Vincible: A Riff on Aging…

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the cardiologist’s office offered me an appointment on the same day I was seeing the dentist, I figured this was efficient. I would already be out — and showered (never a given).

I did not realize that these two were engaged in a secret conspiracy to steal my invincibility.

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Despite the fact that it has been five years since my last visit to the dentist, (Don’t judge, I have trauma issues.) I am praised for my hygiene. No cavities. Hardly any plaque.

“There is, however, the matter of these silver fillings. While they will last forever, they are much less flexible than your teeth and with the passage of time have begun to cause cracks. If left untreated, you will begin to have breakage. We need to replace them.”

“Wait, what?! Let me get this straight. Because I am old, I am going to need to come in once a year for the next four years to have silver fillings dug out of two teeth at a time, and those same two teeth fitted with crowns?!”

“Yep. That’s pretty much it.”

“Awesome.”

I walk out into the stifling heat feeling seriously deflated. And old. I think back to my check-up a couple of years ago where the answer to every question I asked was “Well, at a certain age…” I contemplate taking up day drinking. Then I remember the cardiologist and think better of it…

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I had my first episode of tachycardia when I was a teenager. My mom and I were sitting in the living room having a pleasant conversation when my heart abruptly went from beating 70 beats a minute to more like 180. As if someone had flipped a switch. It lasted about five minutes, then was over. It was weird, but I didn’t think a lot of it. I have continued to have these episodes randomly, and infrequently, ever since.

The impact on my life has been minimal for the most part. Only twice has it been problematic. The first time was when I was pregnant. A woman’s heart rate naturally accelerates because of pregnancy. In me, this translated to more frequent episodes that sometimes lasted an hour. I finally saw a doctor who diagnosed the problem and taught me ways to help restore my rhythm.

The other time it was a problem was when I had an issue with my thyroid. But that only lasted about three months. In the ten years since, I have been back to the old pattern of infrequent and short.

Until the morning of July 6th.

That morning, Kenz and I were on our way to explore the playhouses at Cheekwood when I had an episode while driving. It was so severe that I had to pull over til it stopped. Over the course of the morning, I had four more episodes, the last of which persisted almost two hours until, at my doctor’s direction, I went to the emergency room and had it corrected forcibly. (Mike had joined us by then and was driving, lest you fret.)

Because there was no obvious explanation for this sudden craziness, my doctor wanted me to see a cardiologist.

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Dr. Estrada is calm and laid back, and I think to myself that this is going to go well. He sketches an illustration of the heart and its valves and shows me how the several types of tachycardia work, including the one he believes I have. It is not as dangerous as some of the others which is good.

“However, with age, these random episodes like you had a couple of weeks ago are likely to become more frequent, and possibly more severe. At that point they can cause damage to the heart and you may find yourself in the emergency room more often. We don’t have to fix it now if you want to wait and see how it goes. But it is probably just a matter of time.”

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When friends and family have asked about, and even challenged, what they perceive as an overly rigorous commitment to eating healthy and to exercise, I have explained it like this: There are a lot of things about our health we can’t control. Mike and I both have strong family histories of diabetes and heart disease, for example. It seems to me that we have a responsibility to be wise about the things we can control.

That is what I have said.

But apparently, what I actually believed was this: If I do all the right things, I will be invincible. The ravages of age will have no authority over me.

I was wrong about that.

meteora

Wise men and women in the Church have always urged us to be very aware of our mortality. It is a potent reminder to be fully present in the moment. For this reason, it has been common practice in many monasteries to keep the bones of those who have gone before on display. As I understand it, this awareness should be a voluntary practice. Failing that, I suppose some of us must have it thrust upon us.

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And so, I am working to come to terms with the fact that I am vincible. Yes, that is a word. I looked it up. I spent yesterday morning in the dentist chair getting thirty year old fillings ground out of two molars and am now sporting fine, fashionable new crowns. And while I still believe that we have a responsibility to steward well the bodies we have been given, I am being disabused of the illusion that this guarantees a life free of physical adversity.

There is a price to be paid for the wisdom that hopefully comes with age. All that learning takes a toll on the body. And maybe the toll itself has a wisdom in it.

I’ll let you know.