Archive for the ‘Ageing (dis)gracefully’ Category

In the operating theatre last week Alison held my hand. I’d never met Alison before but I was glad to hold her hand. She told me if I was uncomfortable or needed the surgeon to stop I should squeeze her hand. I didn’t need to squeeze, but it was comforting to know I could. This reminded me of my Advance Care Plan where I have requested to have someone with me to hold my hand when I am dying.

When I had my previous cataract operation (privately at Christchurch Eye Surgery) I was sedated. This time (at St George’s Hospital under a public CDHB contract) I had just a local anaesthetic and I was conscious and aware of what was going on in the theatre. I heard a sound like a dentist’s drill and knew they were cutting into my eye, but didn’t feel anything. Every now and then a disembodied voice would say “irrigation on” and I was aware of liquid movement. I knew this was a machine talking, perhaps a form of Artificial Intelligence.

I hope I don’t need more operations because the allied health workers are working to rule, and sometimes going on strike. I’ve been in an operating theatre twice in recent weeks and each time they put plastic booties over my shoes. I very much doubt that these get washed and re-used. So much waste!

The next day I went for a follow-up consultation and the surgeon said my new lens was not working in the expected way. Apparently my distance sight has improved, but not my short sight which was the intention. He suggested this effect may reverse in a few days. I wondered whether he might suggest my coming back sooner for a re-test, but no. My next appointment is for four weeks time.

My eye shield

I went home with an eye shield and instructions to leave it on overnight, then wear it in bed for five nights. I did this for the first two nights, but found it kept slipping so haven’t bothered after that. As before, I was given drops to be put regularly into my eye. Last time this was 4X daily for four weeks. This time it’s 4X daily for two weeks, then 2X daily for another fortnight. Last time I was told I needed to lie still for two minutes after each drop. This time I was told to just close my eye for a moment, which is so much easier!

At the follow-up appointment the nurse said I must avoid anything strenuous such as lifting heavy washing baskets. I told her she was too late as I’d already hung out the washing that morning. However I did avoid doing my usual daily exercises for four days.

My eye is still red and the eyelid inclined to droop. It’s hard to focus on the jigsaw I enjoy doing during The Panel each afternoon, but reading is fine – probably I’m using only one eye for this.

I’m waiting for my improved vision
now I’ve had cataract incision

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This is an absorbing story of Juliet’s adjustment to getting older. We all eventually face old age, except for those whose lives are cut short. I learned recently that our age can be estimated from our DNA because our chromosomes get shorter as we age.

Juliet suggests that the simple pleasure of being in the moment can be more frequent as we age. She also advocates the need to surrender to fatigue and allow ourselves a rest day when required. I like her idea that we can have rest days and test days, and I’ve had both of those recently. I can also relate to the idea that the limb that opens childproof lids and cans may drop off as we get older. Mine went some time ago.

The links and tendrils of connection are important, like the fungi that communicate beneath the earth through the roots of trees, creating a thriving ecosystem. This reminded me of my recent pleasure in meeting an old friend, unseen for years, who suggested a lunch date next week. Spirituality is another important support as we grow older.

I found it hard to read of Juliet experiencing continual pain, and am grateful not to be dealing with that, although over the last few weeks Stephen and I (and Ziggy) have all had hospital appointments in preparation and follow-up for various surgeries. While I don’t have chronic pain I’m aware that parts of me no longer work the way they used to and anything strained or damaged takes longer to heal.

Juliet’s few poems had an inspiring resonance for me. In her last chapter Juliet invites us to keep a reflective journal, writing about the challenges of life. I used to write Morning Pages, but rarely do these days. This blog has become my journal, although I avoid sharing anything too personal here.

We learn just how this author copes
and gently cultivates her hopes

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This week I had early morning appointments at two different hospitals on two consecutive days.

On Tuesday I needed to be at St George’s Eye Clinic at 8am for an assessment of my second cataract. I had a similar assessment at Christchurch Public last August, but Covid meant the operation never happened, and I was happy to be transferred to St George’s where parking is easier. While my eyes were thoroughly examined Stephen enjoyed a late breakfast of bacon and egg pie fresh from the oven in the hospital cafe. My cataract operation is now scheduled for mid May.

Yesterday I was booked at Burwood Hospital to have the excision of a nodule on my right index finger. This was a soft tissue lump which had been annoying but not painful for some months.

Lump on finger

At Burwood there is plenty of parking on open ground and we arrived at 8,30am as instructed. It was another hour with form filling before I was admitted and Stephen went off to the cafe – only a cold sandwich this time.

