I used to hate the way my face was falling to the earth – outpaced only by my thighs.
The other day a lady asked the name of the chubby dog who was sleeping soundly and wrapped around my feet. I had to tell her it was my ankles.
The main problem with growing old is that even if you still feel young mentally, externally you begin to crack and disintegrate like a human pork rind.
But I’m not complaining. Every day I wake up is a great day; every birthday is a celebration.
I had always been healthy, but at 50 was hit with breast cancer. I never felt sick and came through the treatment of radiation, surgery and a five years of medication just fine.
Last year, at the age of 60, doctors discovered a tumor the size of Rhode Island growing between my brain and my ear canal. It was called an acoustic neuroma, the doctor said gently. All I could think to say was that it sounded like a great name for a rock band.
This all came within months of my daughter having a life-threatening adrenal tumor and my mom dying of breast cancer.
I don’t mind telling ‘ya – I was convinced the gods were conspiring to kill me – not just physically, but emotionally and mentally, as well.
Yeah, I know, I know – what doesn’t kill you …
Anyway, after a 13-hour brain surgery at I.U. Medical Center in Indianapolis, I was as good as new.
That’s a lie.
I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t sit up. Heck, I couldn’t even roll over in bed. Half of my face was frozen and numb because the tumor had wrapped around my right facial nerve. Someone had fashioned a turban out of barbed wire and attached it to my head with steel beams and iron spikes which were tangled in my bloody hair.
On the up side, I was on some pretty mind-blowing narcotics. Normally, I don’t even take aspirin, but after surgery, well, I was waaaay down in the hole with Alice and the White Rabbit.
My family members were there for most of my 9-day stay and did their damnedest to make me rip out my stitches and blow out my brain with laughter.
That’s the one thing I could do — laugh— albeit out-of the side of my mouth with a gurgling sound and one wide-open, freaky eye that refused to close, giving me the appearance of a mutant swamp monster. I didn’t care. Did I mention the drugs?
On the head trauma floor of the ICU unit, there’s not a lot of humor to be found, but my kids, husband, and siblings are experts at turning over big, black, ominous rocks and finding the potentially unfunny funny.
Every few minutes, around the clock, a staff member would come to my bedside, ask me to squeeze his/her fingers and ask the same questions: “Do you know your name?”, What day is it?”, “Where are you?” and “Who is president?”
I have married twice, taking both husbands’ names, reverted to my maiden name after my second divorce then married again and did not take his name.
My mom, on her deathbed, told me she had quit writing my names in the family Bible — there weren’t enough pages.
The first time the nurse asked me if I knew my name, one of my brothers quipped, “Oh sure, start with the hard questions.”
My own children, after telling the hospital receptionist that they were there to see their mom, paused and looked dumbfounded when she asked my last name.
I’ve decided to be like Cher. It’s just Viv.
I did like to mess with the nurses when they asked if I knew who the president was: “Taft?”, “Churchill?”, “Weird Al Yankovic?”, “Grant? Did the North win?”
It was weeks before I could walk or take a shower unaided. I’ve never had to depend on anyone and there I was, helpless as a newborn. The gods were conspiring to humble me.
Accomplishing one goal at a time — walking up and down stairs, gardening for ten minutes straight, driving, going back to work part-time, and hiking 5 miles up and down a Virginia mountain with my kids and grandkids five months after surgery – I recovered.
There’s still a slight palsy on the right side of my face but for the most part, my face came back home and my wrinkles returned. I no longer look like I got Botox injections from a one-eyed physician.
I was so happy to see my wrinkles that I made them a welcome home casserole with extra Oil of Olay.
I just wrote 751 words to describe an experience that could be summed up in five: I’m grateful to grow old. I don’t like the alternatives.
by Viv Of-Many-Last-Names