Some days, I feel older than I do other days. It’s not the mirror that makes me feel this way, since I mostly avoid mirrors. Instead, it’s the signals my body is sending me. A combination of genetics, childbearing, and martial arts has left me with aches and pains all over. None of them prevent me from doing everything I want to do (especially the martial arts), but all of them make me nervous.
Both my mom and dad reached old age almost crippled by degenerative bone problems. Indeed, my dad did that even before old age. He was almost exactly my age when he had one of the first hip replacement surgeries done in the U.S. It was a semi-success. He wasn’t ever confined to a wheelchair, but he was in constant pain for the rest of his life. Had he lived longer, he would eventually have had to have the hip redone, as well as having his other hip replaced as well.
As for my mom, much of her life is defined by her joint and neuro-muscular problems. She takes medicines to function despite the pain, and then takes more medicines to help her function despite the medicines.
I know that I probably won’t have my parents’ problems. Unlike them, I’ve never suffered from malnutrition, hard labor, or tropical diseases. Nevertheless, when my sciatica or my neck problems or my knee problems accelerate, there I am, knocking on the doctor’s door.
As often as not, the doctor can’t do anything for me because there’s not much wrong with me. The pain is real, so I get physical therapy and anti-inflammatories, but my joints are actually in very good shape. A little arthritis here, a little spinal compression there, but nothing to write home about.
Interestingly, although there’s little to be done about my chronic pain, I always leave the doctor feeling happier than I was when I went in. That is, I’m not at all disheartened by the shrug of “We can’t really help you.” Instead, I’m always relieved that I’m not in as terrible shape as I, the child of my parents, feared I was. Escape from fear is a tonic in and of itself.
Of course, I’m still at risk because of the martial arts. So far, I’ve suffered nothing more than some spectacular bruises and ripped off toenails. Others, though, have sustained all types of sprains and a few breaks. Interestingly, while there have been, as I said, a few broken bones, most of the injuries at the dojo involve serious soft tissue injury. One guy ripped all the ligaments in his thumb, requiring meticulous microsurgery from a serious specialist (along these lines). Another guy separated his pectoral muscle, which had to be stapled back together, although that seemed to be in the purview of a regular orthopedist.
Still, despite the risks, I don’t stop. For one thing, I’m having fun and, as extreme skiers and bungee jumpers show, we’re always willing to put ourselves at risk in the name of pleasure. For another thing, I don’t have any ego tied up in proving myself on the mat. If something hurts in a way that singles imminent injury, I let my partner know, rather than playing macho and avoiding my body’s message. Finally, I figure that the certain benefits of bone density and aerobic fitness offset the possibility of a serious injury.
I guess the thing I really have to do is remind myself that, contrary to my neurotic worryings, I am aging gracefully.