How Did I Get Here (July, 2012)
July 1, 2012Remaining Vital After 50
These past weeks I have been taking a friend into Seattle to have medical tests to try to figure out what has been causing her health problems, which have been many and serious. I sit in the meetings with the docs so that I can go over what has been said with her later in the day, or even over the next few weeks. Often when we are anxious, I find, we don’t hear everything we are being told. Having a friend along who can hear when we cannot is a big help. This is something my friends and I willingly do for one another, even though it is stressful. We know we will be taking turns.
I am also finding that talking to someone else about his or her …what can I call it: deterioration, ugly as that sounds; helps me accept my own. Compared to most of my close friends, I am a bastion of health. I swim 80 laps two times a week, and take Nia for an hour four times. In-between I walk in the woods or on the beach down the street from my home. But when I arise in the middle of the night for my bathroom call, I am stiff, a new issue these last couple of years. It is difficult for me to lie on my side with my arm beneath my shoulder, though that is the way I have slept my entire life. My back hurts if I sit at the computer too long. Sometimes I shake my head when I type, which looks weird my daughter tells me. My tissue is thinning, my skin getting splotches. I forget words, wonderful for a writer. And most annoying for me, I don’t have the energy I used to and tire easily. I hate all of it, but can’t complain because several of my friends have illnesses that are actually life threatening.
But there is good news. One of the docs I saw with my friend was a neurologist. Fortunately she had no problems in that area, but we both ended up talking to the female doc about our memory loss and how distressing it is to us both. She said that when she went to med school she was taught that we all lose brain cells as we age, and there is nothing to be done about it. Now they know otherwise. Both of us perked up. “What can we do?” we happily asked. Quite a bit was her reply. First we can do a half hour of aerobic exercise five times a week. My friend used to do this, but had stopped because of some of her symptoms. The doc told her to resume, though building her tolerance slowly. This seemed like sound advise to me, since my friend has fainted while walking a few times, once even breaking her wrist. I already exercise that much, but I still have memory loss. This I explained to the doc with some chagrin. She told me I could raise my intake of healthy fats, like nuts and coconut oil. She even suggested using the stuff in place of butter in some of my cooking and baking. Coconut flavored brownies sounded intriguing though I haven’t yet figured out how to measure the stuff in ounces. Bed, Bath & Beyond should have a useful tool for that.
It should come as no surprise that I am swimming faster to make sure my workout is aerobic. Nia is not an issue; often I’m out of breath, which I’ll never grumble about again, even in my own head. I have bought a huge jar of nuts at Costco, and find I am enjoying them. They are more filling than chips, which I shouldn’t have been eating anyway, and I don’t have to eat many to feel full. I have stir-fried vegetables with coconut oil, and they taste great that way. Any bitterness in the kale disappears. So far I still forget words as I’m typing, but they come back to me faster, or maybe that’s wishful thinking.
What’s best about all this is to learn that I can be pro-active not only about my body’s changes, but about those cell losses in my brain. If I hadn’t taken my friend to the doctor in Seattle, that is not something I would have ever thought of asking my own regular doctor, because I had assumed it was not only normal, but irreversible. How heartening to discover that is not true. The only down side: if I keep this up I may not have time for my friends, my partner, or my work, especially if the time you have to give to all of this increases with age. That she did not tell us, so probably a useless concern. Until I hear that is so, I will carry on with it all, and with more good humor.
Nancy Alvarez began writing at Sarah Lawrence College and has written articles for the New York Times Magazine and Cosmopolitan. She has also written for several television shows and movies, including“The Waltons.” Her first novel, “Ladycat” was published by Crown in 1980 under the name Nancy Greenwald. She has taught screen writing at UCLA Extension, as well as in the Masters of Professional Writing at USC as well. She is currently working on a multi-generational novel set in Austria, Poland, New York and New Jersey. Her latest book, "Little Nancy," can be found in the TTN Bookstore. Nancy can be reached at either http://www.nancyalvarezwrites.com or www.facebook.com/NancyAlvarezWrites.