Even the birds don’t like getting old.
My girlfriend’s mother died recently. At 93, she lived what could easily be termed a long, full life, gathering a wellspring of friends, experiences, stories and memories along the way.
I knew Emily for the last four or five of those 93, and until she was hospitalized for good I found her vibrant, sharp, smart, non-nonsense and at the same time always offering of a smile and a willingness to do whatever was asked.
Don’t even get me started about the time her granddaughter asked her to start twerking.
Like many who age so that before you know it they’ve reached their upper 80s and 90s, the mind starts to go and they start repeating things. Emily’s favorite saying (at least the one she repeated more than the others, an average of once every 3 or 4 minutes) was , “All I’ve got to say is, getting old is for the birds.”
I probably heard her utter that cliché 200 times. Most recently, maybe in the last six months of her life, she added, “And even the birds don’t like it.”
Ah, good to know the tradition of great Jewish comedy dating back to the Marx Brothers hasn’t faded away.
As numb as I became to hearing it, though, a month after her death, I’m starting to believe it.
Once I turned 50, my body, specifically the left side, started to rebel. Now at 53, and I feel as if, after a lifetime of running, biking, hiking, and playing other sports on a sporadic basis, I’m spending all my days icing, resting, and rehabbing.
Around my 50th birthday, my lower left leg suddenly went numb. At the same time, my left quad developed a pain so intense it hurt to stand, sit and lay down. Eventually, it was diagnosed as the result of a herniated disk. The surgeon in the $800 suit who obviously wanted to upgrade to a yacht larger than the one he already owned said, “I can make a quarter-inch incision in that spot, remove that piece of the disk, sew you back up and you’ll be on your feet again in two days. “
No thanks. I’ll take rehab. Surgery and I have an understanding—we stay as far away from each other as possible.
About 8 weeks later I was back on the roads, running my usual routes in my usual slow times, around 8:40/mile. As frustrating as it was to know I’d never be the 7-minute-miler I was in college, at least I was running again. Sitting around getting fat is not an option.
And then, at 51, maybe 51 ½, my left Achilles tendon started gaining my attention. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but when the pain didn’t subside (Why would it? Where is the logic in thinking that the problem would alleviate itself despite the constant pounding?) I began icing and elevating and resting and all the stuff Runner’s World tells you to do.
Stubbornly, I finally went to my podiatrist, who recommended (what else?) icing, resting and rehabbing. Oh, and a sleeve for my Achilles and heel that looked like the support stuff I used to see old men wear when I was lad growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. I did three of the four; my insurance at the time didn’t cover rehab. Slowly I returned to my familiar paths along the shores of Lake Michigan, and my times got slower, bothersome but at least I was running again. The Achilles pain would come and go, but I managed it and soldiered on.
Until last month. Minding my own business on a Sunday morning run, 2-miles into a 7-miler, I swear someone stealthily came up behind me and fastened a clamp to my left lower calf. The pain stopped me dead in my tracks. Good thing my 18-year old was awake at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning (a rarity indeed!); she had to come to my rescue. All of a suddenly, I was the damsel in distress and she the white knight in shining armor.
Fortunately the tear was only slight and the pain subsided after a day or two thanks to (sing along if you know the words) icing and rest. Stupidly thinking that a week of rest would take care of the issue, I went out again the following Friday morning to test drive the calf. I didn’t make it to the end of the block when my leg screamed at me to cease and desist immediately. Dejected, I walked back to my third-floor walkup and called the doctor.
After pulling and prodding and poking and pressuring the spot, he confirmed what I had suspected—a torn left gastrocnemius. “Old athlete’s injury,” was his scientific term for what I had done. “We like to think we’re young, when we’re not,” he continued. “You don’t need surgery (thank God – I wasn’t interested in visiting the man in the $800 suit again), but I would like you to (drum roll) start rehab immediately.”
The injury hasn’t kept me from bike riding—I write this after completing an hour long ride this morning—or any of life’s other daily activities (like a month’s worth of laundry after the 13-year old returned from camp). I just can’t run—yet.
Old athlete’s injury. I wonder if Dr. Fox knew Emily Karp.
Getting old is for the birds. And she’s right, even the birds don’t like it.
Photo credit: Getty Images