As I creep up on my seventy-fifth birthday, somewhat apprehensively, I have discovered I can’t scratch my own back anymore. It used to be that I could get at any itch, anywhere, with a few grunts and gyrations. But now, my arms are no longer able to reach those remote regions where I itch the most.
Over my shoulder, with either hand, I manage to get no more than one hand-span below my neck. Pushing down on my overhead elbow with the other hand doesn’t help much; in fact, it usually brings on a muscle cramp.
Reaching behind to stretch a hand up from my waist isn’t any better. The itch I’m itching to scratch is always just above my outstretched fingers, lying irritatingly in that band of skin that connects between my shoulder blades.
I’ve noticed other things, too, that I used to be able to do, none of which comes as easily anymore. Getting out of bed in the morning, for instance, can sometimes be quite a chore. My back might be aching, for example, though for what reason I’m unable to say. Our mattress is comfortably firm, and relatively new.
On other days, my knees might be stiff, or my neck could be kinked. This, despite the fact I sleep with a small pillow between my knees for proper alignment, and have tried the so-called natural-shape pillows. Perhaps it’s my natural shape that’s misaligned.
It seems on mornings like these—most mornings, in fact—I have to stand slowly, uncurling myself, moving ever so carefully, just to give everything a chance to jiggle and drop back into its accustomed place. There isn’t any pain, really—although it hurts to hear the clicking and popping sounds my body makes.
Even on those days when there isn’t any discomfort, I find I’m exercising more than I used to—exercising more caution, that is. I don’t run downstairs two-steps-at-a-time anymore. In fact, I don’t even run up the stairs with the same reckless abandon I once displayed. I’ve learned from experience that doing so now is just…well, reckless. My toes seem to nick the edge of one of the steps at the most inopportune moment.
It strikes me as too ridiculous that I’m falling up the stairs!
There are other minor tasks, acts requiring only the simplest degree of motor coordination, that I can’t handle anymore, either. Pulling on a sweater, for example, has become a major endeavour. It seems a short time ago that it was a relatively smooth operation—both arms into the sleeves, up and over the head, then down around the waist. Increasingly now, I seem to become trapped inside the sweater enfolding me like a cocoon, a helpless larva struggling to get free. On more than one occasion, I’ve even had to call for help.
It’s the same with tying my shoelaces. For more than seventy years, I’ve been tying bows with flair. Lately, I fume and fumble with fingers that don’t seem to flex and follow my poor brain’s instructions. I haven’t yet resorted to wearing shoes with velcro tabs, but I fear the day is nigh at hand.
And don’t get me started on buttonholes!
Once upon a not-so-long-ago time, I could read the smallest print while sitting in semi-darkness, and never feel the strain. Now, even with the three-way lamp turned to its highest setting, I find the words are invariably out of focus—with my reading glasses on! I’m forever leaning in closer to the page, or to the laptop screen, trying for a better angle. It’s even become a problem in the bright, outdoor light!
Other changes abound, as well, both subtle and insidious. I’d mention them here, but—most alarmingly, perhaps—I can’t always remember what they are; I forget things much more often than I used to.
At least, I think I do—when I remember to think about it at all.
Of course, I’ve tried out various measures to compensate for all these lapses. For example, whenever something important is decided by my wife and me, I write little notes to myself so I won’t forget. The trouble is, I often forget where I stored the notes.
I do try not to let myself become too upset by all these changes. After all, one’s golden years are supposed to bring freedom from stress and anxiety. Getting older is a natural process, and I remind myself of that repeatedly—repeatedly, because I usually don’t remember that I’ve already reminded myself. Alas, there’s nothing to be done about that.
But fortunately, if I really try, I can look at it all as rather amusing. It’s kind of fun, occasionally, to step outside my skin (figuratively speaking) and look at myself as an objective bystander might.
And what do I see? I see a reluctantly-elderly gentleman, a grandfather, often bespectacled, striving to stay erect and trim, who, in his heart, wants to believe he still feels and acts like a young man, able to do all the things he used to do.
Problem is, he can’t remember how!
Anyway, if you’re out for a stroll in the park one day and chance to run into an old man sitting on a park bench, and if you notice he’s shimmying manically side to side, as if demented, please don’t be dismayed. It’s probably just me, trying to scratch that infernal itch in the middle of my back!