As I snuggle into bed, drifting off to sleep, I wonder which pain will wake me this time and when it will strike. Will it be the horrible, familiar leg and foot cramps? Will they strike in the middle of the night or let me sleep until early in the morning? Or will my arthritic hip or knee be the culprit? Or just a random, unexpected earache or inexplicable pain in my thumbs? I feel victorious when I can stay asleep until the morning light.
Isn't it amazing how routine it all becomes?
I feel fairly certain that I don't want to add medications to my pill inventory. Watching TV commercials for various drugs — and potential side effects — will do that. I console myself knowing that the pain, by itself, will not cause the swelling of my tongue and throat, suicidal thoughts, kidney failure, worsening of other conditions or death. I take particular offense at the ads for prescription drugs to aid sleep. As the pictures portray a person being carried off to sleep on gossamer wings, the voice hurries through a list of fatal, near fatal or at least alarming things that may happen if I take the stuff. I may not only walk but drive and eat in my sleep. I may generally behave like a sleep-walking psychotic. I'd rather wake up with one of my familiar pains. At least I will wake up, and in my own bed.
Ads for cigarettes and other tobacco products have been banned from TV for years. The packs themselves tell us how lethal they are and the horrible consequences if one uses them. Yet prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies seem to own the early evening, sponsoring every program that might appeal to mature adults like me, before I totter off to bed. They promise to control my cholesterol, keep my heartburn in check, ease the pain of arthritis and help me fight toenail fungus. God knows, fungus-free toenails are serious business for many folks. But frankly, I'd prefer my toes cease to be numb and occasionally painful, as they are. I'm not too concerned about how they will look in strappy little sandals.
I now take about six pills every night and eight in the morning. None of them are prescribed because I saw an ad on TV and asked the doctor for a prescription. There are medical reasons why it's important for me to take them. They are prescribed to save my life, not endanger it.
The fact is that old age involves some discomfort, some changes that are both inevitable and unpleasant. Life prepares us. Madison Avenue would love for us to believe that old age is golden, that we can avoid all the unpleasantness and the pains that plague old bodies. Maybe some people can. I admire oldsters who don't seem to miss a beat, who are vigorous, who sleep blissfully through the night and rise early, ready to run marathons and play a few rounds of golf. Maybe that's the payoff for living a clean and healthy life. But those of us who have indulged ourselves one way and another really can't expect to live through old age without some difficulties. But here we are, still alive and able to enjoy our own twilight in spite of some aches and pains. There are a lot of people who suffer horribly through old age through no fault of their own. Some never even make it to old age.
The point is we made it to old age in spite of everything. At least the pains that wake me up actually wake me up. I'm still here! So I creak a little, complain about the pain of the day. Darling Husband has his aches and pains too, but we are grateful to be alive and kicking. Well, "kicking" may be a bit of an exaggeration.
Sheila Stoll is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write her at PMB No. 309, 7904 E Chaparral Road, No. 110, Scottsdale, AZ 85250.