My back is hooped! I need a new one.

My lower back is permanently damaged because of an industrial injury that I had when I was around 20 years old, followed by a disc removal in my lumbar region. Over the decades that injury and surgery have often left me incapacitated and practically immobilized at times. The pain spikes up to a 10 at times although if I lie still it’s manageable. Dare I try to move and I get gut wrenching debilitating pain spikes. In 2002 I was diagnosed with kidney cell cancer so a surgeon removed my left kidney leaving a 14 inch scar from my abdomen in front to close to my spine at the back. Gladly, the cancer had not metastasized and I’m cancer free 16 years later. The pain from the surgery, however, has not abated much and it has joined up with the pain from my disc surgery and injury to create a crazy nexus of pain on my left side from my hip  to my upper thoracic area. Joining this happy little pain scenario is a B12 deficiency that has left me feeling constantly hung over and exhausted. Add to that a couple of other injuries to my right knee and both shoulders makes life very interesting. So, what have I done about this and what can I do now about this?

Through all of this I’ve tried to maintain some normalcy in my life. At times it was impossible and I had to take months off of work on three occasions. Now that I’m retired I can’t take time off anymore! Such a drag.

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of ways of dealing with my back pain and I’ve had scores of very well meaning people suggest ways that they’ve tried and found effective  in dealing with back pain including any number of varieties of physiotherapy, exercise, massage, acupuncture, yoga, meds, diet, etc., etc., etc. I have availed myself of most of the remedies recommended. Nothing seems to work for any length of time although I have gotten stretches of pain-reduced time over the years and I have been able to paint, sculpt (even using a chainsaw), printmake and putter in my shop. I cherish those times, and I want them back.

A couple of days ago, we (my family and I) attended my mother’s funeral in Maillardville. Before leaving my daughter’s home in Vancouver to go to the church for the ceremony I thought I would reach down and tie my shoes. Big mistake. That triggered a pain reaction in my back that almost had me passing out. The ceremonies at the church and later at the cemetery were very difficult because of the pain, never mind the grief. Yesterday, I drove home and although I was not entirely pain free, I was more or less comfortable. That’s the way this pain syndrome works. It comes and goes. This morning I did a stupid thing again. I tried to tie my shoes. Not too bright, this old man. I was aiming to go with Carolyn to walk the dog. Instead, I lay on the couch hopped up on T3s. I’ve got some pain relief right now and can sit and type this on my computer, but I have no idea how long this will last. Tomorrow, I call my M.D. I doubt he can do anything, but maybe prescribe some more T3s. I see a neurologist at the end of February. I hope he will be able to help me with the pain, the exhaustion, the dizziness, etc.

I tell you this not because I want sympathy. Maybe a little understanding would be good, but that can only come with knowledge. Hence this blog post. One problem is that most of the time I look pretty normal and healthy. People assume that I am and I don’t blame them. I do, however, find it a little frustrating when people ask me how I’m feeling. I don’t know what to say. It’s complicated. I have normal blood pressure, my pulse is good. In fact all my vital signs are good. I’ve just had an MRI that told me that my brain is in pretty good shape. So, yeah, it’s complicated. It might be good for those of us who experience debilitating pain to have a gauge implanted under the skin of our forearms indicating the level of pain we are experiencing at any given moment. I’m joking, of course, but…

Being at my mother’s funeral a couple of days ago was sobering to say the least. I couldn’t help but think about my own mortality and morbidity. My eldest sister is 82, almost 83 years old. She’s in good shape and could easily live well into her 90s. Most of my siblings are in good shape although MS and other autoimmune issues run in the family and I expect most of us will live long lives. It’s in our genes. But my parents’ generation is almost all gone. It’s our turn now to leave this mortal coil, and we will, one after the other, it’s just a matter of time.

More about my take on life and death in my next post coming soon.

Six score and ten

So, tomorrow I turn 70 years of age. Never thought I’d make 26. I had a bad way of destroying vehicles when I was a kid. Reckless driving and being a crazy teenager were the contributing factors. When I turned 23 I sort of came to my senses. I had been brain damaged for the previous 5 years following a car crash. Not a pleasant period in my life. At 23 I returned to school (Douglas College) and eventually went to Simon Fraser University, graduated with a BA in 1976 and an MA in 1981, both degrees in sociology.

A couple of years later I got a job teaching at North Island College after living in what we often referred to ‘sessional hell’ whereby we were hired on contract, one term at a time. No hint of job security.

Got married in 1973. Smart move on my part. Still married 43 years later. Smart move on my part. Not all smooth going. Still, we, Carolyn and I, have a great family and we still kind of love each other. We can still engage in home renovations without killing each other. That’s pretty good. We do a lot of things together. We are best friends, I think. Carolyn would have to comment on her side of the bargain.

Seventy years! That’s a long time. But it doesn’t really feel like it. The passing of time is strange. I don’t think about the past much. I do pay some attention to what I’ve learned in my discipline over the years. Sociology, both as a student and as a teacher, has allowed me to think deeply about the world we live in, our social and economic relations. It has also made me a lonely boy in a sense because I can’t share my ‘learnings’ in a meaningful way with many people, at least not like when I was still teaching. Since I’ve retired, I’ve published posts in this blog, have done some art work and have been busy with volunteer work. What I know and do is irrelevant to most people. I know that. I’m not indispensable nor special. But, it matters not. I live on. And now into old age.

