Aging in public

8 03 2015

Hardly anyone talks about it, this thing called aging. I think it’s because when we’re younger, we don’t consider getting older. Others, yes, like our parents, but not us. Not me! And to listen to others talk about their aches and pains—oh, please.

Notice I said “older,” not “old.” I learned to say it that way from my cousin Elly, who was born six months before I.

Today I’m going public, and I’m talking about aging for those who might benefit.

As it happens in our Western health care system, our family is assigned a primary care physician. Like all doctors, he has many patients, and the system allows him to spend only 15 minutes with each, whether or not all your questions are answered.

Oh, I know it’s possible. DH had a good experience in Hong Kong, for example, when he had appendicitis on a trip, but in Hong Kong they were much more efficient. Here, it can be time-consuming in the long run (lots of 15 minutes) and frustrating to get care.

I decided to ask for another PCP through my gynecologist. She said she couldn’t be it because she was a specialist. So then, I thought, how about a gerontologist? Can I be ahead of the game and start seeing one now? I remembered the time I (tried) to get care for my aging father and how by luck, after being sent to department after department (including a “hospitalist” who I asked, because he was wearing a flower lei, if it was his birthday, and he replied, “No, it is my last day here!”), a gerontologist came to our aid. She was the most compassionate and informative of the lot.

My gynecologist was helpful. “Let’s see, how old are you, 66? You know, past 65 I think you can.” I’ll give the system credit for that. She referred me to a geriatrician, that’s what they’re called, I learned.

My issues were physical signs that to me appeared suddenly. Thinning skin, dull hair, brittle nails. (In the meantime I found a supplement containing biotin to address just that.) Soreness in my hands; arthritis or something else? When people spoke to me, responding too often with, “What?”, and having to turn up the TV volume. Some trouble with my balance. And taking longer to speak my words because my brain seemed slower to find them; memory loss? I’ve already had my right colon removed successfully for a large but benign tumor.

When the “new” department phoned to confirm the first appointment, they made sure I knew to bring someone with me, that I brought a health care directive, etc. This freaked out DH who said to me, “This is not the end game for you. Why?” I replied, “Of course, it isn’t, but I want to be proactive and cover all my bases. I want a baseline for the future.”

Checking in as a “youngster,” I explained my reasons for the visit with the receptionist, who informed me, and the doctor confirmed: a geriatrician is a specialist and cannot be my PCP. But wait.

While an assistant gave me a memory test (my memory in their terms is fine), the doctor invited DH in to start the conversation about why she likes to talk to families. In my case, she was concerned that we have our finances in place, meaning, if one of us becomes unable to function normally in the future, does the other have access to money if needed. Not when we die, but if we become ill.

When I walked into her office to join the conversation, she confirmed my hunch. “Did you practice at (another hospital) before? [She had.] You are the one who took care of my father, and the only one to give us satisfactory answers!” Yes, the same doctor, who at that time explained to me, “It’s not a perfect system, but it is a system.”

While she cannot officially be my primary care physician, in fact that is what she has become. I am so grateful. She ordered all the necessary tests for me. As a result, I found that I have lost some of my hearing, and I now wear a very smart and hi-tech hearing aid in both ears. It’s takes practice to learn how to wear it, and I trust the person who is fitting the device for my needs.

Next, tests found that I am deficient in Vitamin D. The doc said even in sunny Hawaii people become deficient in D.

For the pain in my dominant right hand, I was sent back to my assigned PCP, who said it is tendonitis in two places, but one unrelated to the other. What do you do, he asked? “I paint.” Then stop painting, he said. What?!! Personally I think, if it is indeed tendonitis, it is from too much computer, that is the unfortunate side effect of today’s technology.

Or, an emotional cause. For that, my geriatrician was compassionate and suggested psychotherapy. I have been there and done that. For now I prefer talking to my cherished friends and family first. Perhaps Reiki or lomilomi or acupuncture.

This week I go in for hand therapy, referred by my PCP, and next week sports medicine. Sports medicine because of some numbness in my arm.

I asked DH, why is it that you are older than I, but you don’t show as many signs of aging. He reminded me that he just had new “eyes” installed, a result of cataract surgery in both eyes. 😉 You see, I am not alone, and neither are you!

Copyright 2015 Rebekah Luke




My aging cat

5 04 2011


Her name is Ula, for the red-brown color of her fur. She adopted us, sitting outside the door for several days. When no one answered the ad for “Found: big, brown bossy cat,” we surrendered to letting this beautiful creature move in. She’s old now.

I realized that yesterday morning when I made this portrait. I stopped a split-second-in-time and saw in another way the familiar soul I’ve lived with for at least 15 years. It’s an image of an aging cat.

Ula is the queen of the household, and she has both good (DH) and reluctant (me) staff. She rules with a loud, irritating New York meow that means one of four things: “feed me,” “let me in,” “let me out,” or “pet me.”

She can bang on the screen door as though to break it down. She delights in lying between the dog, who is smaller and arrived after her, and the dog’s way out to pee. It pains me to let her have her way, but I do because otherwise she’d continue to nag or, worse, scratch or nip me.

She is so crotchety, her vet once said, “Why don’t you take her to someone she likes?” On the last visit, we all agreed that she doesn’t have to make the trip to the vet any more.

But though old, Ula’s still got it. For hours last week she stalked a dove, who mistakenly flew into the studio, and nailed it. Feathers everywhere.

DH prefers to think of Ula as ageless and not aging. I ask, “Is she complaining because she is in pain?” because lately she’s barfed more than the normal hairball barf. He replied, “Ula always complains.”

When I reviewed the photo, I thought, “Ula, you grew old before my eyes, and I hardly noticed until now.” It gave me pause.

How we love to chronicle a child’s growth and development. Yet how easy it is to miss the physical changes of life’s winter, especially of those closest to us, unless we make a conscious effort to truly look and “see” them enough to extend some kindness.

Copyright 2011 Rebekah Luke

For more on Ula, click on the word “cat” in Favorite Topics (see the right-hand sidebar). Then scroll down to see previous posts about my cat.

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