My New Year starts now

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I have never been one to ring in the new year. In my eyes, New Year’s Eve is just another excuse to go out and party, tie one on, and then wake up and wonder about the events from the night before. When I was younger, New Year’s Day was set aside to watch football, eat crab, and then watch more football. Today, New Year’s holds no special meaning.

As for those resolutions, all I can say is I do not recall making any. Why put off until the new year what you know you need to change now? To me, resolutions are just another form of procrastination and soon to be broken self-promises, two things we can do any time of the year.

My new year always seems to begin as the school year wraps up. As a retired teacher, I admit, we do love June, July, and August, even if we are not paid during our time off. It is a chance to rejuvenate, reflect, both professionally and personally, and to invest the necessary time into self-improvement. June is my new year and this year it is one I both look forward to and dread.

This past year has been a rough one on me in many ways, while at the same time, it has been incredibly rewarding. I turned 60 last summer, am a working retiree, and enjoy the married life with my bride of two years. What do I have to dread?

For starters, my failing body. I have written about it before, and I am aware I am not the only person my age to feel the aches and pains of a life lived. However, when you work as hard as I do to remain strong and healthy and are fortunate enough to have survived something that came close to killing me, twelve years ago, by my age, a day does not pass without a reminder of what happened. For that matter, an hour rarely passes without some sort of reminder sent to some part of my body from my central nervous system. I am supposed to feel lucky, but for some strange reason, the messages I receive do not tell me this.

Last summer, out of curiosity, this old runner decided to see how fast he could run a mile on his 60thbirthday. My time of 6:40 was something I am proud of. However, today, I am more embarrassed knowing my wife must lug in the groceries because of my failing arms. She is currently in the process of painting the interior of the house. I am not so sure I could open a paint can let alone use a roller or brush for more than a minute or two. My legs tell me I am young, but my damaged arms remind me there are some things that make me feel much older than I am.

While I finally took the time to take care of my hearing loss by getting hearing aids this past year, my eyes are another matter. Yes, we all get to deal with these issues at my age, but a head injury has a way of complicating them. I buy bifocal readers online for now because I do not have the time to get my eyes looked at. It seems like when I am not working, I am usually at some damn medical appointment and there is only so much time in a day for those things.

There have been epidurals along with regular trips to the pain management clinic that have taken precedence over my eyes. What good is seeing if it hurts too much to look at what’s around you? Ex-rays, MRI’s, blood work, and physical therapy keep reminding me of not just my life lived, but what may well be my life ahead. This scares the crap out me. My hope is I will get answers that lead to solutions so that all of this can be left in the past. I sit in waiting rooms filled with people who are much older looking at me like, “Oh, look at that nice young man. He must be here to pick up his mother or father.” I wish that were the case.

The worst part of all of this is the drugs. I have a choice these days. I can live with a clear-thinking brain and a crap load of pain or I can say good-bye to my short-term memory with the hope the drugs knockout my discomfort. It took a lot for me to accept the need to use drugs, potent ones, to knock out my pain given I come from a family where some have had addiction issues.

I see the look on my wife’s face all too often when we talk. It tells me I have forgotten something we talked about previously. We will both laugh about it, but I know it must concern her as much as it concerns me. The problem is, the fix for me involves total neck fusion which will likely result in me needing to remain on the same pain medications for the new pain I will be left with. I will roll the dice and hope they don’t come up craps and forget about this option.

It’s easy for me to understand why someone like Tom Petty accidentally overdosed and died. How much time do you give yourself to experiment with alternative pain relief methods like acupuncture, physical therapy, chiropractic, or even medical marijuana before you go running to the medicine cabinet for something that works? A friend of mine at the Y who is a recovering addict told me it was easier for him to give up meth and heroin than it was to get off Oxycontin.

Last year, I began taking a low dose of Norco for my pain. Two pills a day was all I was prescribed and at first, I did not need them every day. Two weeks ago, the dose was doubled and yesterday was the first day I did not need anything for my pain. It is my hope my new home traction device will give me enough relief from having to run to the medicine cabinet. It’s been just half a week, but so far, the results are good.

Along with the Norco comes the muscle relaxants which are much cheaper than getting a daily nerve releasing massage from my physical therapist. Sleepy and stupid. Once again, none were needed yesterday. I cross my fingers today is as kind to me as yesterday.