I find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that I am 70 years old. But whatever, I’ll get over it soon. I’m committed to doing a drawing a day for 30 days. That keeps me busy just thinking about it! DOING is the key to my wellbeing, even if I have to do it while in pain most of the time. Just get over it, body! Carry on.


Getting old, damn it!: A meeting to address the implications.

Actually, I shouldn’t write ‘getting old’. What I should write is ‘being old’. Well, I’ve never thought of myself as old, but looking in the mirror reminds me every day that, yes indeed, I am getting on. But growing old is quite strange for me as it probably is for most of us. I think that as a species we have a built in system for blocking the impact of the passing of time on the way we live our lives. We are obviously aware of the passing of time, but we don’t think about it much if at all. Then one day we can’t help but notice that old age has crept up on us and bitten us hard on the rear end. The back hurts. The hairbrush pulls up tufts of grey hair where there is some left and the bladder, well, the bladder has its own agendum.

Of course the reality is that I have plenty of company in this getting old business. Born in 1947, I am one of the leaders of the post-war baby-boomer parade. The number of people in Canada over 65 years of age is higher than it’s ever been and it will trend higher yet until around 2040 when most of us boomers will be down for the count. My gawd, if I last that long I’ll be 93 years old which is my mother’s current age. My father lived to be 96 so I may just make it. I just hope I’m healthier than both my parents were as they passed into their 80s. My mother, born in 1924, has severe dementia and my father was deaf and  almost completely immobilized by arthritis when he died in 2007. I don’t think he died a happy man. My mother cannot know what happiness is.

It’s a wonderful thing that my mother who lives in a care home in Coquitlam has a few of my many sisters who live nearby visit her most every day. She doesn’t recognize us anymore, hasn’t for a long time. Still, my sisters, the angels that they are, visit her and feed her lunch while ensuring that she is well cared for by the staff. I haven’t seen my mother for many months. No excuses, except that we live on Vancouver Island and she lives on the mainland. Still, truth be told, even when we go to Vancouver to visit my daughter and her family we never get around to visiting my mother (or anyone else in the family for that matter). I feel guilt about that, but not enough apparently to change my behaviour towards her (and them). In my defense, with 3 brothers and 10 living sisters, it would take weeks to get around to seeing them all. I do love every one of them and some of us are in communication via Facebook, but it’s not logistically possible to see them all.

Well, the above is just a way of getting around to the point of this blog post, which is a day long meeting/study session I attended yesterday of around 40 or so people who work for the provincial ministry of health, Island Health, some front line seniors’ support workers, various and sundry nursing types and people like me, members of the non-profit sector with an interest in seniors and their quality of life. The topic of the meeting was seniors’ isolation.

Mary Everson from the K’ómoks First Nation welcomed us to the K’ómoks territory. She’s a year older than I am but is now looking after a 6 year old and a 13 year old. I can’t imagine what that would be like although I do get a taste of it when the grandkids come to visit. Mary Everson is a very articulate spokesperson for her nation and for her age group too. She emphasized the importance of treating seniors with dignity, especially frail seniors who have travelled to the hospital from remote communities. She suggested that many seniors isolate themselves and don’t ask for support or assistance in any way. Not all seniors crave company or want help. Later in the meeting we would hear those seniors referred to as stoic seniors. She emphasized that being satisfied with life is most important, old or not.

Daryl Plecas, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health (Terry Lake) for seniors attended the meeting and emphasized in his remarks the importance of quality of life for seniors but also of their caretakers and families. Too often we forget that family members and caretakers are seniors themselves and their lives can be seriously affected by their need to look after their frail kin or clients.

The keynote speaker was Norah Keating from the University of Alberta who has a long resumé and who has written a book on the social isolation of seniors. Her talk was nuanced and careful. She noted the importance of thinking about seniors and their lives from both an individual and community perspective emphasizing the need for agencies and governments to think about seniors’s needs from their point of view. She categorized seniors as stoic, disengaged, marginalized and frail. The meeting attendees were not so much interested in me as a senior, but in the marginalized and frail seniors. They do make up a significant proportion of seniors although less than 10% of seniors live in care facilities. Many live in their own homes and like it that way. As they age they may lose their spouses, their driver’s licences and much of their mobility. Many as driven by pride and/or shame and don’t easily ask for help. Neighbours, family and friends are all important in keeping seniors from being too isolated.

Keating noted that the view that successful ageing means having great family support, being lucky, having money and living in a beautiful home just doesn’t fit the life experience of the vast majority of seniors. Agencies and governments have to recognize that a compromised quality of life affects individual seniors obviously but it also impoverishes us all.

We did not spend much time during the day discussing death, dying, hospice or palliative care. Many of those in attendance are well aware of these issues but the point of the meeting was not in end of life issues, but rather in the quality of life seniors have in coming to what we all hope will be a good death.

The group assembled struggled over challenges, solutions and ideas around dealing with seniors’ isolation. A report will be forthcoming. Enough for now.