By Marianne Delorey
School children 50 years ago would practice bomb drills and hide under their desks. Twenty-five years ago, school children would practice fire alarms. Now school children practice how to escape from shooters. Our world has changed, but still we prepare our children for events they may never see. We do not, however, prepare ourselves for the inevitabilities of aging. These drills would be so much more worthwhile since nobody escapes them. The best we can hope for is to handle them with grace.
Meet Anne. Anne was the youngest of six children. By the time she came along, her parents were seasoned and did not worry much. They took the kids to the doctor when they needed to, but they also knew when bathing a wound in Epsom salt might do the trick. So when Anne developed a sore on her leg, she treated it herself. She thought for a long time that it was getting better, but it wasn’t. Then, she tried to convince herself it really wasn’t that bad. It was. It reached a point when the fear of seeing a doctor was paralyzing. She hadn’t seen a primary care doctor in years. Trying to establish a relationship with one when you have a problem is pretty daunting. Many have closed practices and aren’t accepting new patients. Some will accept you but you have to wait months for an appointment. Anne knew she needed help but did not know where to start.
Finally, in tears, she called 911 and asked to go to the emergency room. She was poked and prodded by a dozen doctors and lab techs. The bad news was that her worst fears were confirmed. The leg would have to come off. The good news was that according to her surgeon, they had caught it just in time. Had she waited even a few more weeks, there would have been little they could do for her.
The kicker was that about a year later, just as she was learning to walk with her prosthesis, the doctors discovered Anne had breast cancer. It certainly crossed her mind that the problem wasn’t her body but rather that once you start looking under the hood, you discover all sorts of problems. But, she persisted and she survived two major surgeries in less than a year and a half.
Five years later, I had the chance to ask Anne about this time in her life. Here is her story:
“I am so glad now that I went to the ER. Sometimes, you just don’t know where to start, but that really worked for me. They helped me with everything, including getting therapy after having my leg removed. I don’t know why I was so scared. I still don’t like going to the doctor and I will cancel the occasional appointment. But I think about what I would have missed – the weddings and other family events, even just being a part of my community. I really value that, and if I had missed it? Well, let’s just say I’m glad I haven’t. If I knew someone who was struggling with this kind of decision, I’d tell them to go for it. See the doctor. Life is worth living. Living in fear is not living.”
Rosa Parks once said, “Knowing what must be done does away with fear.” And so, we should all practice getting old. Our first task should be thinking through how to cope with fear itself. How we will all face fear – of death, of loss, of pain – by having a plan to take a step – any step – to reducing the fear. Practice aging today. Having that plan in place will help us get through the bombs aging will drop on us tomorrow.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or firstname.lastname@example.org and www.colonyretirementhomes.com . Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.