Thursday, February 15, 2007
Graceful Aging (or: Use What Works)
I've had back problems for at least twelve years now. I don't have a slipped disk or anything like that, but I've known for a long time that my back tends to spasm under certain conditions, especially if I don't exercise regularly. (This is one reason I'm so faithful about going to the gym.) Among other things, I've known for many years that any weight I'm carrying needs to be centered and close to my body, rather than hanging off one shoulder. This means that my ideal luggage items are backpacks and waistpacks.
But, well, backpacks and waistpacks aren't very fashionable or professional looking, so I kept trying to find alternatives. I've had several lovely leather bags that were supposed to work as backpacks, but didn't really, because the straps were too thin and cut into my shoulders (and leather's heavy!). Last year, I'd gone back to using a shoulderbag, and when my back spasmed terribly in April -- keeping me housebound on muscle relaxants for three days -- it was because I'd been carrying too much weight on one side. Anyone who thinks academics are desk potatoes hasn't thought about how much heavy lifting we do toting books and papers around.
The spasm last April is also why I now always wear Keen sandals, with warm socks in cold weather, unless it's actually raining or snowing (when I wear clunky Gore-Tex boots). Even a low heel makes my back very unhappy, and my feet need a lot of support from a shoe that will stay on securely. Keens are just the ticket. They're also incredibly comfortable. And if they bear more than a passing resemblance to the awful orthopedic shoes my grandmother used to wear, the ones I swore I'd never be caught dead in, that's okay. Keens are currently all the rage among hardy outdoor types, so they make me look less like a desk potato, rather than more.
A few weeks ago, I finally accepted the fact that comfort and health are more important than fashion and looking professional. So I bought a lightweight nylon backpack to serve as my teaching briefcase, and a waistpack to be my purse. This means that when I walk from my car to my office, I look like I'm setting off on a Himalayan trek rather than a stroll across a college campus. But hey, I have tenure now. I can look as dorky as I want.
I've also gotten to the point in life where I'm on five different oral medications (two antidepressants, eye vitamins to stave off macular degeneration, glucosamine for arthritis, and calcium), all of which have to be taken at different times. I have pill bottles scattered around the house, with locations chosen by where I am at each time of the day. Evening meds are on the bedroom vanity where I brush my teeth before going to bed. Morning meds are on the desk in my study, where I drink coffee and read e-mail after waking up.
In theory, that's a good system. But there's one problem. Sometimes I'll be brushing my teeth or drinking my morning coffee, and I can't remember if I've taken my meds yet. Because my antidepressant doses are so small, and because these are also meds that take a while either to build up in the bloodstream or to wear off, I usually figure that missing a dose, or taking an extra one, isn't a big deal.
Last night, I couldn't remember if I'd taken my nortriptyline. So I took one, and then thought, "Did I just take a second one? Well, no biggie. It's a small dose."
But one of the side-effects of nortriptyline can be nightmares, and boy, did I have nightmares last night! I woke up at about 4 a.m., shaking from a long, involved, all-too-realistic series of nightmares that included plausible conversations with friends and all kinds of colorful detail. I finally managed to get back to sleep, only to plunge right back into the same nightmare sequence; it was like I'd paused a DVD and then hit play again. When I woke up again at 8:30, Harley-the-rescue-cat, who never stays still for a cuddle unless I'm upset, was next to me in bed, cuddling against my side.
I knew the nightmares were just dreams, but they'd gone on for so long, and felt so real, that it took me a long time to shake them off. Gary had to keep hugging me and reassuring me that none of that stuff had actually happened.
So after work today, I went to the supermarket and bought two of those pill organizers, the ones that have a separate compartment for each day of the week so you can tell if you've taken that day's pill or not. I think of these as things Old Folks use (and I found the photo on a site called "Products for Seniors"). But if the organizers will keep me from having those nightmares again, I'm all for them!