Although normally a very healthy person suffering only from the usual age related infirmities (i.e. weakening eyes, forgetfulness, morning aches, weight gain, etc.) at the start of February I contracted some illness which apparently is burning through this region as well as many places in the lower 48. It is rather unusual in that it begins with a sore throat, low grade fever, a sense of overall weakness/lack of energy and slowly mounting cough; by day two the cough is a deep, hacking repetitive monster settled well into one’s lungs. By day four the fever and sore throat are gone but the cough remains in full force although one can begin to feel it lifting its locus from the lungs into the throat. By day seven all symptoms are gone except for a general weakness and the cough. I am now into day twelve of this illness and it continues to tease me with feelings it is disappearing followed by kicking my butt if I so much as try to start acting normally. But across this entire situation I’ve experienced no congestion in either my lungs of my head, something that’s very surprising given the cough. From what I’ve been told the cough requires around three weeks to completely disappear. I was quite impressed with the fact this organism was capable of knocking me flat on my back for the first five days; all I did was sleep, drink gallons of water, sleep, try to hold down some soup and sleep. In the first 96 hours of this battle I believe I sent 78 hours in bed. As the fever and sore throat departed and the cough moved up into my throat my need for sleep has diminished although I’m still making sure I get at least ten hours a night.
All told this has been a most unpleasant time and it has caused me to reflect upon myself as a patient and my lifestyle as a single human being. I’ve known since childhood I am a lousy patient and my demeanor is directly proportional to how bad I feel; in this case imagine an old grizzly bear awakened abruptly from hibernation only to find snow and cold outside his den suffering from severe hunger and possessing a fuse maybe a sixteenth of an inch in length. I feel so bad for my dogs as although I honestly try they still get the brunt of my negativity and Heaven knows they do not deserve it! In fact given my largely comatose condition across the first five days and their almost non-existent exercise they have behaved wonderfully. Yes, I did get up to let them outside three times a day and made sure they had food and water but that was about as much as I could muster yet they responded by being perfect family members. Really makes me proud of how I raised them but much more so proud of their intelligence, patience and loyalty. It always put a smile on my face when I’d finally awaken in the morning and find Qanuk’s favorite tennis ball by my head; he ‘gave’ it to me just in case I might want to awaken and play a bit. Anana is the classic Mal; endless patience broken only by random periods of her need to ‘talk’ up a storm. I love the Mal vocabulary of howls, grunts, wheezes and similar and thus I’ve always encouraged her to be vocal. As I’ve improved I’ve been able to get them outside; I’ll often load them in my Escape and drive around handling important chores. Upon finishing I drop them on a back road a few miles from the house and allow them to chase me back home. A real advantage to living rural is the complete lack of traffic on the back roads!
This is as ill as I’ve been in many decades and it really did cause me to reflect upon my choice to be living solo with just my dogs in a rural setting. Because I am still relatively new to south central Alaska I have yet to build up a robust network although I must admit I was surprised and pleased by so many genuine offers to walk the dogs, make store runs and similar! I knew Alaskans are known for being caring, sharing people but even so I did not expect this level of support. Yet this remains quite different from what so many folks have in terms of support be it a significant other or close by family. In working through my desire to relocate to this area I was painfully aware I would be putting thousands of miles between myself and my family and friends. I was very concerned about this concept but saw no resolution if I went ahead and made the move. To be honest once my folks passed my closest sibling was in Chicago (240 miles to the west) but he soon moved to Albuquerque (NM). My sister has almost always lived in Colorado and hence she was well over a thousand miles to the west. I have some loosely held connections with cousins and Aunts but they are mostly 500+ miles to the ESE. So as far as family the move didn’t really involving making a separation but rather exacerbated that which already existed. This was not the case with my network of friends in Michigan and this caused me the most angst in deciding whether to move so far afield. In the end I was chasing a 16 year old dream and I couldn’t not say ‘Yes’ to the opportunity. I sometimes have second thoughts but then it was a huge lifestyle shift and it only occurred 19 months back.
