Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Jello Shots": From healthy Woman Warrior to old lady crip in just one day....

(Photos are of my father and mother on their wedding day and a birds-eye view of my knees when they first started to swell)

Boy, old people are my absolute heroes. Those people are truly BRAVE! I used to think that I was being all fierce and courageous to go off to Iraq and Afghanistan -- but that was a walk in the park compared to facing down the terrors of old age. I found that out last Saturday.

Recently I went off to a knee doctor to ask him if he could do anything to relieve the minor discomfort in my knees, and he replied, "We can inject gel into your cartilage area and that will help you a lot -- it will lubricate your joints and keep you pain-free for approximately one year."

You are going to inject gel into my knees? "Jello Shots!" I cried. "Go for it."

Well, I got a reaction to the SynVisc hylan and suddenly my left knee was all swollen, my right knee was the size of a cantaloupe, I was in incredibly intense pain and couldn't even walk. Was I now going to have to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair? It looked that way.

"Jane, that's really a sad story," you might say, "but what's your point?"

My point is this -- do you have ANY idea how hard it is to not be able to walk, to live in constant pain, to have whatever active life you may have had suddenly disappear, to depend on others constantly for help and to get sympathetic looks from strangers at first and then suddenly completely disappear off their radar?

You have no idea how scary this is.

It took me a half an hour to shuffle across the street to the Berkeley Bowl to buy food because there was nothing left to eat in my apartment. One-half hour. They had to hold up traffic for me.

Once at the store, a clerk put me in one of those electric wheelchair cart thingies that the Bowl provides for little old ladies. "This isn't the REAL me!" I wanted to cry as benevolent shoppers got out of my way.

I filed a drug-side-effect report on the FDA's MedWatch website, but would doing that bring back my health? Probably not.

Then I shuffled off to my doctor's office and sat in the waiting room and cried. "Two years ago I was teaching school in a former bantustan in South Africa," I blubbered, "and now look at me!" I looked like all my doctor's other REALLY OLD patients, with walkers and crutches and aides and wheelchairs and canes.

I have just entered the Home of the Brave.

PS: Today would have been my mother's 96th birthday. She died in her sleep from a stroke at age 79. One day she was as healthy as a horse and the next day she was dead. Not so with my father. He died a long, lingering, painful death -- but during all the time that I watched my father suffer so much from prostate cancer and congestive heart failure, shrinking from a robust 6'1" to a tattered and grey 5'7" in less than a year, I never heard even one word of complaint cross his lips.