It’s been a funny year so far – in fact funny is probably the wrong word – dangerous might be better. Yes, it seems to be developing into my year of living dangerously!
It began with a fall in late February when I was on my way to a work meeting. I was ambushed by a small variation in floor level and tripped and fell onto my left arm. When I looked up it was into the faces of four horrified students who promptly rescued me. I’d forgotten how humiliating it can feel to fall over in a public place, especially when you can’t immediately scramble to your feet and brush it off with a laugh. The students were lovely and I was eventually restored to a vertical position and taken to the medical centre and then sent for an x-ray.
What seemed at first to be a torn ligament turned out two weeks later to be two fractures, one in my wrist, the other at the base of my thumb. I got that news as I was being admitted to hospital for emergency surgery for something apparently unrelated which developed quite suddenly and was extremely painful.
By the time I left the hospital a week later, I had my wrist and hand in a rigid cast, and needed a nursing service to look after the surgical wound for me for another week. Last week, thankful for the tireless help and support of friends and neighbours, I ventured out into the world again. Someone took me to get my hair cut – always a morale boost – and yesterday a friend took me out for coffee which seemed hugely exciting after being grounded for more than four weeks.
This morning, as I set off for a stroll with Toby I was reflecting on my good fortune in having such wonderful friends and neighbours, and also on the impact of falling at this age and that, despite feeling very much better, I knew I still had some way to go before I’d be fully recovered from the fall and the fractures, the infection that eventually lead to the surgery, the anaesthetic, and the huge doses of antibiotics and pain killers.
But it was a glorious West Australian morning: mild, sunny and still. Outside the house I stopped to talk to two women who also had a small dog, and then, in the moment when I went to step off the kerb to cross the road, Toby decided to go in the opposite direction and walked right in front of me. According to Ben, my neighbour, who witnessed this, it was like watching a slow motion movie as I dived over the dog and onto the road, the arm in the cast held high in the air so that I didn’t fall onto it!
Once again I was very lucky; Ben came running to help me as did several other people who were out for a morning walk. This time I just grazed my knees, elbows and chin, and here I am three hours later sitting in an armchair with my laptop writing this blog post. No real damage but – I feel as though I’ve been hit by a passing truck.
Thirty, twenty, possibly even ten years ago I would have got up and carried on with my walk, but at this age, I know this is another setback and that things ain’t what they used to be. I hope that in the past few weeks I’ve learned a little patience. I’ve certainly given myself more time to recover, and have not beaten myself up for needing that time.
This is new to me. Getting up, getting on with it. Not making a fuss. Minimising pain and anxiety and pretending I am much better than I feel, has always been my response to injury and illness. Not these past weeks though, and not today and for the next few weeks.
I have seen the flashing red light of caution and self-care and it has brought me to a halt. It’s forcing me to think again about what it means to be old, and what I need to do in order to take better care of myself in the future. I am done with being tough, done with declaring I’m okay when I am definitely not.
This has been a significant face-to-face with ageing time for me, which is why I decided to write about it. I realise that while for several years now I have been writing about accepting our age, embracing it, making the most of it, being comfortable with it and adjusting to it. I had not until now, accepted the physical vulnerability of my age.
Because my brain keeps bouncing back, and I still find it easy to think in new and challenging ways, and carry on working as both a writer and an academic, I kept expecting my body to do the same thing. Now I know it doesn’t, it can’t and won’t and I need to accept that and know that this too is part of ageing and I must work with it not against it.
Nothing awful has happened to me despite my lack of attention to physical aspects of ageing, but it could and it might. So from now on this will be my year of living slowly and with caution, and being kinder to myself. It may be the biggest challenge yet because it feels so self-indulgent, even feeble. But on the other hand I suspect I may get to like it! After all, being grounded, unable to drive and only able to type one-handed for several weeks has left me more time to read and re-read some wonderful books, so I’ll blog again about luxurious reading in the next few days.
Meanwhile stay well, stay vertical when possible, keep enjoying later life, and join me in having that ‘nice rest’ that my mother advocated from the age of fifty onwards, and clung to for the rest of her life!
This article is published with permission of, and sincere thanks to, Liz Byrski. The original and other blogs by Liz is available here.