I was given a Covid RAT test, the first I’ve had, and after this proved negative the surgeon came to inject local anaesthetic with the longest needle I’ve ever experienced. At 10.30 I was told my operation would be in 20 minutes, but in fact it was 11.30am before I went to theatre with a gown over my clothes and covers on my shoes.

I was impressed that the surgeon introduced each of the group of four nurses and two medical students (Burwood is a teaching hospital), and chatted about his personal life. The whole atmosphere was efficient and relaxed. It did seem a little strange to be lying on an operating table while fully awake. The lump removed resembled a chickpea. I was not invited to take it home because it has to go to the lab to be analysed. Before the operation my blood pressure was 153/96, but afterwards it had returned to a healthier 135/79.

Lump gone and finger dressed

While I was recovering with a cup of tea and biscuit someone kindly fetched Stephen. The nurse discharging me recognised him and it turned out she had cared for him at St George’s twenty years ago when he had a heart valve replacement.

With my arm in a sling I was grateful to have Stephen ministering to any need, and I napped for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I’d taken a Patricia Wentworth murder mystery to the hospital for the waiting times – a small volume that fitted easily into my handbag – and I finished it before I went to bed. As instructed I took a codeine tablet and slept soundly.

The sling is supposed to stay on for three days, and the dressing for four weeks, so life is somewhat constricted. I’m reminded of the time in 1985 when I broke bones in my right hand and had my arm in traction plaster for six weeks. Typing on the computer is possible but challenging with only one hand. No exercises for me today, I may just go for a short walk, then settle down with the Listener.

A small wound in Ziggy’s ear appears to be infected, so he now has a hospital appointment for tomorrow morning. We’re just hoping Stephen stays healthy!

Health’s been the focus of this week
with me at less than prime physique

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I support euthanasia being available to those who want it, and I voted in favour of the End of Choice Act last October. As someone now facing the latter stage of life, the topic of this book attracted me, but I was disappointed.

The central couple make a pact that they will commit suicide together when they’ve both turned 80, but it doesn’t work out the way they’d planned. The author gives twelve different scenarios for what might happen, but I started to find them tedious. After three days of sporadic reading I’d got only half way through and decided not to bother with the rest. I’ve been disappointed by this author’s books before, and it seems she’s not able to repeat the success of “We Need to Talk about Kevin”. Have you tried this latest novel?

The question of to stay or go
to me seemed infinitely slow

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January is our month for birthdays, and today is Stephen’s. He unwrapped his present and card – the latter has a photo of a baby Ziggy on it, and has now been re-cycled for six birthdays.

We then went for breakfast at Good Habit, a recycled convent which has creative food and is run by the same team who manage Foundation at Turanga.

Stephen had the Big Breakfast and I had the Big Vegetarian Breakfast. His had bacon and sausages while mine substituted haloumi and spinach. I find haloumi rather bland, but it served to tone down the spicy beans.

Stephen with our Big Breakfasts

Everything was attractively presented and delicious. The couple at the table next to us had porridge, decorated with flowers, an embellishment I could add to my weekday porridge. We sat by the window where we could enjoy the garden with attractive apple trees. This café supplies fresh water (unchlorinated) from their own well, which must be a legacy of the nuns.

We noted that most of the customers were of a mature age and wondered whether young ones are less inclined to get up early on a Sunday morning. It also occurred to me that St Luke’s in the City has a Sunday morning service at the adjacent Retreat House, and maybe some of that congregation go to Good habit beforehand.

The water that they serve is pure
without the chlorine most endure

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This time of year, Lughnasad, is traditionally the time when maturity moves into ageing. Most of our group have given up the paid work which used to be a significant part of our identity, and today we contemplated what our purpose might be for our remaining years.

We cast the circle by naming our mother and how old she was when she died, or her current age if she is still alive. I suggested this because I recently heard that it’s hard for women to imagine living longer than their mothers.

Then we sat quietly, with eyes closed, and considered each of the four elements. Earth is related to the physical body and we thought about what we need to do to maintain good physical health. Air is related to the intellect and we considered what we each need to do to keep our brain active and working. Fire is related to the spirit and we contemplated what we need to maintain a sense of awe and connection with a higher power. Water symbolises emotions, and we mused on what we need to stay emotionally healthy and maintain good relationships.

Element symbols for planned actions

Each woman then took a small drawstring bag and placed in it symbols of the actions she planned. There was an opportunity to share one thing each hopes to achieve over the next year.

I read On Aging by Maya Angelou:

When you see me sitting quietly,
Like a sack left on the shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.
I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it,
Otherwise I’ll do without it!
When my bones are stiff and aching,
And my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor:
Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
When you see me walking, stumbling,
Don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy
And every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then,
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.

