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!


  1. Oh Susan! I'm so sorry you had nightmares. Glad you are organizing your way out of it. Should they happen again you might want to consider getting a soft bound copy of the Word and keeping it under your pillow. I sleep with my bible because somehow the word of God is comforting when I wake up afraid.

    Peace and nice, peaceful dreams!

  2. I am now the owner of one of those myself. I also finally admitted at 46 and I closing on that group of people I once referred to as old people...sigh.....

    Recently found your site and DO enjoy it!

  3. When I'm in my routine I take my medications like clockwork (Type 2 diabetes) When I'm out of my routine its a question of did I inject the insulin when I should have done, take the metformin? They're all organised. I'm not. Its a mental thing, I know it, if I don't take 'em maybe I won't have to take 'em.

    Shakes shaggy head. Get real, kid.

  4. As you might have guessed, Jody uses one of the pill organizers to keep track of whether she has taken her synthroid or not on any given day.

    As an additional measure, she always leaves the day she fills in the container open when refilling. That way she doesn't double dose when she can't remember whether she has taken it on that day.

    I am sorry to hear about the nightmares, sounds horrible. I rarely have nightmares, but when I do they tend to be vivid and more "natural" than supernatural in nature.

  5. Hi Susan!

    I'm sorry about the nightmares too. They certainly don't sound like normal, non-drug induced ones.

    By the way, I don't think the pill organizer is a sign of old age. It's a sign of MIDDLE age. SEVERAL pill organizers are a sign of old age!

    How are you doing with presbyopia?

  6. Thanks, everybody!

    Claire, I do have several pill organizers: one for my morning antidepressants, and one for my evening antidepressants.

    As for presbyopia, I'm on my second pair of what used to be called bifocals but are now called something else because they don't have a line across the lens -- continuous? Graduated? Something like that.

    I'm happy to report that I didn't have nighmares last night . . . so the organizers are already working!

  7. They're called 'varifocals' here, sometimes 'multifocals'. Eldest brother swears by his, so I'll change next time I have a new prescription because I really do not get on with bifocals.

  8. I'm so sorry to hear about the nightmares too. I hate nightmares, and am horrified and astonished at the things my brain can come up when I leave it unattended. My favorite cure is not one I recommend for the non-solitary sleeper -- singing loudly.

    Your commentary on pill boxes reminded me of the conversation I had a few weeks back with the fabulous housemate. She refuses to have one despite having multiple complicated meds to deal with, because buying a pill box would signal admitting she has health issues and that she's getting old.

    I offered her one of mine because I believe in pill boxes. I'm sixteen years younger than she is. I am not taking daily meds any more. But I own pill boxes. Because I can admit that I have problems. Then I looked smug.

    She forgave me. Now I need to find her that pill box, so I don't have to remind her to take her pills.

    Blessings upon your endeavors to live sensibly.

  9. Sorry about the nightmares, dear.

    My husband had a heart attack at the relatively young age of 39. When he came home from the hospital, he bought one of those nifty pill things for the boatload of prescriptions he now had.

    I remember thinking, dear God, I'm married to someone old enough to have a day-of-the-week pill container!!

  10. Anonymous6:23 AM

    I am more interested on the same nightmare I am having with nortriptyline. I want to know the relation between the pill and the long seemingly movie nightmare. I'm a nursing student and this really bothers me. Please email me at Thank you so much.

  11. Anonymous9:39 PM

    About those nightmares, I had them after being on the smallest dose of Nortriptyline only 3 nights! I'm sitting here now, drinking lots of water, trying to wash the drug out of my system, because I had nightmares again tonight! I am going to call my doc tomorrow morning to tell him I'm stopping the drug. I have some sensitivities to drugs, so I'll add Nortriptyline to the list. I was taking it to help chronic pain. Oh well. This, too, shall pass. The Lord never allows me to have more pain than He and I can bear - together.


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