But this current bout with whatever illness I’m still locked in battle against did give me some long, sleepless periods during the coughing spells in which I could review my choice and my situation. No surprise many of these times were rather negative as I struggled with trying to quell the cough and the up-welling of illness induced concerns about caring for myself as I age and illnesses become more impactful. Sometimes it was downright desperate in nature although I also realized the sickness was skewing all my thought processes in such a negative direction. I did realize it was much better for me to be alone with this illness given just how close to ‘Hell on Wheels’ I was in terms of my overall personality. No one should have to be subjected to me when I felt that bad! So this was a good thing. In addition I was aware that despite how devastated I felt during those first four days I was also still capable of rational thought as I set it in my mind that if the cough remained in my lungs by Monday I was going to break down and visit the Sunshine Clinic just three miles from here. In addition I had the phone numbers of two neighbors who would gladly have come by to check on the dogs and me. So all in all I was ‘okay’ for the short term while I monitored my own progress and reacted accordingly.
Of course as one really ages – such as crossing the 60 year old mark – I believe it becomes paramount to begin to recognize one’s infirmities and to plan ‘round them such that one’s abilities are not too diminished while living safer. My stairwell is narrow and steep in this place; from the time I moved in I started training Qanuk to never, ever be on the stairs with me. He is far too excitable and energetic; I could easily see him knocking me down by accident and me ending up at the base of the stairs with a broken ankle or leg…or worse. If there’s outside work that requires getting up to the second floor or higher I’m paying to have it done; I’ve recognized my balance isn’t as good as it used to be! There are a plethora of other ‘concessions’ I’ve made with plans on how to minimize their impact on my lifestyle. I do not want to ‘wall myself in’ with so many restrictions I cannot enjoy life; this would be a travesty. But I do want to live a little smarter and safer; in pursuing this goal I recognize I should shy away from things I may have done without a second thought at age 50. Part of my leanings in this direction stem from watching my folks refuse to accept age related infirmities and pay for their denials. Seeing Dad on a ladder at his place cleaning out the second floor gutters when he was 90 years of age scared the daylights out of me. And I saw the results of Mom climbing up a short ladder to fill a bird feeder and losing her balance. These were extremely healthy octogenarians plus yet the infirmities of age negatively affected their abilities. I am in nowhere near as good shape as them but I do recognize that I just cannot do some of the things I did when I was 45 years of age nor should I try. That’s life…
Learning to accept that age often means a lessening of one’s abilities particularly in the extremes is a part of aging and something I feel is necessary. In one sense I suppose one could make a case for me holding myself back based on these beliefs. But in another I accept the fact that I can ill afford a major injury like a broken leg when living my lifestyle. Because of this I’ve adopted a simple approach which has served me to this point: I accept I do have some age related infirmities which will restrict some areas of my life but I do not dwell upon them or bemoan them; they simply are a part of my aging process!
I am sure that when you wrote, “Of course as one really ages – such as crossing the 60 year old mark”, you were not targeting ‘anyone’ but the arrow hit its mark anyway. I think we both understood that living and getting old in Alaska was not a job for sissies, but confronting the reality is definitely an eye opener. A ‘neighbor’ about two miles down the hill was found dead in his cabin a number of months ago by state troopers simply because he lived a solitary existence…. is that to be our epitaph? To be found months after our demise by a stranger? I would sure like to read the last chapter of God’s book on my lifetime to see how it turns out. Get better my friend
Hey Pete – I actually did give a bit of thought to aging solo in ‘The Great Land’ before I even seriously considered retiring up here. During my decade of mainly solo camping trips my folks and friends worried about some untoward accident; being they were lower 48’ers they mostly worried about bear attacks while I was more concerned about hypothermia. As I told my sister I believe when it is one’s ‘time’ then you’re going to pass one way or another and I’d much rather die up here in the Alaskan wilderness than in a car collision in the lower 48! That same philosophy remains with me to this day; I know I most likely have less than 2 decades remaining on this plane so I’m going to indulge myself. It was a 16 year dream to live up here and I’m living that dream. I have lots left I’d like to do and only time will tell if I can even accomplish half of these plans. As for delineating an age at which ‘old’ starts to apply I felt I had to do so because otherwise ya get a lot of ‘that’s not old’ type comments. To someone like my folks I suspect 60 years of age would not have been ‘old’ but I do believe for most people starting one’s sixth decade really does mark a point at which one could be rightly labeled ‘old’.