Lughnasad is also traditionally the feast of bread, which was long believed to be the one essential food. Salt is identified with the Mother’s primal sea, and is a symbol of rebirth because of its preservative qualities. We each took a piece of bread, dipped it in salt, and while we ate it the group said: “May you be nourished and well-preserved”.

Then we opened the circle and feasted.

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The best birthday treat was a video call with my daughters on the other side of the world. Some Xmas and birthday gifts have not yet made it through either postal system, but being able to see and hear each other is still something that seems to belong in Science Fiction. Today we used MS Teams, rather than Zoom – there’s always something new to try.

I’d hoped to have a waka ride this morning but the misty rain made that an unlikely prospect. We decided to go out anyway to have lunch at Belle on the corner of New Regent Street. Parking meters in that area don’t take coins, but we were prepared to use a visa card and pay the extra charge. To my surprise when I went to the pay machine I discovered that parking there is free on public holidays – an unexpected birthday gift.

Belle was busy, but we found seats at their round communal table where we could look out and watch people and trams going by. They have an eclectic array of pictures on the walls and ceiling, so there’s always something to see. Their menu is for brunch rather than lunch, but I was happy to choose a pulled lamb sandwich with fries, while Stephen had Eggs Benedict.

Our lunch at Belle

I also ordered a berry smoothie which arrived quickly and was quickly consumed. I felt as though I was having my dessert before my main course.

Afterwards we crossed Armagh Street to visit the black-billed gull sanctuary where there are still young ones on display. Now we’re home again and settled inside with thunderstorms forecast. This evening we’ll eat dinner in front of the TV (a rare event) and watch the Dr Who special Revolution of the Daleks. Lots of birthday treats!

Today I am a whole year older
and summer weather has turned colder

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Since I was twelve years old I’ve worn glasses all day, every day. In recent years I’ve had progressive lenses, which allow for both close and distant sight. A month ago I had a cataract operation on my left eye, and this week’s consultation with the optometrist suggested that I may no longer need glasses for reading or using the computer. The contrast between my eyes which used to be 2.5, is now 4, and having such a disparity means progressive lenses are less likely to be useful. So, the new glasses I’ve ordered are for distance only and I’m experimenting with no glasses for reading and writing.

This feels very strange! My glasses have always been the first thing I put on in the morning and the last thing I take off at night. The whole idea of spending awake time without them is difficult to get used to. I realised I could now have my photo taken with a naked face:

Ruth with naked eyes

I could even wear eye makeup if I could be bothered buying and applying it. I’m experimenting with doing things like moving around the house, without wearing my glasses. There’s a whole new me waiting to be set free! Maybe I’ll wear glasses much less – just put them on for going out or watching television.

I’ve found it hard to remember to take them off for reading, and keep putting them back on without thinking. It’s such a well-ingrained habit. I stop to write something, then find I’ve put my glasses back on before I go back to book or computer screen. Have any of my readers weaned themselves off continual glass-wearing?

Learning to trust my naked eyes, is not easy. I’ve bought a cord so I can wear my glasses around my neck, rather than putting them down in different places (and maybe forgetting where they are). It’s all a strange new world, and will be different again when my new distance-only glasses arrive.

There’s new eye muscles I can flex
I’m learning to live without spec’s

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Curbing a Cataract

The operation on my left eye was scheduled for this morning. A cataract is a cloudiness on the lens of the eye, not a film that grows across the eye. The most common cause is getting older, and a cataract is definitely better than the alternative!

Treatment involves removing the eye’s natural lens and implanting a synthetic lens. Prior to the operation I needed to complete a detailed health questionnaire where I was asked to list all my hospital admissions starting with the most recent. While I’ve had occasional outpatient procedures, my most recent admission was to have a baby fifty years ago, so I’ve done pretty well health-wise.

The information said not to wear any jewellery, not even a watch, with no explanation why. I left my wedding ring on, and the nurse said that was fine. They just don’t want extra things on wrists, or anything that might get mislaid.

On arrival the receptionist put an I.D. bracelet on me and gently asked for the hospital payment before we went into the patients’ lounge. The nurse put drops in my eyes to numb and dilate the pupil, and checked blood pressure, pulse, and oxygen levels. My name and birth date were checked several times.

I’d paid extra to have an anaesthetist, who put an injection in my hand to relax me, then another beside my eye. The procedure was totally pain-free. I asked the surgeon whether I might be able to take the old lens home, but she explained that they mushed it all up and the sucked the pieces out, so there was nothing left. A patch was put over my eye, then I was escorted back to the lounge and given a cup of tea and a sandwich.

