I received a call from my doctor's office the other day. The receptionist told me that the doctor had requested I come in to his office. I felt this was strange, since I'd only just been to see him a week or two before this call. Everything checked out well, at that time, and he had not sent me for any tests.
I questioned the receptionist as to what the reason might be; she mumbled something about a medical review. Even though I had no idea what the doctor might be reviewing, I allowed myself a small bit of hope...had they perhaps found a new treatment for Fibro I hadn't heard about?
Since I didn't know what the whole thing might entail, I cancelled one appointment, as a result of having visitors that week. I thought, when I phoned and cancelled, that the receptionist ( a different lady, this time) sounded a little knowing. When she realized I didn't know what the appointment was about, she changed the subject to how cool the weather has been.
I didn't think much about The Appointment...it was just another thing to do in an already busy week ahead.
I was still not thinking about what the doctor might want, out of the blue like this, when I settled myself in his office. My mind was on a whole cadre of different tasks I had ahead of me.
After the preliminary greetings, my doctor said...I guess you're wondering why you're here?...
I began to be aware that he was a wee bit nervous. And that made me focus more on where I was and...why was I here?
I could see him thinking...In for a penny, in for a pound...and, with a little grin, he told me that since I was on a couple of medications for Fibromyalgia that could cause either Alzheimer's disease or dementia, that Fibro itself can cause them, he felt, at my age, that I should be tested for those two conditions.
All I heard was Dementia, Alzheimer's and...test. A test!
Good grief. My eyebrows shot up and I stared at him, wide-eyed.
My doctor, who reminds me of one of my granddaughter Brianna's friends...he seems about that young...began to giggle nervously. For him, I suppose, it must have felt as if he was facing his grandmother. I could see and feel his apprehension at what he was planning on doing.
He quickly explained. My doctor felt that aging was one of the things the medical profession was ignoring. He is all about prevention, he said, and since I'd just turned sixty, he felt he had to talk with me to make sure I knew what aging was all about.
And then he went on to state statistics...on average, women die at the age of 75 and men at the age of 72. Women usually get Alzheimer's and dementia more than men, who statistically die of stroke or heart attack. He hurriedly explained, as I was about to fall off the chair, that these were only statistics...most people live much longer.
I kept thinking...they must have gotten those figures from somewhere!
I began to laugh...my usual reaction to shock. Some perspective arrives, after I let out inappropriate and nervous, forceful energy in laughter. Usually.
My doctor watched me. My laughter took on a nervous edge...was he already thinking I was demented?
I told him I couldn't pass the test...I could hardly remember anything. I told him I had recently joined Lumosity.com and that I was doing brain exercises every day. I told him I took my dog for walks every day, that I worked hard physically in the garden. I told him I could not pass tests...even an eye examination has sweat pouring down my face.
I tried to come up with as much as possible, to prove I was still mentally coherent...anything, just so I wouldn't have to take that test. I caught myself almost begging...
The doctor ignored it all. He told me the test was very simple, it was not about the questions so much as how I dealt with them, my body language, and so on. And that there was much that could now be done to help with dementia/Alzheimer's.
Well. If one knows one is to be tested for losing their minds, then perhaps one can visit the doctor in a better, more prepared frame of mind, one not shut down by shock and stupefaction, at the fact that statistically, at the age of sixty, there may only be fifteen years left to one...
I have never contemplated how much longer I would have to live. I knew about those statistics the doctor rattled off to me. I just had no idea they applied to me. I have forever held the opinion I would live to be 104. But, even if I lived to be eighty or ninety, there are only twenty or thirty years, conceivably, left to live.
Time goes very quickly, these days. The last ten years have gone by in a flash...
He began the test. He asked me the date, where I lived, what country I was in, where his office was. He asked me to remember three things...apple, table, and penny. Except he has a South African accent and penny came out of his mouth as pain.
He looked astonished as I recited apple, table and pain back to him, when he asked what three words I was to remember. He mentioned it again, again I heard pain. He tried to describe the penny; he said it was a coin, a round metal object you pay with. Still! I heard pain. I could not think what pain had to do with a coin.
Addled, I watched him take his wallet out and hold up a penny. Oh! Oh! A penny!
I just knew I would be the first person declared demented because I couldn't understand an accent.
After that, I was asked to write a sentence, fold a paper and place it on the floor, and subtract seven from 100, then seven from 93, etc.
It all caught up with me in the subtraction. After 93, I no longer knew who, where, what or why. I stared at the doctor, my mind a complete blank. Were there other numbers? What was a number? Oh, my goodness...
For just a second or two, I learned what Alzheimer's might be like for those so afflicted. For just that moment, my brain felt like a hole, like there was only Air where my brain should be.
The doctor watched me; suddenly, I could tell he was a doctor, albeit young, and a good one.
He was aware of my struggle and so, I didn't try to hide it. I showed my astonishment, for only a moment, and then, closed my eyes and concentrated like never before...
After what seemed like hours but was really only seconds, I was able to visualize the numbers once more. I was able to think once again.
After the questions were completed and after the doctor told me I passed the test in the high percentile, we discussed the moment where my mind went completely blank.
He told me this occurs more often in the aging brain. He explained why...something about blood flow, lack of exercise and a few more ditties I have stuffed away until I'm ready to really have a good think about them.
He warned me about lack of acceptance of aging; he'd seen too many people become angered and embittered at themselves and their partners/families because of impatience and fear of increasing age-related problems.
It is the way it is...he said...I am concerned that here in this country we ignore aging, we try to stay young. Any signs we might be getting older are hidden. And then I see the elderly not getting the respect they deserve, only because their bodies and minds cannot keep up with the young...
He looked so earnest and so young as we chatted. He knew I worked with elderly patients; he was somewhat surprised at my shocked reaction to the test. He said...You are a senior, after all.
And therein lies the rub. I have not, as yet, considered myself a senior. Nor have I ever considered how many years might be left, in my life.
A wee bit o' reality is a good thing, for the Queen of Denial.
On the drive home, I tasted the word senior, as it applied to me.
It felt good.
Actually, it felt right!