Someone asked me recently how old I am and I said I am eighty-five but I only feel eighty-four. I am not complaining. I hope to stick around for as long as I can. Chances look good. Physically I am a pathetic old thing to look at, but the vital organs work as well as they ever did. Mentally I’m nothing to boast about, but I get by with what’s there.
Coping with old age can be a challenge.
Waking in the morning, if one is so fortunate, can be the most challenging part of the day. Just getting out of bed can be dangerous.
First, you really ought to be able to see. You feel about on the bedside table for your glasses. In doing so you knock over a bottle of aspirin, the alarm clock and the table lamp. Eventually the glasses turn up on page thirty-seven of “How To Improve Your Memory,” the book you were reading when you fell asleep.
Second, you need to hear. Hearing aids have a life of their own. Mine are little rubbery things with metal attachments that whistle. Often I can even hear with them, but mostly I rely on an ability to read lips that I have developed out of necessity. Frequently they develop legs and crawl so far under the bed that you have to kneel and feel about until you retrieve them. Don’t even mention changing their cunning little batteries. Once one of them escapes it rolls even further under the bed than its parent.
Oh, and teeth! Dentures restore a little of what I used to call “my looks” so the sooner the better. They are nowhere to be seen until you spot them in the glass of chardonnay you left half empty at bedtime.
Finally you get what I laughingly call my body dressed and go to the kitchen for breakfast.
The meal consists of one half of an English muffin for me, the other half for Peaches, acceptable to her only if it is generously smeared with extra crunchy peanut better.
You remember that you have an appointment at CBS to pitch an idea for a television pilot. It’s not like the good old days when you had two shows on the air and were making a million dollars a minute for them. The receptionist asks your name twice now and when you are finally in the presence of the twelve-year-old executive in charge he helps you to your seat and offers you a glass of warm milk.
You are half way to the appointment when you realize that you are still in your pajama bottoms.
You return home and are greeted at the door by a pretty woman who claims she is your wife. You decide you had good taste when you were choosing a mate, but you wonder what her name is.
This is also the time of “the fall!” Every family has a story of “the fall.” It is a landmark in the lives of most people in, what for some puzzling reason are called, their “golden” years.
“After Aunt Edna’s fall she never got out of bed again!”
“After Dad’s fall he was never the same.”
“When Mama had her fall she just laid there!”
I had my fall a few weeks ago.
Jane and I were going to the beach house for the weekend. It was one of those spring days when every plant in the garden was bursting with new life. The morning was cool and there was a special slant of light that illuminated earth and sky. It was one of those mornings when nobody is looking I cry out in awe and wonder: “Good Morning World!”
The car was mostly packed. Jane was trying to round up Peaches who goes berserk with excitement when she hears the word “beach.” She has a vocabulary of close to two hundred words so Jane and I have to spell things out a lot.
There are three steps from our front gate down to the road. I maneuvered two but missed the third one and went sprawling out onto the street.
I may have been unconscious for a few moments but when I came to I wondered what I was doing there. When I tried to get up nothing worked, and then I saw BLOOD!
It was then I started shouting for Jane, but she was at the far end of the house trying to lasso Peaches and did not hear me. When Peaches becomes excited she has running fits and has to be cornered before she can be hooked to her leash.
I decided that my only hope was if someone were to drive past and would have the decency not to run over me and quite possibly stop and ask if I needed help. Ordinarily vehicles race along our narrow country road at all hours of the night and day. Many of the drivers aim their vehicles at children, old people and dogs but so far the kids and old folks and our dogs have been nimble enough to avoid fatal injury.
Unable to reach Jane and still seeing blood I decided that my life was ebbing away, but I was consoled by the fact that my last living moments I would experience the jasmine that is in full intoxicatingly rich perfume by the front gate.
Finally Jane came to the back door and rather plaintively called, ”Earl, where ARE you?”
