Seeing Mah, by Natosha Safo. A guest post.

I read this post over at Guerrilla Aging – Navigating the Third Half of Life and I am reposting it here with the permission of both the author and the blog owner.

Although I’m still in my fifties, I’ve already been introduced to the curbs that are inexplicably higher than they used to be, and the young people who mumble and swallow their words, and the doctors who look like they’re not old enough to drive, and the numbers on watches that have shrunken somehow, and in general living in a world that is spinning so fast I that I can hardly keep up. But I’m still young enough to look at really old people with pity liberally laced with admiration for the way they cope.

This post by Natosha Safo spoke loudly to me. Please let our guest writer know how you like it. 


(For reasons that are none of your GD business) I don’t really cry that much anymore.

Well, I was just at the pharmacy and there was an elderly woman in line, her cane in her shopping cart, leaning on the cart for balance. When she walked up she looked at me, smiled brightly and said, “Hello! How are you today?”

Yes, I love old people, but something about her … I just wanted to call her “Mah” or “Moomah” like I called my mom, Johnnie. I guess she kinda looks like what I imagine Johnnie would look like if she hadn’t died so young.

She gets to the counter finally and while she’s talking to the cashier I determine she has diabetes and maybe Parkinson’s? I can’t take my eyes off of her. After collecting the scripts she was picking up she pulls three or four empty prescriptions out of her bag and asks the cashier if she can fill them yet or is it too early. The cream in the tube, she explains, is for her feet and the tube is so small it doesn’t last very long, is it too early to refill that one?

Then … she bends down, lower than she is already stooped, and wipes tears that escape from her eyes. Oh god. Seriously, the tears come rushing down my own face! I’m thinking, what the hell am I going to do if the answer is no?! I will absolutely LOSE MY SHIT up here in this Walgreen’s pharmacy!

Thankfully the cashier leans over and quickly says, “Its alright, yes, you can get this one refilled now.” I quickly dig in my bag for a Kleenex and wipe the tears off of my face before “Mah” turns around and sees me. I still watch her though. The cashier rings up all of her purchases and “Mah” needs $0.93 more. She reaches into her bag, pulls out a Ziplock full of change and with a shaky hand passes it to the cashier to count out.

I jump up while the cashier’s back is turned and offer a single dollar, tell her to keep her change, I know what its like when you have to dig into the coin bag. Go ahead and hold on to that for when you might need it next. She looks up at me and is genuinely surprised and taken aback. I put my hand on her back and say, Merry Christmas before I sit back down in the waiting area. She wishes me the same and gathers her purchases and goes on her way.

I hold it together long enough to pay for my stuff, follow her in the parking lot sneakily to make sure she isn’t mugged or anything, see that she is safely in the car with whoever was driving her, and then cry the whole drive home.

And I’m still crying.

I hate feeling like this

Sometimes I just can’t tell the difference between being in touch with my feelings and expressing them appropriately – or playing the Stage IV card and milking it for all it’s worth. I’m having a rotten week or so and you, Internet, are the lucky puppy who gets to hear all about it.

First of all someone I care about a great deal is going through a terrible life-changing passage right now and I can’t do anything to help. That makes me feel helpless as well grieving for the losses in my friend’s life.

Next. Remember my friend who was found dead, murdered, in his home? I have had to be involved in some of the settling of his affairs because I was listed as next of kin. This week I had to pay a large bill to the water company for water usage after his death. The company does not care that he is dead and the flat is empty and doesn’t belong to me. They dunned me anyway. (My lawyer is on it.) This added to my feelings of impotence and frustration and grief.

Then there’s been my health. Mundane little health things, not cancer. I had a little bit of a fever (which is an issue because of the low neutrophil count) and stomach problems. I stumbled and hurt (fractured?) another toe. My chronic cough worsened (probably because of staying in bed with the fever). Nothing dramatic, just enough to make me feel like something you’d scrape off the bottom of your shoe. The stupid toe hurts and so do various other joints. The weather’s changing and I’m not twenty anymore.

And the pain, of course. (We’re on to the cancer now, if you’re playing along at home.) The bone pain is increasing to the point where I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to cope without narcotics. I’m taking maximum daily doses of Advil supplemented with something called Tramadex (known as Tramadol in the US). It is a very weak  μ-opioid receptor agonist but provides pain relief similar to that of codeine, which I can’t take, and I don’t react to it badly as I do to stronger opioids. But I think I’m coming to the end of that road. Not sure what the next step will be.