There is also the nerve blocker to knock out the dizzying head pain and what I call the loud flash banging electrical sounds inside my head that drive me crazy. Thanks to them, I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat without the muscle relaxant or pain pills. Unfortunately, there is no living without this medication, so I try to limit myself to half the dose my pain specialist wants me to take. You see, he wants to knock out my pain even if doing so turns me into a Zombie while I want to be awake and functional during the day.

There is feeling sleepy and then there is feeling totally spent, overcome by fatigue that just floors you. It seems the only time I am not sleepy is when I am dealing with a bout of fatigue, some of which lasts for weeks at a time and always is accompanied by an increased level of pain. Testosterone, something that should do the trick, has no real energizing affect. As a result, more blood work, another specialist, and still no answers. It seems I work just so I can pay my damn co-pays.

On June 10 I go in for shoulder surgery to fix a rotator cuff and bone spur. Once I heal from it, I will have greater mobility with my left arm, but no less pain. I tell myself it is still worth doing since it will be nice to be able to reach for a carton of milk without my shoulder locking up on me.

I share all this stuff from the past year, not so people will feel sorry for me, but rather to provide them a glimpse of what is called chronic pain. If you do not suffer from it, you are likely to think it is just an excuse people use to be prescribed strong drugs. It comes in many forms and can hit anyone, even someone like me who has always loved to work at taking care of himself.

Despite all of this, this past year has not been one of pain or pain management. I am also reminded of all the good fortune I have been blessed with. While my body may have to deal with its share of physical discomfort, life in general is good to me.

A year ago, I was out of work. My nice steady part time job that paid well came to an end and there did not appear to be much for me on the horizon. Then, just a few minutes after I interviewed for a low paying job as a dog walker, I ran into Denise, a woman I worked with when I first moved here. She informed me there were new openings where I once worked and suggested I apply for some. I did and I was offered a nice opportunity to develop a health-related program for the community and to work at the local senior center.

Around the same time, I was invited to interview at a YMCA and was offered a position. I could balance both jobs since they were on different days, so I accepted both positions.

Then came a third offer to teach part time at a charter school. I could not say no to the money it offered and the school environment was too nice to pass on. Three part time jobs, all of which were balanced because each of my new employers were willing to work around my schedule. In other words, I was wanted.

It feels good to be wanted. It means you still matter which results in wanting to move forward with life rather than wallow in physical discomfort.

It took me a while to balance work around the timing of my medications, but for the most part, I managed to accomplish this. I am worn out by the time I get home, my sleep hours are a mess, and I am aware of areas I need to zero in on this next year to function better. Heck, I might even get to a point where I have the time to get my eyes examined.

I am also excited about my post-surgery recovery. I have designed two contraptions that will allow me to get on my stationary bike as soon as I am up to the task and ride it without needing to tax my arm while it is in a sling. My physical therapist wants me to video myself using them so she can show her patients who are recovering from similar procedures.  Being able to ride in an upright position will allow me to enjoy my gym time without having to just focus on the drudgery of rehab exercises.

There are my now loyal clients at the Y asking me when I will return so I can continue putting them through the grind of my small group workouts. They keep telling me how much they enjoy the variety of my workouts and how difficult they are.

The seniors who I help provide free food to every Friday will miss my sense of humor and my boss will miss what she calls my Coach voice. It comes in handy, especially with seniors who forgot their hearing aids. I have been asked to return to the charter school next year and there is the possibility of there being a few more hours available which will be nice for my bank account.

My wife and I have a kitchen remodel and new flooring to look forward to this next year. It’s long overdue and it will reflect the hard work we have done to save the funds for it. The new ceramic flooring to be installed will sure be appreciated, especially when one of our five dogs forgets to go outside to do their business.

In October, my oldest daughter gets married. She is proof that medical miracles do happen given the long odds she was given when born in 1988. If she was able to beat the odds, perhaps I will be able to do the same. Maybe, just maybe, I will find that right balance I know exists which will allow me to enjoy a nice quality of life over a life of physical discomfort.

In another week, it will mark twelve years since my life was forever changed in an instant. I fought hard to live when I lay alone in the middle of a road feeling my life slipping away at a time when it should have been filled with joy. I fought just as hard to piece my life back together on several fronts. I lost a few battles along the way, but I also won my share. Despite the defeats of this past year, I realize there have been enough victories to keep the fight in me alive.

My life, today, is nothing like it was a year ago which is just fine with me. I will reevaluate it again in twelve months. I have no clue where I will be or what will be in store for me and I am fine knowing this. After all, life is not about what you have done or experienced as much as it is about the curiosity about what lies ahead.

Happy New Year!

Photos by Tim Forkes