Getting old, legendary pitcher Satchel Paige once said, “is a state of mind. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” Yeah, right.
At 74, with aches and pains in a body that I have abused too many times in a rambunctious life, I walk gingerly, gobble pain-killing opiates like Tramadol like aspirin and find that I fall asleep sitting up but can’t get to sleep in bed lying down.
Sorry, Satchel. It does mind. Getting old is a pain in the ass (and several other parts of my body).
Doctors finish most diagnoses with “for your age.” Theater, restaurants, and other places don’t even ask if I want a Senior discount. They take one look and realize I’m an old fart.
Getting old didn’t help when I laid my Harley-Davidson down on the pavement of U.S. 221 not far from the bottom of Bent Mountain in Roanoke County to avoid cows on the road at night.
The first man on the scene later told me I wasn’t breathing. Fortunately, he is the husband of an Emergency Room nurse at Carilion Roanoke Memorial and got her on his cell phone to give him advice on what it took to get my lungs functioning again. I took him to lunch for thanks, and schedules have prevented us to take he and his wife out to dinner. I owe them more than I can ever repay.
Even so, the ER doctor at the hospital told wife Amy that she might want to call a priest for “last rites.” He didn’t expect me to last until the morning. More than two months later, on Christmas Eve, I left the hospital with a release for where the lead doc called me “a walking miracle.”
As they say, that was then, this is now. I walked better on the day I left the hospital than I do now. The right leg orthopedists rebuilt is now three-quarters of an inch shorter than my left, which I broke a year after leaving the hospital and continued to walk on it because the ER in the same hospital missed the fractured, but not dislodged, femur while they diagnosed a “severe ankle sprain.” The x-ray tech did not scan up my leg to catch the broken bone.
That leg now hurts as much as the left. Both are riddled with severe, rapidly-advancing arthritis that hobbles them because I have broken too many bones too often.
My hearing is now down to just 25 percent in my right ear and 60 percent in the left, but I’m told that hearing aids will not help me understand words. There may be a neurological reason for that that is tied to the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) suffered in the motorcycle crash.
Those who have suffered TBI face a greater than 50% chance of experiencing “early-onset dementia” earlier in life than might be expected. I have growing memory problems that could be part of TBI, but when I ask a doctor about whether it might be the brain injury or simply old age, they shrug and say “probably either.”
“The simple truth is that we don’t really understand how the brain functions,” one neurologist told me. “That makes what you have difficult to diagnose and treat.”
My driver’s license says my height is five feet, nine inches, but the latest measure of my height at Carilion says I’m now five-foot-five inches. What the hell happened to the other four inches?
“Could be a variety of reasons,” says one doctor.
I get regular CAT scans to keep tabs on what may or may not be wrong with me. Once, the doctor said, “Mr. Thompson, we scanned your head and found nothing.” Hell, my wife has been telling me that for more than 40 years.
Each morning starts a day of ingesting pills every six hours: 100 milligrams of Tramadol (or 400 mg a day), two 550 mg tablets of Tylenol, two 500 mg caplets of Bayer Back & Body, and a 500 mg hit of muscle relaxer — all for pain. The drugs don’t kill the pain. They just reduce it to a level that is more or less tolerable.
Other daily medications include muscle pills to control blood pressure, Glucosamine and Chondroitin for joint health, vitamins, and a few other things to take care of various bodily functions.
On the leg that was broken so badly in 2012 keeps my left foot skewed to the right. I can’t straighten it. My right eye now sits lower than my left after the plastic surgeon that rebuilt my face after the cow encounter had to build a new eye socket. As a result, my vision is blurry when I first wake up while the brain has to adjust to sync eyes that are no longer level.
That surgeon, Barton Thomas, did an excellent job in putting my face back together, but the scars he worked so diligently to conceal with my eyebrows not line my forehead, and the broken nose healed a little off-kilter.
Like professional football players who have suffered too many serious concussions and head injuries, I have been knocked around too many times, staring with a serious car crash in 1967 and a helicopter that fell from the sky, with me and others on board, in 1969. The motorcycle-cow crash in 2012 may have been the final bump too many on my noggin.
I’ll know more in an upcoming CT brain scan and tests by neurologists. I’m not looking forward to either.
“Listen,”said a therapist during rehabilitation in 2013, “you’re damn lucky to be alive. Enjoy life.”
I’m trying. Enjoying life includes covering school athletic events, which means traipsing up and down sidelines on football fields and basketball or volleyball courts with my cameras. It means photographing musical events like the Friday Night Jamboree, the Floyd Radio Show, the Galax Fiddler’s convention, FloydFest and others,
Such things have left me feeling younger than I am. Now, I too often struggle. I missed a basketball regional playoff game this weekend because of health-related issues, along with other events.
Slowing down is not easy for someone who has spent his life covering news around the world. I know that the time to keep doing these things are coming to an end, perhaps more quickly than I realize.
That will hurt, even more than my body does. It is a pain that no medication can heal.