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Swimming Across That Great Big River: De Nile (Denial)

By Cynthia Hogg March 30, 2023 Health and Fitness

I started working with “the elderly” while still in high school. Beginning as a candy striper volunteer in a local nursing home, I also volunteered at a nursing home up the hill from my college while working on my degree in Social Work.

My first job after graduation was in a nursing home. While I did not specialize in geriatrics, it just turned out that my entire professional life – as well as volunteering on the side – involved working with that demographic.

And although I always enjoyed working with seniors and felt drawn to them, they always remained “the other.”

Never Saw It Coming

Fast forward 30 or 40 years, and here I am: I am suddenly that “other.” The problem is, I never saw it coming, even when I should have. I think I was so firmly ensconced in my role as the “fresh young thing” helping “old folks,” that I let a strong current of denial carry me along.

It went something like this: I am quite healthy, and if I continue doing the same things I have always done, I should be fine, right? It’s other people, people who don’t take care of themselves, who get old.

Me, get old? I don’t think so!

As a result, I failed to proactively take care of problems that ALL women (and men) face as they age. Some was by way of being naïve and neglectful, some was by outright refusal to follow certain recommendations from my doctor(s).

And My Attitude of Denial Didn’t Help

In 2015, at the age of 60, I fell from the top of a ladder onto a hardwood floor when the ladder buckled under me while I was painting. Although bruised, I didn’t have so much as a hairline fracture anywhere. It made me feel invincible, so when my doctor told me he wanted to do a bone scan because I was at a high risk for osteoporosis (small-boned post-menopausal Caucasian woman), I brushed him off. My bones are just fine, thank you. Osteoporosis is a disease of old people.

Then, during the polar vortex in February 2019, a quick and simple slip on the ice resulted in multiple fractures and revealed serious underlying osteoporosis. Suddenly, I was WAY behind the eight ball, as they say.

I had been swimming in that great big river – De Nile/(Denial) – and found that I was now drowning as one health problem after another piled up (blood clot, hypertension, irregular heart rhythm). Although only 64, I felt like I aged 10 years during the year it took to recover from my fractures.

I had all kinds of doctors telling me to do things I didn’t want to do and others telling me I couldn’t do things I did want to do.

Yes, Prevention Is the Better Way

And some of it could have been prevented or the severity lessened if I had paid attention earlier.

Four years later, I still feel like I am swimming upstream to regain my health. Why, oh why, didn’t I take my calcium and vitamin D, and exercise more? I learned, the hard way, that it’s so much better to prevent a health problem than try to cure it.

As they say, every great journey begins with a single step, and I have taken the first step: I have climbed out of that great big river onto the opposite shore and am no more indulging in denial. I am embracing my aging self, while fighting hard to make up what I lost through my foolishness.

I don’t intend to lose any more time – or bone density! – and have begun to fight as hard to regain and maintain my health as I once fought against the idea of aging.

While I once scoffed at the idea of eating six prunes a day for stronger bones, I now accept there is scientific evidence for it so I never neglect my prune intake. I have switched to drinking almond milk (more calcium than regular milk), improved my diet in other ways, and added new exercises to my daily routine – and stuck with them.

I See Progress

And I’m happy to report some good progress. I have actually been able to reverse some of my osteoporosis (hips, spine) to osteopenia. Still a problem to monitor, but progress nevertheless.

Although I didn’t get smart until I was 64, I’m still only 67 and from what I hear, that’s the new middle age. I intend to be in good enough shape to enjoy it!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Did you experience any degree of denial as you moved through the aging process? How did it hurt you? What are you doing differently now?

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Rebecca Schneider

This article is an excellent reminder for SELF CARE NOW!

Barbara

Wise post. I neglected my health when I was caregiving for my husband, who had Lewy body dementia. Teeth! When you lose a tooth eating a sandwich…

Many women become the main caregiver. Don’t forget, caregivers, if you don’t care for yourself you can’t care for your loved ones.

Sherry Bronson

This is really good advice. I’m 73 and still swimming that dark river. But you’ve made me pause. Am I really invincible, or have I been extraordinarily lucky? It’s long past time to pay attention. Thank you, Cynthia.

Mary

I agree with you and expect many of us are in denial. I was always the caregiver. A registered nurse for 50 years. I gave advice and had no time to take it myself. I woke up at sixty eight years old. While unloading boxes from a move, sudden pain ended up quickly led to a diagnosis of stage 3 colon cancer. Surgery, Chemo, Retirement, of new medical problems followed. I became old over night. I can relate.

Valerie

I am 86yr.and doing very well. I did not have any problems. I do not even look my age, no grey hairs.

The Author

Cynthia Hogg is a freelance writer in western Michigan who contributes regularly to Sixty and Me and Senior Perspectives magazine. She loves to travel and spend time with her grandchildren, especially combining the two. She is the editor of the newly updated blog www.skipgentravelguru.com.

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