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Gary Horton: Take care and don't put off the fun times

Posted: April 27, 2010 2:43 p.m.
Updated: April 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.
My wife, Carrie, was feeling out of sorts this weekend, so we decided to take it slow and make a weekend of resting at the homestead. We watched movies and read papers. I fixed a shower door - and I waited and waited for time to go by, as Carrie got the rest she needed.

On Saturday, we spent some time looking out to our backyard garden that Carrie's worked so hard perfecting. She's created a beautiful country scene filled with all kinds of perennials and flowering things. I'm seldom happy when she splurges at Green Thumb, but then I'm never disappointed when spring comes, a magnificence blooms in our yard and the full grandeur of Carrie's efforts comes to spectacular view.

So we sat and watched, and watched her garden grow. We chatted about this flower and that. How some pollinate and why certain flowers do this, and others do that. An hour went by with the two of us in slow, measured conversation about her garden.

Gardens, I thought as a kid, are for old people. And I might have been right. Here I am, certainly older, certainly a little slower and I love them. And I love Carrie for creating such a serene respite, right outside our door.

Yet amid such serenity - and amid all the movies I could stream on Netflix, I was still, in fact, housebound last weekend and feeling more than a little stir crazy. I like to stay active. I like being involved in work and projects. I'm not particularly a movie-watcher, and I even get antsy sitting through an entire football game.

So as the time crept by, this Saturday seemed one of the longest days of my life.

"What do the truly homebound do?"

"What of those suffering permanent debilitating illness?"

My own father and sister suffered genetic ataxias, each of them first slowing, then stopping, then trapped inside their bodies, watched their own lives grind to an end as living became more prison than life.

Maybe that's why I'm so anxious about illness and decline. Boy, have I witnessed firsthand the physical entrapment caused by disease. I recoil viscerally from the thought.

I was particularly attuned this Friday before hangout weekend with Carrie. After months of procrastinating, I was finally taking care of long-postponed medical needs. I was arranging for the "after-50" colonoscopy. And, after forever stonewalling, Health Net finally approved an MRI for my nagging hip pain.

So the day before homebound weekend became "take care of Gary day," I took a ride in a giant pounding doughnut they call an MRI machine. Hint: Don't enter these doughnuts unless absolutely necessary. These are not funhouse joy rides. The confinement and noise can break a grown man to shattered nerves in minutes. If you didn't feel vulnerable before the test, you'll certainly feel so after. But I got through the doughnut torture test and limped my way over to the gastro's office to do the workup for my scope job.

You're supposed to submit to these stainless-steel colonic snakes at 50 and then every five years thereafter. So I sat in the office and filled out the multiple forms. A handful of sickly looking folks stared plaintively toward the receptionist, waiting - waiting their turn for a little attention and relief. Being sick takes a lot of patience.

I finally saw the nurse and got my date for my encounter with the human-rooter machine. Now I get to worry about Invasion Day for the next three weeks.

My family doc called me on the way back from the procto doctor. He'd heard back from the MRI guy. "Gary, don't see a chiro until you see a back specialist first." Apparently, I have a pinched spinal cord in a vulnerable spot and jostling it could be bad news.

Grand. Another doctor to call and more forms and waiting.

This growing old and "parts wearing out" is alarming. I don't want to go there - none of us do. I'm not, as I explained, a homebound kind of guy. So how best to face the inevitable?

Ironically, my good friend, Phil Rizzo, who's suffering a prolonged illness, wrote me that very night.

"Gary, I'm dogged by feeling tired all day. But what really blew me away was a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. Nobody ever tells us that the golden years can become a bit rusty! So I take a day at a time."

"I've been taking some new medicine that has a delayed effect. When it kicks in the next week, if I feel good enough for lunch, I'll give you a call."

"Take care of yourself. Don't put off any fun times! Take opportunity to give and care."

My buddy is 80, and he's lived a fabulously full and active life. But now he's been at home for months and hopes he can just get out again for a lunch. I wish him so much more than that.

We all fear disease, and we fear the decline associated with aging. After much thinking, I have no practical answers for this better than Phil's: "Take care of yourself. Don't put off any fun times! Take opportunity to give and care."

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesday in The Signal.


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