“Here,” I croaked in what I thought might be my final words on earth. I regretted the moment for I have often rehearsed what I want to be my final words and I certainly did not want them to be ‘here.’ And certainly did not plan to deliver them face down in some remote country road in the Hollywood Hills. One of my favorite last words I planned to deliver in Sweden when I hoped to accepts the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. Another was before the Virginia State Legislature when I extolled the virtues of my native Nelson County. For too long it has been associated with bootleggers and xenophobic hillbillies. There are people back there now who know how to read and write for God’s sake and I wanted to tell the world.
Jane rises to every occasion with grace and composure, but it is in the face of disaster that she amazes me most. I have seen her cope with fire, flood and famine and I am sure that when “the big one” comes, as we are promised that earthquake will, she will save us all.
Discovering me face down in the street, bleeding and broken, she helped me to a sitting position and assured me that I would live. All the while she was staunching the blood and cleaning it away from my forehead and hands. The injuries were not all that severe but I take a blood thinner and consequently I bleed alarmingly with very little encouragement.
Once on my feet and assured that no broken bones are visible Jane led me into the house. Peaches looks at me reproachfully. She expected that we would be on our way to the beach by now.
When we finally reach the beach it is late afternoon. Both arms, wrists and a finger or two were swollen and in pain. Jane decreed that we go to the Emergency. Daughter Caroline and her husband, Pepe, always reliable and supportive, joined the effort and delivered me there.
It is a facility run by achingly beautiful young nurses and female doctors. An excruciatingly beautiful young blond nurse gave me a tetanus shot and said it wouldn’t hurt. It hurt like hell, but there was no way I was going to cringe in front of such beauty. A stunning young woman entered and introduced herself as my doctor. Her touch was cool and comforting as she examined the effected areas. The only man I laid eyes on was a nice guy named Eric who took the X-rays and recommended an excellent book which I am now reading called “The Zoo Keeper’s Wife.”
After a few hours I emerged, forehead patched up, one arm in a sling, fingers in splints, both wrists in supports, and with a prescription for Vicodan. The folks at the Emergency had done an excellent job. I was instructed to see my orthopedic doctor as soon as I got back to town.
My family doctor gave me a number for a medical group called The Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery. I made an appointment for the following day.
When Jane and I arrived in the waiting room we surrounded by tall lanky young African American men who looked like basketball players I had seen on television. When their names were called to go into the examining room they walked with a kind of strut that I admired tremendously. Another young man who walked with a limp carried a tennis racket in a leather case. A young woman, one leg in a cast, sat across from us. And one mountainous guy with legs like oak trees engaged Jane and me in a mumbled conversation in which we were able to gather that he was a professional football player and was recovering from his fifth surgery on his right leg.
In the examining room I sat slouched, dejected and depressed. Frustrated that I could not use my hands to brush my teeth, comb my hair, or open a bottle of wine (that bothered me most of all). I sat and made little sobbing noises. I felt old. I reminded myself to check to see if the will was in order. I was in pain and wondered if I would ever regain use of my arms and fingers. And then a good looking young doctor breezed in. He took one look at me and said “What’s going on, Dude?”
It was the first time in my buttoned down, conservative, bookish life anyone had ever called me “dude.” It was a moment I will treasure forever. He had bestowed the mantle of “jock” upon me.
I sat up a little straighter and decided that there was no way I was going to tell this guy that I had simply fallen ass-over-tea-kettle for no reason and muttered something about slipping while shooting baskets at the hoop over the garage door.
“Stuff happens,” said the doctor. After consulting the x-rays and a physical exam, he said, ”Let’s get rid of all this crap.”
And with that he slipped off my sling, began cutting off the splints and discarding the wrist supports. He prescribed some exercises, told me to come back in a month, gave me a high five on my least injured hand and was gone.
I am happy to report that since that day getting up in the morning is a piece of cake. My glasses, hearing aids, and dentures are much easier to find. I have developed a little strut like the one I observed the other jocks in the waiting room had perfected. Swaggering down the hall in the morning I stop to look at my image in the mirror and a dude gazes back. I continue on to my Breakfast of Champions and when I see my wife I remember her name.
Don’t look for me on the sidelines, Sports Fans; I’m off the bench and back in the game!