Aging means letting go and grieving the loss

December 13, 2018

My mother loved the story of the one horse shay by Oliver Wendell Homes. The
shay, a light, two-person carriage, was built so well that it worked flawlessly for
100 years. Then it fell apart. That was her life plan, and she would say, despite
her agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, diabetes and ischemic heart
attacks. She died at 90.

I liked her plan and adopted it. But my ability to think I have been living it
collapsed yesterday when I could no longer deny the depredations of aging. I
have been denying the extent of the things I can no longer do. Denial is often
useful but it can be dangerous.

Yesterday it was dangerous.

I have Parkinson’s disease (PD) and the last time I was on a bicycle, four years
ago, I felt as if the bike teetered on crashing to the ground. PD affects my
balance, among many other things, so I put the bike away and switched to a
stationary bike.

Since then, I have been successfully treated with drugs, and while the disease
progresses, I have had more control over some things, including balance. When
we returned to the scene of my last outdoor bike ride, completely flat Sanibel
Island, where everyone rents balloon-tired bikes with coaster brakes and no
gears, I decided to try again.

My first attempt started poorly when I couldn’t get my leg over the bar and had to
switch to a “girl’s” bike. But after an unsteady launch, I got into the groove, and
was fine as long as I went at a steady speed straight ahead. My turns and stops
weren’t pretty, but I remained upright. I made it back to the condo we were
renting relatively pleased with myself.

Yesterday my second foray was different. It started out just fine, better than
the first time. Then the bike path came to a small bridge over a gully with short
fencing on either side. As I approached from one side, four cyclists came in from
the other, in a line.

I could see it would be tight over the bridge. I should have stopped and let them
pass but I decided to keep going, bearing to the right so they could get by on the left. I
suddenly realized I was going to hit the fence. I steered left quickly, lost control
and sailed right into the line between the second and third riders.

Rider three jammed on his brakes and stopped just short of me, but I fell to the
left anyway, and hit the ground with a thud. Lots of scrapes, but only one
serious. The tip of the fourth finger on my left hand has no skin. It looks like raw
hamburger and keeps bleeding.

The third rider was an EMT. He looked me over and didn’t seem concerned with
my physical injuries but he was concerned about my mental state. After all I had lost control, ridden into him, fallen and hit my head.

He gave me a towel to wrap around my finger and escorted me the three blocks back to the condo He talked to me the whole way.

I will probably never bike outside again. Add that to the list of things I cannot do.
From age 32 to 55, I jogged half an hour a day, almost every day. Then I blew
out two disks, and turned to walking. I walked four miles in an hour every day for
almost 15 years. Then my legs began to hurt. Parkinson’s? Arthritis? Left
over back problems? My neurologist said it could be all three. Now I walk a
mile and a half in 30 minutes, and use the stationary bike for half an hour.

I will never run again, even if my legs stop hurting. One of PD’s symptoms is
slowness. My brain doesn’t go that fast anymore. And that’s just the beginning of the list. From hairless head to arthritic toe, every part of my body is heading in the wrong direction.

When I went to the local walk-in clinic the doc was an older man, and he said
when he moved to Sanibel he had a motorcycle and a bike. He sold
the motorcycle in the first couple of months, and this summer he sold his bike. “I can’t do what I used to,” he said, sadly.

I turned 76 five days later, on December 18th.

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