LIFE AT 75 (1st Posted 2015)

“You’re old now,” my 28-year old daughter (my youngest) told me on my birthday. She’s into extreme sports.

“You don’t look old; I took you for 55.” A sample comment from people who don’t know me.

I am lucky to have relatively good health. I hike and garden in the summer, ski in the winter, but I no longer fell, haul, cut and split firewood in the winter, in part because last year I sold the forest land that was my firewood supply and didn’t replace my woods truck when it broke down.

Relatively good health depends on health care, however, and on Medicare. I’ve been treated for prostate cancer through radiation and would have had to go heavily into debt if it weren’t for good insurance coverage–and a radiologist who is a real human being.

Appearances can also be deceiving.  I’m nearly blind in one eye; I bruise ridiculously easily; I had a persistent cold for the whole month of December, and I seem to be vulnerable to every cold that comes along. Last summer,  I ended up in the hospital with acute Lyme Disease and Babesiosis. I was told that when I entered the acute disease ward, I was the sickest one there. However, at least one patient died from the ward  during my 5-day stay.

I had long-term Lyme two years before and had to have a 9-week course of intravenous antibiotics.

Do I cover up to prevent tick bites? I spend as much time outside as I can, but I do not cover up. In my experience, nothing prevents ticks from catching a ride, but clothes give them more purchase, and more places to hide (underneath them). I’ve had at least three tick bites so far this year (June, 2014), but in each case I felt them early enough (I hope) that I was able to remove them within about an hour of contact. They itch as soon as they penetrate my skin.

[added in 2020: I now wear a pre-treated pair of pants if I’m wading into high grass, where ticks are most prevalent. And recently, when I didn’t, I found an imbedded tick on my upper thigh, so I medicated]

Two winters ago (2013) I fell through ice into a lake (the property was sold in 2014) and my body temperature reached the 80’s by the time I arrived at the hospital almost three hours later. At one point, when I was fighting through the rotten ice to a raft,  I envisioned my body  being found on the lake bottom months later: no one knew I was there. I shouted bloody murder and my wife, very luckily, was walking outside with a client. Otherwise, no one would have heard me.

Another thing about being 75, is that my mother was still living, barely, at 101 and on the strength of that people assured me that I’ll live a long time yet. I wouldn’t really like to live as she did toward the end, however, unable to move, except her forearms and her neck, unable any longer to speak more than a few words. It was a long, slow death. She also had NO short-term memory. Think about that: even before her long, slow decline, she couldn’t remember me going out of the room and coming back a few minutes later.

Olga died at 101 and 10 months, in December, 2014, died from the feet first, essentially of old age. The process of dying actually took from mid-summer until early December, not something anyone would want to go through.

Life begins with crying and never ends well (good deaths are just quick and painless), but life in between may have its points. I’ve settled in a beautiful place (see picture above: a nearby hiking lookout) and there’s a lot to do in the local area: I’m learning salsa, for example; I never knew how to dance anything except the Twist before this.

Addendum: Life at 81, during the pandemic. It’s lucky we live in a beautiful place where we can be comfortably quarantined. Neither of us are sick, but from my catalogue of ailments listed above, I need to add a bout with Lyme that I think brought on a temporary Atrial Flutter, which means I have a heart condition.

So, I’m probably vulnerable if I were to get Covid19. Therefore, I’ve kept pretty close to home, only gone to the local grocery, coop, drugstore and hardware store. Always masked.

We see only a few people, and with all of those we maintain social distance. We also zoom with some of them, on special occasions.

At my age, social distancing is more pleasure than hardship. I sit outside, when it’s warm, in the evening, and contemplate the beautiful world around me.

I know I’m shrinking: shorter now than ever, from a never tall 5’ 5 1/2” to 5’ 2”. I tire more easily; short hikes seem longer, but I still do hike.

In the summer, I wear skirts/kilts most days and ankle-length tunics in the evenings—I can’t bear wearing a belt around my waist after five PM. 

Why skirts and tunics? To me they are freedom from the constraints of pants and shorts. The first time I wore a Scottish kilt, I realized how freeing it felt. I was 65.

At 81, I don’t really care what I look like, only that I’m comfortable.

Published by douglascsmyth

Writer, gardener, former political science and economics professor, free-lance writer, 81-years old, married to Elizabeth Cunningham, father of Darshann, Julian and Marina. I live on the western slope of the Shawangunk ridge, NY, in a house powered largely by solar and heated and cooled by it. Associated with High Valley, Clinton Corners, until 2014.

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