Piratical Ruth

The whole event had taken just two hours. Stephen drove me home, tomorrow morning I can take the patch off, and I have drops to be put in my eye four times a day for the next four weeks.

I currently look a bit like a pirate. Couldn’t find a parrot to perch on my shoulder, so I have a flamingo instead. With just one eye it’s harder to focus, but I’ve managed to do the Press puzzles. My left eye feels watery with very slight discomfort, and I look forward to eventually being able to see better.

The cataract’s gone down the drain
and soon I’ll have two eyes again

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My birthday is on the second of January, something I share with only 11,900 other people in Aotearoa.  This date is ranked 362 out of 366 and considered fairly rare.

On 1 January 1949 New Zealanders became New Zealand citizens in their own right, where previously they’d been British citizens.  I was born on the following day, so must have been one of the first to be born a New Zealand citizen. 

The ‘day after New Year’s Day’ is always a public holiday here, but not in the U.K.  As a child I always had some kind of a celebration, often just a small one because so many people were away on holiday at that time.  I remember one year when a school friend was dropped off for my birthday party and her younger brother was invited to stay too to swell the numbers.  Games such as Pass the Parcel were played and there was always a birthday cake.  One memorable year this was an ice cream cake from the Perfection Ice Cream Company just down the road, which my brother fetched on his bicycle – no large domestic freezers in those days.

Teenage birthdays have faded into the mists of time, although I’m sure they were celebrated.  I do remember that the first year after we were married Stephen went off tramping with some senior scouts leaving me, heavily pregnant, to languish on my birthday.

On my 20th birthday I was again pregnant, although not showing it as much this time.  I remember meeting a friend the week before who found it difficult to believe a birth was expected on 3 January.  In the event my younger daughter was born on the 4th, so we have always shared significant decade birthdays.

I believe in celebrating a birthday on the actual day, but this wasn’t possible for my 21st.  Close friends were marrying in Wellington on New Year’s Day, with Stephen as Best Man, and Cathryn as Flower Girl, so that took precedence, and my party was eventually held later in the month.

While the children were small, I adopted the habit of having a beach picnic with friends on my birthday, often at Cheltenham, one of my favourite Auckland beaches.  After we moved to Christchurch, I hoped to continue this tradition, but the first year we tried it at Spencer Park, and ended up sheltering in a van in the rain.

On my 40th birthday we were camping in Golden Bay with Alf’s Imperial Army for a New Year Tournament.  I’d taken a number of birthday presents with me.  Again, it rained, so I sat in the car with Stephen and Louise to open my gifts.  I just remember feeling so loved as I unwrapped presents from old and new friends.

For my 50th I planned a special celebration.  We hired the Hurst Seagar Room at the Arts Centre, invited a crowd, and asked them to wear something over the top.  Louise came down for this, but Cathryn had already emigrated to England.  I planned it as a ritual, with candles and invocations, and five people each told the story of one decade of my life, with a suitable song played after each.  I employed a student to serve catered finger food, people helped themselves to drinks, and my women’s support group baked five cakes.  Later we had an Irish band and barn dancing. 

Dancing at my 50th birthday

It was a wonderful evening!  We even had people from the YWCA hostel across the road who heard the music come and ask whether they might be allowed to join in, which we had to refuse.

My 60th was a quieter affair, a Garden Party at home with 18 women and Stephen.  Guests were asked to bring a small symbolic gift to hang on a trellis and make a garden collage.  We introduced ourselves by saying our name, and year (optional) and place of birth.  A couple of poems were read: The Cat of Habit by Janet Frame, and Finding Her Here by Jane Relaford Brown.  Each woman hung her gift on the collage and talked about its significance, then we held hands to sing Happy Birthday, and feasted.

60th birthday invite
60th birthday cake

In 2006 the Octagon Restaurant opened in the old Trinity Congregational Church (where my parents had been married).  That was one of the few restaurants open on 2nd January where there was live music, including a restored 1871 pipe organ.  I had several very happy birthday dinners there, the last just before the church was damaged in the 2011 earthquakes.  I keep hoping it may again become a suitable birthday venue, but no sign of that yet.

Birthday dinner at The Octagon. Sadly, Ann and Denny on the left have since died.

For my 70th birthday I again planned a ritual with women friends in our back garden.  Just 14 women this time.  One sad aspect was that three friends who’d been at my 60th had died in the meantime.  I’d asked people to think beforehand about their answers to several questions and there was deep sharing among the group, some of whom had not met before.

Cutting the 70th birthday cake

I wonder who will still be around to celebrate my 80th?  Anything can happen!

A birthday’s time to celebrate
when friends and cake can make it great

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