Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Body changes

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Body changes

Natalie Gelman

Another prevailing theme in our lives as we get older is how our bodies are changing. We pay more attention to visual signs of aging and are more focused on body stress and pain.

I recall an awareness of the status of my body in my early 60s.

    I watched the movie “Million Dollar Baby” yesterday. I was struck by my emotional response at the end when the woman fighter asks her trainer to enable her to die. She had been severely damaged in her final fight, was paralyzed from the neck down and her one leg was amputated due to gangrene. She was a woman who had set a goal to train to be a fighter and to win a few games. She had gone beyond her goal and was involved in the national championship fight when the other fighter struck her after the bell had rung. Thus the permanent damage to her body and life.

    Her trainer initially refused to participate in her death. After he left the hospital that day, she bit her tongue (having control only of her head) and caused bleeding that almost caused death. After being stitched, she did it again and was subsequently given medication that would keep her out long enough for her tongue to heal.

    When he saw her afterward, her trainer decided to help and brought an injection to give her. Though she was minimally conscious, he explained that he would cut off her air, inject her, and she would die quickly. He did so and she died.

    My pain emulated from my ability to understand her inability to accept how her body was. Though the result of the auto accident was nowhere as extreme as hers, I have heard there was a time they were not sure I would live. I have no memory of the first few weeks. I cannot say what was going on in my head. I recall no pain. I am aware I was on morphine.

    But I am committed to the fact that I was determined to survive and return to as close a state as I could achieve to how I was before the accident. I was unrelenting. To settle for less was never an option I considered. I was more confident in my will than I was in any form of therapy I had. My attitude was “leave it to me and I will conquer this.” Do not get in my way.

    Thus, although I do not recall a time that I ever considered having to live with my body as it was which would have severely curtailed my life, I know that I would not have accepted it. I understand how death was her only way of handling it.

    To live with such limitation would be torture. I would have chosen to end my life too. Some things are that clear.

    Eight years later, I still regret the damage that has remained. I had damage to my right foot that has caused me to be unable to wear most of my shoes and makes buying new shoes very difficult. Because of my long-term passion for shoes, I disliked having to give away about 60 pairs that I could no longer wear.

    And my current work at the restaurant mandates hours on my feet, in contrast to my former career where I sat most of the time. It requires wearing very comfortable shoes, so I now have to explore new venues. I miss the old way.

    And my much diminished sense of taste and smell bother me, but not as greatly. I own a restaurant, but do not know the full taste and smell of the food. I do not have the same sense of gratification in eating. I believe a lot of what I taste is more a brain memory of how food tasted to me for 53 years before the accident. For the most part, I have acclimated to this, but I still miss the old way.

    I cry more easily. My kids are the most understanding of this. Many of my emotions, when expressed verbally, are accompanied with tears. I would like to not cry so easily, but this I have also accepted. I miss the old way a bit.

    I get cold more easily. This is problematic during the winter. I am able to wear sufficient clothing and get warm. I have never like winter anyway, so this just highlights my distaste for the season. So, I miss the old way, but I never liked being cold.

    And so the remnants of my brain damage are things I have been able to live with. I sought to reach this level of healing, and I was successful. I would not have chosen to live with where the character was in “Million Dollar Baby.” I sure felt her pain last night. And it brought back of memory of my emotional pain then and the residuals that are with me now.

What occurred to me was not solely due to aging. However, it laid the groundwork for me. I discovered I had an option regarding how I would respond to change. I could linger in a stage of regret and resentment, or I could accept the difference and move forward.

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at drnataliegelman@gmail.com. Her website is drnataliegelman.com.