The Denial of Aging

We joke that I'm a little accident prone. I always say that it's a statistical thing. If a person is active, there are more opportunities for accidents. But for awhile now, in my mind, I've wondered if it's really the denial of aging.

And the denial is either genetic, or human nature, or maybe some of us learn to be this way from our fathers and our mothers. Either way, I have to wonder if it's one of those transgenerational things.

The Stories


It rained last Thursday, but the day started out sunny so I stole that window of time and rode my bike to work. It was worth it, as it always is. Only a three mile ride, the exercise wakes me up (and the anxiety, you have to make sure you don't get killed, riding a bike). And there's no more beautiful city than Chicago in the sunshine.

But of course, by evening the rain came in as predicted. I had a text at 6:00 from FD.
Can I pick you up?
Well, sure. I left the bike at the office, hopped into his car.

Then Friday I took the car, saw patients. When I finished for the day, I walked the bicycle outside to stick it in the trunk. This is a drill. I've done it a thousand times, lifted the old ten-speed, placed it inside, just right. The move is unconscious. We don't have a van so the procedure does take a certain panache.

Left hand beneath the bicycle, right lifting from above, the bike slides in as usual. As I remove my left hand, the bike drops unexpectedly. My reaction is what one might expect, #!@#$%&#, the list of expletives exhaustive.

I know that this is no ordinary boo boo, and that FD is there for me, but at this hour of the day on a Friday I also know he's working like a madman to finish up and get going, and I'm on my way to pick him up, anyway. So I don't call him.

But it hurts like never before. Maybe childbirth. I don't know. The ski accident doesn't compare. I get scared, look at the hand. I'm a righty, so I'm thinking, this isn't the end of my life. Be a big girl. Get to a 7-11 and get a cup of ice. Looks like only one finger, maybe two are suffering the damage for everyone.

There's a line at 7-11. It's Free Slurpy day. I get a cup of ice, stick Fing in and take it out pretty quick. This isn't working out, it's too painful. Good soldier, I put it back in, keep it there. A couple of religious kids are in front of me, trying not to stare. As one of them checks out I say to the clerk, "I just have a cup of ice." He smiles and waves me away, like, what a nut, paying for ice. But there's a cup here.

I pick up FD who resolutely scolds me. "Why didn't you call me?! You don't ice digits! You can cause an infarct, break a blood vessel, ala frost bite."

"Take the wheel and shut up," I say, always the grateful and pleasant patient.

He ha scolded gently, of course.

So the color kept our interest, first black, then eggplant. The pain dissipated in a couple of hours and in 24 Fing wasn't anything but a curiosity. Three days later it's no longer numb, so maybe it's all good. It bends. No break. Just a smashed digit, maybe you noticed, didn't stop me from blogging the other day.


Then Sunday I go to visit my parents after work with Little One. He's home and has a pre-college engineering internship, a plum that he deserves because he bothered to apply. He's probably got some engineering genetics. FD tinkers, and my father, without a college education, became a chief engineer on a ship in the Navy. Everyone came to him, all of the other engineers, when they couldn't figure things out. All this because he couldn't speak English and went to Crane Tech, instead of a typical liberal arts high school.

I've heard his stories a thousand times. Ordinarily on a visit like this, my father would have regaled my son with one or two of them. But today he's working on the water. The bathroom sink has a drip.

My father built his house in the burbs, designed it. He drew up the blueprints, and served as contractor on the job, chief architect, chief engineer. He built my grandparents' house, too. When he bought land, he made sure it was on the high ground. So we never flooded. Other people did, we didn't.

These are things engineers think about.

Anyway, Little One and I are in on a water crisis. Dad can't turn off the water in the bathroom, the valves and the pipes are too tight. He has to go into the basement to turn off the main valve and his heart's not so good and my mother has arthritis. You can see where this is going. He's out of breath but he's not giving in.

We offer to help, so he takes Little One downstairs and they turn off the water. Turn on the water. Turn off the water. All because there's a drip in the bathroom and the valve under the sink is stuck and he can't take things apart while the water's running, and when it's not, the hardware doesn't cooperate.

The drip is driving my parents crazy. I think I posted about bathroom drips on the My Cousin Vinnie review. The movie has a good scene, a good example of healthy marital conflict. You have to see that movie just for the drip scene alone.

At some point Dad has to sit down and catch his breath. We're sitting around the kitchen table picking at cashews and almonds, and I suggest my plumber. Dad is predictably miffed. You use your plumber.

Foot out of mouth. He settles down, tells a few stories. The two men discuss cosigns and me and mom gossip a little.

We get ready to go and Dad says, "Leave me the name of that plumber." I find Paul under Plumber in my contact list and jot the number down for him.

"FD could help you, too," I offer.

"He's got no time for this. I can do it myself."


But that valve, I guarantee, is 58 years old if it's a day. So maybe he'll have to call the plumber, I'm thinking. We take off. Little One has to go to a barbecue. Life goes on.

Monday evening I call the house. Dad answers. He's really cheerful.

"Is the water fixed?" I ask.


"The water. The drip. Is it fixed?"

"Oh yes!"

"What did you do, take the faucet apart and put it back together again?"

"Exactly. I had to make a part, so that's what I did. That faucet was old. They don't make them anymore, you know. So I had to improvise. I went down to the basement, found a bigger part and threaded it and it works just fine now. Good as new."

"You're amazing." And with that, my chin hits a button and we're disconnected.

Mom calls me back. This is a long conversation for me and Dad. We don't want to push it.

"So you have water again and he fixed it! That's great," I exclaim.

"Yes," she says proudly. "He should have called a plumber, but you know him. He has to do everything himself. Your father sat at the table, exhausted, with his head in his hands. He'd been working on this all day, and he was so tired. He said, 'I can't do it.' I've never seen him give up on anything. I felt so bad for him.

"And then he brightened up and said, 'Do you have any string?' And I said 'No, but I have thread,' and he said, 'Lemme' see.'

"So he took the thread and played around with something in the basement, came upstairs and fixed it. Quite a guy, your father. Of course, I had to be there all day to support him, you know, couldn't just walk away*. And I couldn't do anything without water. It was terrible."

Now ordinarily, I would say that he's off his rocker, my father, that he could have had a heart attack (G-d forbid) and had no business working on a plumbing job at 87, almost 88 years old.

But I see the value in this, don't you? There's real value to proving you've still got it, you can still do it, even if it's painful.

For some people, the No pain, No gain thing is a life force, something that just won't quit. The drive in the person is the person, and it won't quit.

So why in the world, I ask myself, would I?

copyright 2008, therapydoc

*This is what I call holding the flashlight.


Jack Steiner said…
Toby Keith has a great song called As Good as I once Was that ties into this.
Batya said…
I just came back from a stressful visit with my parents, playing super sandwich...
nashbabe said…
There is something comforting in knowing that even a professional can be a cranky patient once in a while too. :-)
therapydoc said…
I never gave the happiness lecture, but it's about no cranky, no happy, and vice versa. Or maybe I did. One day.
the Bag Lady said…
Oh, your poor finger! I can definitely relate to that - I smashed my pinkie with a hammer on Sunday! Should have remembered what my dad always told me about getting my ass behind me! (I was trying to hold the board and hammer across my hand instead of moving my whole body to the other side of the board...) It hurt so much, I couldn't even cry! Of course, had to run to the computer and blog about it because there was no-one home to give me sympathy!
Hope yours is feeling better!

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