Saturday, November 15, 2014

Not One Flake

The forecasters were wrong about snow yesterday, which was not much of a surprise. Instead we had a traditional New England false alarm, the first of the season. The sun was shining by the time I headed out around 9 am. I'd been dreading slip-sliding through slush but it was perfectly dry — just  nippier than usual.

I was going to the orthopedist because my knee has been bothering me for more than a year. There's nothing much wrong with it but it hurts when I bend it or kneel. I've been doing physical therapy for several weeks to strengthen that leg, and this was a follow-up appointment.

I like my orthopedist. Within the first few minutes of my first appointment with him, last year, I realized he was one of the funniest, sharpest guys I've ever met. He's also very cute, if not downright handsome, with a mop of curly, graying hair. At that first appointment I showed him the bizarre-looking (but very harmless) ganglion cyst on my knee, sticking up like half a pingpong ball. After he explained what it was, we moved on to talking about amputating my leg. "But only one!" he said firmly — and I knew I'd met my match. He sent me for an MRI, and on my way home afterward, the cyst finally popped. When I reported this, he took full credit for it.

So I was looking forward to seeing him again.

As I waited for him, I watched his previous patient being wheeled from his office. She filled only about half of the seat of her wheelchair — a tiny old lady, shrunken and frail, bent with weakness. Her skin was translucent; her hair was barely there, wispy and gray. She looked far older than any of the old people in my life, including my dad, who is 100 and still taking care of himself at home, or my uncle, who turns 90 this year and drives his Lincoln to the casino twice a week to play the slots.

So when I bounced into the doctor's office, my first question was about the lady. "I couldn't help noticing your last patient," I said. "She seemed ancient... even older than my dad, and he's 100. Is she in her 90s?"

He shook his head. "She's 73." And then, both of us being people of a certain age, we stared at each other in horror, wide-eyed and speechless. Then he told me he has patients in their 90s who look like they're in their 60s, and patients like that lady, who are in ruins in their 60s and 70s.*

"So what's going on?" I asked him. "How do we make sure we're not the ones who are going to fall apart? We need to figure this OUT! Is it genetics, or exercise, or what?"

He told me he had no idea, but if we could figure it out, we'd be going into business together. I told him about my dad's good health, and our family's genetically low cholesterol, which allows us to eat terrible diets without cardiac repercussions, at least. "Lucky you. When my dad hit 65, he was the first man in our family to make it to that age. Everybody gets heart disease. I eat a lot of vegetables." Then he looked at my knee. "How's it going?"

I told him it was much better but I still couldn't balance on one leg — either leg — with my eyes closed. I had failed his 30-second balance test miserably on my last visit, tipping over in a couple of seconds. "I woke up this morning remembering that you were going to ask me to do that again, and I'd completely forgotten until that moment. So I've had no time to practice. You must have put some kind of spell on me to make me forget that. I'm doomed."

He has a big, hearty laugh. He said he wouldn't make me do it. He examined my legs, prodding and bending. I still have a little cyst under the skin, but it's nothing. When he finished, he said, "Now stand on that leg and lift your other one. Now close your eyes." I tipped right over.

He said I have to keep doing my exercises and getting stronger. "It bothered you enough to come here, and it bothered you enough so that you did your exercises. Now it's better but you have to remember that it's going to bother you again if you get lazy. So don't get lazy."

I walked home briskly, enjoying the crisp day, outpacing everyone else along the way. I'm not planning to be curled over in a wheelchair when I'm 73. I plan to be moving just as fast as I am now. I'm ready to start working out at the gym again. My physical therapy is winding down. But Boston will soon be a slippery mess and, if I fall and hurt myself, at least I know I'll get some laughs out of it.

* For the record, Raquel Welch is 73 and she still looks like this. (Sorry that's from Fox News but it does seem to be true.)

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