Maybe it's partly my career, but I have always been fascinated by medical things in the news. One story that intrigued me the most was that of Jill Bolte Taylor, who wrote the book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey. Amazon's description of her book reads in part:
Jill Taylor was a 37-year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist when a blood vessel exploded in her brain. Through the eyes of a curious scientist, she watched her mind deteriorate whereby she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. Because of her understanding of the brain, her respect for the cells in her body, and an amazing mother, Jill completely recovered. In My Stroke of Insight, she shares her recommendations for recovery and the insight she gained into the unique functions of the two halves of her brain.
Basically, she watched herself have a stroke, and, being the curious brain scientist she was, she remembered details as it was unfolding and during the aftermath, almost as a third person observing an outside incident.
Thankfully, I have never had a stroke, but as I grow older, it still intrigues me to see my body change. It's an eyewitness account of the history of me. Certainly, having my 88-year-old mom living with me has strengthened the observation, because, of course, we don't exist in a vacuum, and as I am watching myself age, I have watched her age as well. I have been in her life 57 of those 88 years and I have watched her deal with changes in life situations as well as changes in her body - now as a daily occurrence.
I've been sick with a bad cold this week which has now congested my chest. I've had three nights of lack of sleep, missed half a day of work, used up two boxes of Puffs, and have sat here berating myself for not having the energy or desire to do things I need to do on my weekend. I recalled the weekends where I still did not accomplish anything, but had no illness excuse, and how I wished I had those weekends back to be productive! You forget to appreciate everyday health until you lose it - either temporarily or permanently.
I asked Mom last night if she remembers what it was like to just jump out of a chair and go on her way without bouncing up and down about 5 times to get some rebound, holding onto a walker, and every so slowly pushing herself up. She has one useless hand now, permanently in a clawed position, and I wonder if she ever thinks about the time when she had two good hands. I know she misses being able to do housework (washing dishes by hand was her favorite activity!). She has told me all my life, "Your health is everything," and now I see what she means. She is an eyewitness to what getting older (as well as sequelae of trauma) means. Every movement, every attempt to do anything, makes her painfully aware of what time has done to her once young body.
As it has on me. I'm not in that bad shape yet, but I look in the mirror with astonishment almost every day. My face and body are records of my life, and I am, as Jill Bolte Taylor was, an ongoing eyewitness - or as I like to say, I-witness, to my life being lived on this physical earth. Some of the changes are just natural changes of aging, some were avoidable but I made poor choices through the years, some are specifically hereditary in my family. It is intriguing to watch this process. One has to try to do it with an open mind, and an objective sense, a sense of watching another person age, because if one carries to the surface all the emotional baggage involved, the journey can be too traumatic.
It all reminds me of the saying, "Don't hate birthdays; consider the alternative," because my mom, even with her arthritis aches and pains and vision loss and neurological deficits and dental problems and everything else that an average 88-year-old woman has on her medical problem list, she has been, in a way, privileged to watch herself get old. As a 30-year-old, maybe she wondered (probably she didn't) what it would be like to be old, to look old, to feel old. Now she knows. And it's still an ongoing process - her doctor said she'd live to be 100, the news of which, I think, made her rather pleased but exhausted just thinking about it.
And so the journey of life continues. I am contained in this physical body for an unknown number of years, and I have been, yes, privileged to watch its changes as I age. These changes sometimes anger me, frustrate me, and make me wish things were different. On the other hand, I'm mostly in awe of the process. The changes are natural, they are expected, and they still are miraculous to watch as they unfold.
I heard once that we start to die the day we are born, and I can understand that. The researchers are learning every day more and more about DNA and cell death and cell turnover and the telomere lengths and all that other technical fascinating stuff about why and how our bodies gradually just fall apart. I enjoy reading all their latest findings. But for me, it all comes down to me, doesn't it? And the things I am honored to watch - to see - to actually experience - makes me kind of lucky in a way. Many of my friends did not make it to the age of 57, so aging needs to be considered a gift as well as a curse.
I'm planning on splurging on an iPad next month. I'm been researching apps I'd like to have, but there is one app I've already got - iWitness. And what a remarkable, exciting, incredible app it is!!