I want to tell you a story about a mini trip that I took this week – a trip to the Land of Old. This land is a very unique place, with its own fashions, devices, people, and culture. It’s a land that we actually, if lucky enough, enter someday if we live long enough. After my day adventure there, I wonder to myself….how long have I actually, without my conscious awareness, been already living in this land and just not known it (or not wanted to know it….?) But, that is for another story…
The first stop in the new land was an appointment with a hearing aid clinic. Yes, I had been assessed as having lost a bit more hearing in my left ear, enough that a device might make a significant difference. Although I knew of this loss, entering this new land of the hearing aid clinic still came with surprises. I enter the waiting room, and notice that all the people in there are “old”. Of course, I have not really seen myself as belonging to this group, but…I realize….indeed I do belong to this group and I am here for a reason….that I have some hearing loss…..related to age…… I sit quietly in the room, observing others, working with my own reactions and realizations… I notice a younger woman walk in and feel some relief (how strange to have that reaction, I realize now).. Alas, I soon find out that she is dropping off her mother’s hearing aids to be cleaned (who knew that they had to be cleaned?? Of course that makes sense, but I never thought of that…!) And I continue to wait….listening to the receptionist answer the phone loudly to make sure that whomever was calling could hear her.
I am called into the office. My record of my hearing test is there. with the same person who administered it to me. I find some comfort to have the same person walk me through this next step – a familiar and kind face….a guide in this new land. He brings out different models of hearing aids….I defer to his expert opinion as I know nothing of these things at this time. He suggests a particular brand and I agree. He makes a mold of my ear and shows me ….and then it’s time to choose a color. (Somehow this is much less exciting than choosing the color of a new car….) We agree on a color that seems to match my hair. And there we have it – the device is ordered and I will pick it up and be trained on how to use it (and how to get the app on my phone that can help me adjust it- is there anything that doesn’t have an app??) on the appointed date in about a month. He apologizes for not getting me in earlier…which, frankly, I am very ok with, since I am not in a hurry. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel gratitude that there are devices and aids that can help us….I just don’t remember getting to the age where I would need one. But, here I am.
Ok, I leave this appointment . Next stop – the pharmacy – as my doctor has recommended (and I have been resisting for a year) a statin for my cholesterol, which is a bit higher than when we last measured it. I always read about all the side effects of any medication that is prescribed (which usually scares the living daylights out of me). One of the side effects of this particular medication is that it may cause some memory loss or confusion. Now, to an older person, (am I now really referring to myself as that????), this is especially frightening. We already live in dread of the “D” word, dementia, and any slight movement toward that is not something that we will easily risk. I am assured by both my doctor and the pharmacist (who I had to inform about this particular side effect, which he was not aware of), that the effect will stop once you cease taking the medication and that if this happens to me, I can stop the statin. Ok, I can live with that….so now I have this new little pill to add to my daily regimen, along with my blood pressure pill.
Next stop – the uro-gynecologist…..Men, you may want to skip this part, if this may make you squeamish and uncomfortable. Women, you will know what I am talking about.
So I now have figured out why these years are called the “golden years”. It is about the color of urine and that you have to know the location and distance to every restroom from where you currently are, as “holding it” now no longer feels like a viable option. I now plan my hikes based on the number and location of rest rooms that are available. That is not what I envisioned when I first heard the term “golden years”, but now I know…..all too well. I am at the uro-gynecologist’s office to get an assessment to make sure that nothing else is going on, and also to get some ideas and possible tools and assistance with the gold in golden years. All seems ok, and we talk about options. I am both horrified and amused that one of the options that the doctor mentions is a Botox injection for the bladder. Seriously? I have not had Botox, and am not sure that I want to start that with my bladder. The thought makes me cringe. Apparently it is about 60% effective. And 100% unbelievable. There is also something called tibial stimulation – apparently a form of acupuncture that can also be 60% effective and has no side effects. I opt for that, which they will call me to schedule. Weekly….for 12 weeks. 30 minute sessions with a needle stuck somewhere in your ankle. It’s a good thing that you are older and retired when you may need this, as who would have the time to do this weekly for 12 weeks???
Since this doctor also has gynecologist as part of her specialty, we talk about that area as well. (I have to tell you that I debated about including this part of the story, but it is, I think, an important part for many of us women….so here goes. These days, when embarrassed about something, I ask myself what will it matter when I am gone? And maybe it will help someone else to be able to relate.. So…..onward…..)
After my exam, I, for the first time, get to hear about the term “vaginal atrophy”…. I somehow did not connect that my vagina would age along with the rest of me, and that this can cause some issues and discomfort. We talk about options. Estrogen is one. …..The doctor assures me that the external version is much less risky than the oral form, and that she would be comfortable using it herself. She says it will give me a “younger vagina”. (What does one even say to that?? Seriously??) I need to think about this. I now go back to the pharmacy (and people wave at me in recognition as this is my second visit there in a few hours) and get to hear, in all the lovely details, about the side effects of this particular medication. The pharmacist asks…..”You know this is a hormone..?” Seriously, I am older, but not demented yet (I think…..) I read the pamphlet as well – and , to my horror, dementia is also listed there. In addition to various forms of cancer, which again, I am reassured, is different for the externally applied version than the oral pill version. I take my prescription home. (I tell myself that I need to remember…..my sexuality and sensuality have not atrophied….They are still very much here and part of who I am and hopefully will continue to be.)
I am home, exhausted from my day trip to this new land……It has left me much to think about, much to process in terms of feelings and reactions, much to ponder…..Here I sit with my statin and estrogen prescriptions and my appointment to get my new hearing aid. I will wait and process this emotionally for a few days before the final decision to take either or both of the new prescriptions. I don’t know how I got here. I am a bit in shock (as I have been in denial, clearly). I made it through the day. I survived. I have survived into becoming older. I have arrived. And there will be more adventures to come in this new land. And I will keep moving forward, prescriptions in hand…..and keep living my best life possible….and, God help me, I will keep laughing as much as I can. Laughter is vital. And the best prescription of all.