Aging Happens

Marvels of pharmaceuticals.

The pain was excruciating, sharp bolts attacking my inner ear, radiating through my jaw, paralyzing my mandible. Every jerk of the car, a 1957 Chevy, bounced my head propped against the window in the backseat, exacerbating the pain. It was early 60s; I was around 12 years old. We were returning home from our family vacation at the lake. Unsurpisingly, I brought my usual souvenir: ear infection. If I had been offered a death drug, I would have taken it.

Our summer vacation was the highlight of the year for all of us:  my parents, my older brother and younger sister, and eventually baby brother. We spent two weeks in a basic cabin at a “resort,” which sounds more elegant than what it was: a group of basic but well-maintained cabins on a lake in Minnesota. We swam, fished and ate fish, ran through the woods, and met up with other families. We felt free. The price I paid was dirty water infecting the middle ear. I was susceptible to ear infections and at 72 years old, I still am. We didn’t know about rubbing alcohol to dry the middle ear after swimming.

On this trip, I sustained myself during the long drive back to Illinois by trying to ignore the noise of siblings and our mother’s incessant chatter. Our car was cooled with 4-50 air: 4 windows down, moving 50 miles an hour. By the time we arrived home, my mother, who preferred to ieeeee our illnesses, hoping they would go away, knew I was sick. She summoned a neighbor who was a physician. Dr. Weissmann arrived with a shot of penicillin in hand. Despite my repulsion to needles, I welcomed it. By bedtime, the pain had lifted, and I felt normal. Even then I was amazed at the instant response.

Injections of penicillin decreased, according to one doctor, because of the risk of allergic reaction. Oral antibiotics became the norm. Even so, an initial dose of amoxicillin or something similar would reduce my symptoms of infection within hours. Life was good. So it is humbling that it now takes the entire course of treatment to get results. I won’t go into the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. I am talking about the aging body requiring longer to heal. Not just infections, but surgeries, fatigue, injury, lack of exercise.

I recognized the signs of bronchitis this past December 19. It is now February 1, and I think I am over it, leaving signs of allergies and silent reflux. The recovery was slow and not steady. Throughout the process, I reflected that there may come a time when I don’t recover, that a simple infection might lead to systemic breakdown. My visits to the doctor affirm that I am healthy but aging: thin skin, easily fatigued, meds to control cholesterol. But each battle with illness reminds me that I am mortal.

Lest you think that I am despondent, I assure you that I am not. This is all observation. Like an anthropologist observing a culture, I am observing aging. Perhaps there should be a handbook for people for their 60th birthday: Aging for Dummies. Alas, we all age differently and there would need to be a series: women who deny aging. Men who think they look like they are 25. Seniors who have always been old. You can add to this list.

Some people resist aging, asserting they will be forever young. NEWS FLASH: no, you won’t. In our minds we may feel 25, but our bodies will attest that they aren’t. This is a major topic of conversation among our friends. Those of us who remain relatively healthy laugh about it. All of us know someone who is no longer laughing.

So we share our stories of decline but stop short of speaking of our bowels, the ultimate frontier of aging. That we keep to ourselves unto death.

Author: Mary Cornelius

I am an aging woman who writes three blogs.