What else is driving me nuts? Well, since you asked…

  • My house is not as clean (spotless) as I’d like it to be. I don’t have the strength or balance to do any more than I’m doing, and my household helper can only do so much in the hours I can afford to pay him.
  • My eyes are not as good as they used to be, which means that I have had to give up making lace. I still hope I’ll be able to take it up again, but the knitting I’m doing instead just isn’t the same. (Though it is very cool that I knitted my first pair of socks with a turned heel.)
  • My attention span is shorter and more variable than it used to be, which means I can do even less work than I used to do. Ditto my memory.

None of this is as bad as what many other people are dealing with – bringing us back to my drama queendom. I was hesitant about posting this for that very reason, but decided to go ahead. Why? Because when I started this blog I made a decision that I would be as honest and transparent as prudence allows, and that means sometimes showing these less attractive view of my life.

Thanks for being here.

Wednesday Video: I will NOT stay in your box!

Today’s video is a study in preconceptions, the breaking thereof. They are called The Zimmers. (For Americans – a Zimmer frame is the British term for a walker.) The lead singer, Alf, was 90 years old at the time of filming.

It was filmed at the Beatles’ studio on Abbey Road, and the little interposed clips are priceless. Watch to the end. You will be rewarded.

My Life in Technology

I remember…

  • All telephones being big and black and having dials
  • Televisions housed in beautiful wooden cabinets as a matter of course. They were black and white, of course.
  • The transistor radio section at the department store. Six transistor radios were groovy.
  • Feltboards in school.
  • Slide rules. (Listed under “Obsolete Skills” on my CV.)
  • Going on a field trip with my class to see a computer at the university. It took up a whole room, which we weren’t allowed to enter – only look in through an observation window.
  • The first personal computers.
  • Splicing tape for reel-to-reel tape recorders. I was brilliant at it.
  • The beginning of direct dialing for long distance calls.
  • Key punch cards for programming those big computers.
  • Telex machines with punched tape. Another of my obsolete skills: telex operator.
  • The beginning of the Internet.
  • Sending my first fax and making a photocopy so I’d have one for the files. (What? It doesn’t disintegrate on this end, speed through the wire and reintegrate over there?) Also their fax had to be compatible with your fax for it to work.

That was a random list. Thinking about those things led me to wander around the interwebs until I found the 20th Century Timeline at Inventors. Here is what I learned.

The year I was born is notable for the invention of tetracycline and the optic fiber. The next year, the first computer hard disk was used. More importantly, the hovercraft was invented. (I wonder how quickly it filled up with eels.) The year before my birth, however, saw at least four inventions that changed the face of world culture: birth control pills, Teflon cookware, the solar cell, and… the founding of McDonalds. Barbie dolls are several years younger than me. Sigh.

Valium was invented while I was in elementary school. Rumors of a causal relationship are exaggerated at best. Handheld calculators, the artificial heart and bar-code scanners were invented while I was in junior high.

I quit reading at about that point. Sitting at my desk I see a cordless telephone, a mobile “smartphone”, and  a desktop computer that is only about four centimeters thick and is far, far more powerful than the ones that put John Glenn into orbit around the earth on  February 20, 1962. Heck, the smartphone is, too. I’m wearing a cordless USB headset and looking at the scanner-fax-printer, also cordless, for my home network. And so on.

This is the paragraph where I should make a wry comment, but I can’t think of one. Technology changes; people don’t. What do you remember from childhood that is very different today?

“With age comes wisdom”

I received this book for my birthday and just started reading. It looks like it will be lively, interesting, informative and provocative.

From my initial skimming, it looks like Goldberg defines wisdom as the intuitive and effective application of pattern recognition to decision making and he argues that this is an ability that develops later in life. (Which only makes sense. It takes time and multiple exposures to be able to recognize patterns.)

Neuropsychology is one of those fields that have really taken off in recent years but barely existed when I was in university. I’m looking forward to learning more about this approach to the human experience.

For the interested, a few links that I’ve been exploring preparatory to reading the book:

Elkhonon Goldberg (Wikipedia article)

Goldberg’s home page

Goldberg’s CV (from his home page)

Are you familiar with this book or the author? What do you think about it?