the rest of it as fast as I can do the rolling triplets in the left hand, and when I slow down the triplets to the speed at which I can sort of manage the rest of it, they don’t sound so good.

Adding an “easy” Chopin Prelude (No. 7) to the Beethoven. Chopin’s fingers must have been much longer than mine. I am extremely grateful to YouTube performers of this Prelude, from whom I discovered I could roll the one truly impossible chord and take the top two notes written for the right hand with the left hand by crossing it over. (A maneuver which also looks impressively graceful.) I’m also relearning how to pedal. I never realized one needed to script the pedaling. Well, maybe not everyone does. But I do, marking the score each time the foot comes up and goes down again because teaching an old dog new tricks isn’t easy without visual aids.

Tutoring English conversation again, with a fun post-graduate from Italy. She’s at Princeton collecting a living-expenses stipend to turn her dissertation (written in Milan in Italian) into a book for the general (English-speaking) reader. She’s attached to the Department of Politics; her topic is International Human Rights. At the beginning we talked only about human rights. (And a little fashion.) But then I took her grocery shopping in my car last week and we talked about tomatoes and whether it was better (and cheaper) to buy a package of twelve pieces of frozen Atlantic salmon that were going to be baked piecemeal or twelve pieces of fresh Atlantic salmon, freeze them, and defrost as needed. We also pinched avocados together. She’s a big texter and an old-style shopper – weighing everything and calculating prices minus or plus an apple. So I’m learning almost as much from her as she is from me.

Clothes-shopping for a few nice new things to replace the many not-so-nice, not-so-new things that moths had a picnic with last year when I wasn’t looking and spraying and mothballing because I was thinking about what to write for you. Gone: too-tight narrow skirt, old grey wool out-of-style pants, very old Calvin Klein pant suit that was always too good to wear and thus never got worn much; unloved black sweater set from Brooks Brothers; red cashmere turtleneck sweater. May it all R.I.P. Welcome: terrific “passionflower” merino jersey dress; bluish purple poncho-ish sweater (hides all signs of overeating); new charcoal sweater set with kimono-style long cardigan that looks like an elegant short coat without buttons.

Collecting notes, as class correspondent, for the twice-a-year magazine of the college I attended, and discovering two more classmates, plus a third classmate’s husband, have died since the last issue. This is now getting scary. Of the seven of us who took an off-campus house in our last year (which was 1951-52), leaving three places for foreign students, five are gone, and eight years ago, when last I spoke with her, the sixth was badly crippled with arthritis. I have no way of reconnecting with the foreign students, but as they were our age, it might be just as much a downer if I could.

Also reading two crappy novels for book groups I still belong to because I like the women in them; having personal struggles with the leftover Halloween candy until I bit the bullet and threw it out; making a pot roast that took too many days to finish eating; fearing annual cardiologist and pulmonologist visits because of the increasing risk of bad news each year; watching many economists give talks on YouTube in which they explain what’s wrong with the world and which particular basket it’s going to hell in – because it makes Bill happy to hear these deeply learned experts agree with him.

And wondering what I should do with TGOB going forward (besides getting older while writing it).   I feel it needs a plan, or a mission statement, or something more unifying than just what bubbles out of my head. No answer to that one yet, but at least now you’re all caught up.

And what have you all been doing?