Sunday, December 16, 2012

Report From The Path To The Grave

What's it like to die?

There's no reporting after the critical moment, but we can describe the "technology of dying" that Gregory Bateson dreaded. Maybe there's even value to that. Fewer surprises.

In my early forties, wrestling with my son and his contemporary uncle, I thought I felt frail. Maybe I was mistaken. Either that or I adapted and accommodated. Anyway the boys grew out of wrestling.

At forty-five, my damaged knee suddenly went lame. The orthopedic surgeon thought I would need a replacement in "fifteen or twenty years." TAking care not to irritate it took some learning, but that and exercise seem to be preserving it. Eighteen or nineteen years on, the replacement still seems years ahead.

At fifty I was at my college weight and bench-pressing almost that much. In spite of a melanoma, removed the day after Arnold Schwartzenegger was elected Governor of California -- and in spite of driving and dispatching interstate buses, sleepless work -- I managed to kid myself through my fifties that I was defying age. (Melanomas can kill you, but treating one that hasn't grown too far is roughly equivalent to a root canal.)

In my sixties I'm beginning to feel mortal. I have to baby tendonitis in my elbows; biceps curls aggravate the right one; triceps curls aggravate the left. A rotator cuff impingement in my left shoulder doesn't always respond to stretches and compensatory resistance exercises. Sometimes lower back pain will cancel workouts, in spite of a pretty rigorous program of physical therapy exercises. There are hints of arthritis in the joints between my thumbs and wrists, and weird, what's-that-about aches and pains here and elsewhere. They tell me I have cataracts, but so far, I can't notice, although I do require distance correction now.

Heart, blood pressure, and blood chemistry are good, due as much to genetics as to virtue. When I take those surveys to determine how long I'm going to live, the early nineties seem the target.

Benjamin Spock wrote a book at ninety, but said that it was the last one he had energy for. Jack Lalane made it to ninety-five, and was lifting weights until shortly before his death. At eighty, Clint Eastwood said that he didn't feel obliged to add pull-ups each workout. BKS Iyengar, on the other hand, claimed at ninety-two to still be making progress.

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