Column: The Vulnerability of Aging

The jury has returned and the decision is unanimous – I’m getting a knee replacement. In fact, I’m even being “fast-tracked” according to my doctor. I guess the MRI was conclusive; my knee is a hot mess. That’s the good news. Good, because the sooner I have the surgery and rehab, the sooner I’ll be pain-free. Those words come from the optimist in me. My inner realist has me a bit spooked, and already I’m waking up in the middle of the night worried about the post-surgical pain and long recovery. Will I be able to manage crutches and months of swelling and pain? Will I vomit from the morphine in the hospital? Will I be able to get to the bathroom alone at night? A worry-wart’s circus.

I’m convinced that as we age, we become more vulnerable. We no longer inhabit that iron-clad cloak of invincibility we wore when we were 20. Or even 30 or 40. We’re softer and ever-so-slightly frailer – life has had its way with us, in one way or another. Then we hit our 60s, and even those who are physically fit (I’m not one of them) likely notice a difference in their flexibility, strength and mental/emotional stamina. It’s just the cold reality of aging. My kryptonite is emotional stamina.

I remind myself that I’ve lived through plenty of serious illness and come out the other side. Yet, it’s cold comfort in the face of this knee replacement. Silly, right? In the grand scheme of things, my upcoming surgery is small potatoes. I have close friends who are facing cancer and debilitating spinal stenosis, and I’m busy whining about a knee replacement.

I used to pride myself on my high pain threshold, especially in light of the two major surgeries I had in 1997. The first was a 43-day hospital stay due to ulcerative colitis, and being fed through a tube in my neck for 33 days. (I remember a friend asking me what it was like being on life support. I looked at her quizzically and said: “I wasn’t on life support!” To which she replied: “Well, you couldn’t nourish yourself and had to be fed through a tube, so, yeah, it was life support.”) The reality of how sick I was shocks me to the core.

The surgeon finally performed a 7-8 hour surgery in which he removed my colon and left me with an ileostomy bag. Hours after the surgery I was bleeding internally, so they had to open me up again, repair the ‘leak’ and give me a blood transfusion.

Six months later, the surgeon opened me up again and created a J-pouch inside my body. Another 7 hour surgery. Off work and recuperating for four months. Each time. And, all this while living alone. So, what the hell am I worried about now with a little knee replacement?

Truth is, I’m feeling unaccountably anxious and vulnerable. I know it’s irrational. I try to focus on the positive outcome of a pain-free life after it’s all over, but still I’m acting like Scaredy Squirrel. I know I can handle it. I know I can, I know I can. Can I?

My sweet husband Harvey has pledged his all during my post-surgical recovery, and for that I’m so grateful. But. I’m. Still. Fearful. The ”What ifs…?” have me catastrophizing all over the place. Will I be okay? Of course I will. But could someone please put that in writing for me?

© Richmond News