Life Can Turn On a Dime

[Introduction from Jim Sabin: This anonymous post was published recently on the Age with Spirit blog. Via Al Martin, the editor of the blog and author of a number of posts for Over 65, I’ve received permission from the anonymous author to republish it. I wanted to do so because it discusses the psychological transition to “being old” in an especially dramatic manner. A number of Over 65 posts have discussed this transition, in the contexts of a birthday, diminished vitality, hearing loss, and whether one is working.]

Two months ago, I turned 68 while in the ICU. I was propelled there, almost literally, by being hurled over the handlebars of my bicycle while speeding downhill on a familiar back road. The accident left me with a major concussion and 14 fractures (including five ribs, my right clavicle and right forearm), only two of which required surgery.

I was nominally training for a sprint triathlon, the same one I had completed in the prior three years. ‘Training for a triathlon’ was the easy cover phrase for my staying vigorous physically as long as I could. Many of my peers are avid cyclists. Some of us, like me, are married to men older than ourselves; and in my heart of hearts I admit I needed to feel physically stronger, faster and more robust than he. It was a point of minor irritation between us that I needed to walk faster than he is comfortable doing.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be alive and almost whole, without paralysis or permanent impairment. I also feel lucky to have total amnesia of the accident and of the eight days I stayed in the ICU, and to have suffered only nominal pain after I left the ICU for three weeks in a rehab facility.

Now that I am home and substantially healing – and am able to swim again – I take stock of the body that remains mine. I woke up, as it were, undeniably an older person. I fatigue more easily. Cycling will not be part of my future (since this accident occurred without apparent cause and thus was unavoidable). I am much more risk averse. I don’t want to do anything that is likely to cause me grievous injury, since there is no prediction I will be so lucky if I fall again. I still have some double vision related to the concussion and wear eyeglasses with one side obscured, so as that I can walk and read. I walk more hesitantly, and considerably more slowly and carefully. When I descend stairs, my hand is on or very near the handrail. When I board or leave a bus, the driver gives me extra time, and I feel totally justified occupying the forward seat reserved for seniors and disabled persons. In the grocery store, other customers make way for me (the old lady with the weird glasses).

I walk either behind or next to my husband, grateful for his hand. I sense the physical world much more now as he does, with due respect for what might prove harmful. I tend to see the world much more through his eyes and feel far more sympathetically to him than I did before. This feeling of ‘being in the same place’ with him, on both a physical and attitudinal level, is the biggest hidden gift of my accident. Instead of needing to distinguish myself from him, I take shelter in him, walk more with him literally and figuratively, and feel immensely grateful for his support and medical expertise.

I will still need to address, cope with and adjust to being ‘old’ in general. On a superficial level, there is relief (aah, I don’t need to worry about whether I can do the triathlon). I know I don’t feel deprived of any external adventures; I have already experienced most of the exploratory trips I ever wanted to take in this wide world and cherish having done so. On a deeper, internal level, I have not yet taken in all of the adjustments. I know I can still use my mind, and that is a huge source of comfort. All I can say for sure is that I am in a new, later stage in life’s journey. My body is now my reminder of the limitations that accompany old age rather than my armor against it.

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