Despite a few health issues, not quite ready to be an old-timer

November 30, 2009|By Mike McGrew

For a good while, I was one badly bummed out baby boomer - sadly worried that I'd become an old-timer. As a school psychologist with 30 years' experience, this painful realization had nothing to do with the students who constantly rejuvenate me. Instead, health issues rudely forced me off the trails and out of the gym. Plus, my memory started to forsake me.

Growing older never fazed me as I turned 30 ... 40 ... even 50. I actually thought moving overseas in 2006 revitalized my basketball skills, especially compared to sluggish German players who couldn't shoot but could be my sons. But it was just a mirage.

After 40-plus years of 40-minute runs and pick-up hoops, I was hit hard where it really hurt - in my image as a smart, youthful guy living by a simple motto: "Eat bad, exercise good." This sense of self was shattered by my surprising gout diagnosis ("Eww, that's for old people"), abdominal aneurysms, and my ... uh ... forgetfulness.

I rejected evidence of emerging geezerhood as my beard turned white and gnarly calf veins erupted. Even when I first stared aghast at coffee age spots and the sway of my Reaganesque neck, I comforted myself knowing that I also had Ron's thick hair and none of his memory loss.

Six years ago, I was doctor-ordered to switch from coffee to green tea, and began meds for excess acid and high cholesterol. What made me first suspect I was growing old, however, was an innocent boy, who, upon meeting me, whispered to my nephew: "Is that your grandfather?" Like I couldn't hear him!

Then, in 2007, my basketball and running pursuits were simultaneously retired. I had prolonged the inevitable for months, until my painfully swollen ankles convinced me to get an MRI. Its results prompted my visit to a German sports orthopedist, who drained two gouty ankle cysts, shot them with cortisone, and, in his "Ahhnold" voice, terminated my sports passions. He pronounced my joints "de-gen-er-at-ed" and ordered a low-fat, low-yeast, low-beer diet.

Good luck with that in Germany. My favorite foods were only yeasty pretzels, yeasty dark beer and everything rich in butter. Naturally, I asked when I could run again. Muffling his guttural laugh, Doktor Terminator suggested, "that board game old American men play at the park." I muttered something obscene as I departed - mocked, angry and broken.

This year, while recovering from my gout and torn hamstring (that's the last time I'll water-ski!), a CT scan revealed several abdominal aneurysms. Their stent graph repair left me with walking as my only exercise for eight months.

Wait! I almost forgot about my memory decline. I used to ace exams with near-total recall. Now, as I sometimes grope for names, I cleverly cover up with statesmanlike pauses and explanations, such as, "uhh ... gimme a sec ... I know this one."

Why did I resist accepting my deterioration? Fear-filled denial, egotism, melancholic masochism - you name it. I viewed old-timers as slowly stagnating on paths to forget-filled fogydom. Wasn't this the necessary road we all take?

I regarded my overseas sabbatical, rejuvenated writing, self-taught guitar playing and homegrown songs as noble attempts along psychologist Erik Erikson's life stages involving Generativity and Integration - his developmental challenges for older folks. Shouldn't I now just slow down, look back contentedly, and resign myself to old-timerhood?

No thanks! Instead, I'm into new workouts and writing. I laugh more with schoolchildren - proud that I remember their issues even when I fumble their names. My new youthfulness must be evident to them, as one flattering 8-year-old just guessed my age to be 27. (Full disclosure: The student has serious learning issues).

Today, I view my forgetfulness, gnarly veins, age spots, stent graphs, gouty joints - even missives like this - as simple markers on my still-promising life path. And, like many boomers, I now look forward not to sedentary retirement but to reduced employment and new pursuits. I want to try fishing, guitar lessons and, bod willing, tennis. I also intend to volunteer extensively and be an active wise guy with my granddaughter.

Maybe much later, with beer and pretzel (all right, wine and cracker) in hand, I'll integrate my life story and fully accept my further de-gen-er-a-tion. Nevertheless, like Ahhnold, I'll remain a youth-filled baby boomer, refusing to enter geezer land.

I hope all you boomers out there will join me in similar attitudes toward our aging.

Mike McGrew, a school psychologist from Carroll County, returned from working in Germany earlier this year. His e-mail is mcgrewclark@hotmail.com.

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