“Suddenly I found myself in hot water. Boiling water!”
It seems like that when illness suddenly strikes you down.
I had returned from a once-in-a-lifetime trip Down Under in tiptop shape, nicely tanned and relaxed from the Cook Islands and more than ready to tackle my many projects afresh. After all, the writing of at least nine books awaited me, from ten to ninety per cent complete. Let the postponed year 2015 begin!
Granted, the old body had seemed less willing to get up to ten thousand steps a day than in the past. Might as well talk to the doc about that, I decided, once home again. She and I had probably forgotten what the other looked like by now, given the frequency of my visits. Dr. S checked the records: sure enough, it had been ten months. In the cause of good sense, at my age, we might also do the annual blood tests, she suggested.
My planner said that there were other things to do besides toddling into our hospital for routine blood tests. Chiefly, I had to prepare my library-cum-guest-room for an old pal visiting from the Yukon. For three days I hauled books and furniture around and scrubbed away at several years’ neglect, feeling that glow of accomplishment at the end of the task that extraordinary exertion bestows on our weary bodies along with a good night’s sleep.
Trouble was, the first morning after Bonnie’s arrival, she didn’t describe me as chipper. Or sprightly. Nor did she exclaim, “You can’t be that old—you don’t look a day over (pick a nice number)!”
I put it down to over-exertion but Morning #2 was even worse, with a dreadful lassitude across my shoulders and pelvis, accompanied by nasty pain in the arms and thighs. What was this about? I must really have overdone it, hefting all those books!
Bonnie, who sports a prosthetic leg and wished to check out my little town as a retirement haven, wanted to check out the local medical facilities. Good opportunity for me to get those blood tests, I decided, forgetting it was Saturday, when the lab is closed. Defeated at only 9:30 a.m., I put my head down on the hospital counter, barely able to move.
Famous for wielding the voice of authority, Bonnie said, “You’re staying here.”
Six hours later, I still lay on a gurney in Emergency, half awake, as motionless as if strapped down, hoping a nurse would favor me with yet another of those cozy warmed blankets and entertaining myself with counting how many injuries were arriving in Emergency on this, the opening day of our community’s fancy skateboard park. One, a bang on the head—perhaps a concussion. Two, a bike handle through the gut. Three, a messed-up shoulder. Four, a broken limb. Whoa!—a sport more dangerous than fixing up the library!
At this point a young doctor entered my curtained alcove, for all the world like a nine-year-old yanking his hand up and down in class, certain he’s got the correct answer. “I know what you’ve got—it’s polymyalgia rheumatica!”
“Oh, good.” It sounded okay, compared to what I could have wasted time worrying about. “What’s the necessary cause of that condition?”
He looked at me as if I were stark raving mad. “It’s just an auto-immune disorder.” He waved an orange square of paper, a prescription for prednisone. “Over 50. Female. Pain in the shoulder girdle and pelvic girdle. Sudden onset. Classic.”
I don’t remember what he told me about prednisone, other than that I should take it to feel better. I said, “I didn’t come here to feel better. I came here to find out what is going on.”
He did mention my CRP score, an inflammation marker which is supposed to be trouble if it’s as high as three. Mine was eighty, which is why he ordered an ECG, no doubt worried I’d stand up and have a heart attack. A nice Dutchman arrived and ran the ECG, snorting, “Hmmph. Normal.” I could have told him that but made a mental note to up my hawthorn intake to one a day.
I was released to my suddenly rather difficult life. To be polite, I accepted the orange scrap of paper. Prednisone. Fat chance.
Under Bonnie’s questions it gradually dawned on me that it wasn’t the library job that had knocked me for this loop. For weeks, perhaps months, for example, I had found it difficult to sit longer than twenty minutes at the computer. I had accomplished very little of my writing plan during the trip. It had been difficult to keep up with my traveling companions, climb stairs, haul the suitcase—all aspects easy to attribute to age but unexpected for someone of my muscularity and vigor.
Like the iconic frog in the hot pot, I had ignored the increments of trouble brewing in the pot of my life. Now it was impossible to deny the pot was boiling. Would I have the strength and sense to hop out and away into a better life?
It was four thirty on a Saturday. There was no time to waste. “Drive us to Kelly’s,” I said to Bonnie. My favorite health store would surely have an idea of what to do—something better than prednisone.