Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sticks and Stones...

In yesterday's post, I ranted a bit about all the tests one must endure after age 50.

But I neglected to mention one: a bone density test.

When I hit 50, my family doctor told me to undergo such a test. When I asked why, she said it was to get a baseline picture of how my bones were doing.

That way, as I aged, they would be able to measure if I were losing density.

OK, I thought. At this point in my life, I bet my bones are in great shape, I even predicted smugly.

I've been a big milk and cheese consumer all my life. And I've also done a lot of bone-strengthening exercise like running, too.

Well, surprise, surprise. I took the test. A few weeks later, my doctor called, and asked to see me about the results.

What on earth for, I wondered? Why would she need to see me in person to go over what were presumably ordinary  and average bone density readings for a woman of my age?

Well, you can guess the rest. I had terrible readings.  In fact, I had full-blown osteoporosis.

My doctor was shocked and said so. She's never seen such poor density in a woman my age. I was shocked, too, of course. What the heck was going on? My doctor didn't have a clue, so sent me off to see a specialist.

And you know what? The specialist didn't have a clue, either. She questioned me about my diet and exercise patterns. Other than the fact that I'd been a slim, petite person up to that point in time (which is somewhat of  a predictor for poor bone density), she couldn't figure out why I'd have such advanced osteoporosis.

We discussed milk. She admitted that the research around milk and bone density is controversial: in fact, it's looking more and more clear every day that dairy products aren't the great bone-savers that the dairy industy would have us believe.

She had no idea what to do with me. I was too young to go on drugs that help to halt bone deterioration (nothing cures osteoporosis, but these drugs can at least slow down the process). And I was already taking in enough daily calcium through diet.

She had nothing more in her arsenal of helpful advice, other than to suggest I take a daily Vitamin D supplement, and to come back and see her in one year, to be retested.

I have to tell you, I've been angry about the situation ever since.

I'd gulped more milk in my life, drinking it even when I didn't feel like it, all based on the assumption that what doctors told me was true: drink milk for strong bones.  Now, at this point in my life, doctors are starting to say OOPS! Maybe milk isn't particularly good for your bones. Maybe, even, too much milk can cause cancer: prostate cancer  in men and ovarian cancer in women.

What should I do about my children, I wondered? Studies are now linking consumption of milk in adolescent boys to prostate cancer later in life. And my daughter? She needs even more calcium than a boy, according to doctors. But how is she to get it? Too much dairy is no longer looking like a great idea, and calcium supplements in pill form are not proven to even work.

I have struggled with this dilemma ever since getting the test results. I've stopped drinking milk. I feel betrayed by years of misinformation from doctors and industry about milk. And if I have osteoporosis after a lifetime of milk consumption, stopping now can't do me much more harm, can it? That's my reasoning, anyway.

I've compromised with my kids about milk, telling them to drink it in strict moderation, while trying to eat other calcium-rich food sources as well. Beans and canned salmon are just two great sources for calcium that you never hear about...probably because the dairy industry is yelling so loudly about milk.

In many ways, I wish I hadn't had the test. I was going happily along in blissful ignorance. Now, I know how fragile my bones are, yet there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

And I think about my mother. At not-quite 94, she has never broken a bone in her life. She has never drunk milk, either.

She has fallen twice (that I know of) in the last couple of years. Still, no broken bones.

So what is one to make of it all?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mid-Life, or, So This is 50

I guess I'm middle-aged.

The way I feel lately, though, I think I'm more toward the end of mid-life and closer to the beginning of old-age, than the reverse.

I"m 52. My eye-sight is very poor, I have a chronically bothersome tooth (with cap on it), a bunion that has a life of its own, and 5-10 pounds of unwanted weight that just won't budge.

The thing is, these phenomena are fairly recent.

Until I was about 48, I felt great. I felt much like I always had, through adulthood.

My weight was steady, and I was slim; slim without thinking about it. I had no aches, from bunions, teeth or otherwise. And although I wore contact lenses to correct my vision, my eye-sight was still OK.

Then, I approached 50, went through menopause, and BANG. I was old.

I can barely see now, even with contacts. That's because I've become so far-sighted that I need to wear reading glasses, while wearing my contacts, in order to see anything close-up. Without contacts, I try wearing progressive-lens glasses, but they fail miserably.

One eye has marked astigmatism, only partially corrected by toric contact lenses, and the other is full of floaters that block my view. You can't do anything about floaters. And the older you get, the more likely you are to have them, little bits of inner eyeball floating around in the jelly of your eye. Whee.

My tooth cracked a few years ago, as I was chewing candy and waiting for a flight in the Kookytown airport. I ended up getting the tooth fixed while on vacation, but despite repeated tweaks by my dentist, it has never been the same. To wit, it hurts every time I bite down on it.

As you can imagine, it sucks to eat food when you also experience pain while eating. Despite this fact, I've gained weight over the last couple of years, and now am 10 pounds heavier than I ever was in the last 15 years.

In the past, if I gained a bit of weight, I'd lose it. Easily, immediately. I'd eat less, exercise a bit more and voila, off the excess weight would fly.

Not now. Now, I can starve and work out, starve and work out, only to see no results on the scale. It sticks like the proverbial glue.

The bunion has grown exponentially during the last few years. Although it doesn't hurt too much, it's causing difficulty in fitting shoes, and I no longer want to wear sandals in summer, due to its looming size.

At 50, the medical community starts running tests on you. One of the first is a demand that you undergo a colonoscopy.  I repeat, whee. Of course, as a female, I've been undergoing mammograms and pap tests for decades. These too, must continue. Various immunizations must be updated: polio, tetanus, etc. And new ones rear their heads:  have you heard about the new shot to protect against shingles, an apparently extremely painful condition that can surface in mid-life, if you've ever had chicken-pox?

And then there's energy. I don't have it. I can't concentrate and learn like I used to be able. While the fat sticks like glue to my body, very little sticks in my brain. A brain that used to be like a steel trap. It's just regular memory deterioration, but it, too, sucks. 

Come the evenings, I am so tired I don't want to go out. If we have evening outings, I try to sneak an afternoon nap in, so I can stay awake long enough to socialize.

I won't even begin to describe the insomnia that stalks me during the nights.

I guess what I'm trying to really say with all this, is that middle age is a definite condition, and I've hit it. And I didn't expect it. I really didn't understand that such noticeable, marked changes would happen over a relatively short time-frame, and that I would become someone I'd never been before, someone I don't recognize as the old me.

It sucks a bit, and I'm not liking it, and don't want to accept it.

But there's nothing to be done, except to try to continue to hold back the tide. So I try to eat well, and do my exercise to stay sort-of limber and ache-free.

What else can you do?

If I'd known this was coming, I'd have cherished more about my old life: my carefree, pain-free body and mind. So that's my advice to anyone younger than me.

Don't waste your youth obsessing about silly things. Work hard, play hard, don't sweat the small stuff.

You're going to have plenty of time to regret this-or-that, to think about what could-or-should-have been, when you can no longer breeze through the day. Enjoy! If you don't like something, try to fix it, and if you can't, ignore it!

And I mean that.