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Alan Hamilton - Author & Editor

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Health update...


In my last piece, written a month ago, optimism got the better part of reality. I said I was 'recovering' from a malignant viral invasion of the muscles of my lower back and upper legs. I soon learned I wasn't 'recovering' at all; the condition got worse.

 

Blood tests indicated that whatever had caused it, it wasn't a virus. My GP prescribed Tramadol, high doses of which make you very sleepy; any attempt at concentration, you find yourself nodding-off. I was referred for X-rays of the hip that had been repaired in January of last year – and of the spine. An associated visit to a musculoskeletal department provided no answer – there appeared to be nothing wrong with either.

 

I have been referred onwards for an MRI scan on December 19, so I won't know until then what the problem is – and that's provided the scan shows anything. For the first time in six or seven weeks, for these past few days I've been able to move about the house without holding on to or leaning on something firm, experienced fewer incidences of spasms of pain when I move, especially when I first get up in the morning, and cut the number if painkillers per day from the initial eight to four.

 

But while the doctors can tell me what I haven't got, they have so far been unable to tell me what I have got, how I got it, and what can be done about it. I raise this as it seems strongly relevant to the theme of this ongoing blog.

 

First, because the condition, whatever it is, makes me feel 'old'; weak, unsure of my movements, self-pitying, lacking confidence in my own physical capability, an experience I never had before in my life until diagnosed with cancer three to four years ago, and which, even so, until early this past October I thought I'd coped with.

 

Second, because with old age comes sudden and unexpected breakdown of bones and soft tissues, literally as things wear-out, and third, because it has introduced me, dramatically, to a world where I'm dependent on others; until quite recently, I couldn't carry a tray with full mugs or glasses from one room to another, and for as long as I'm on the Tramadol I can't drive myself anywhere; oh, and I can't reach my own toenails to cut them.

 

Bed: from playground

to pit stop

 

This piece looks at the relationship between growing old and the way sleep patterns change – whether they provide the kind and duration of sleep we need to counter the problems our ageing bodies and minds put in the way of meeting our need for rest and repair.

 

Perhaps, and it's certainly so in my own experience, life goes from bed being the scene of a range of games followed by the sleep such exercise promotes, as Aldous Huxley put it, citing an old Italian proverb, 'bed is the poor man's opera', to it becoming the place to collapse into – in which to draw the curtain over the concerns and cares of the day.

 

Oddly, I gather that for many people the time spent in bed diminishes with age. Odd, because modern health advice strongly recommends the older one is, the more sleep one needs. To repair the ravages time inflicts on our bodies requires long periods of deep sleep. In the end, though, we are all individuals, and with sleep as with most other aspect of our living behaviour, one size doesn't fit all.

 

I find I sleep more as I get older and that includes anything from thirty to forty-five minutes after lunch. As the late Bob Hope said, 'I don't generally feel anything until noon, then it's time for my nap.' I'm normally in bed by ten-fifteen at night and wake at twenty past six in the morning. These past few weeks I've felt excessively sleepy about an hour after taking Tramadol, but that should cease when I find it no longer necessary as a pain-reliever. Generally, I fall asleep within twenty minutes of getting into bed – so far have I come from the playground of my younger years. Bed is now somewhere I pull into after several laps of life for a change of oil and fresh tyres.

 

Comfort in bed is a real problem as I've grown older. Years of impact damage from skiing and sailing, as well as the extent of arthritic joints means the need to move during the night as one position becomes increasingly uncomfortable and changing it essential. It's probably the case that as I grow older I sleep less deeply, wake more often, but luckily for me, have no problem dropping-off again.

 

In the next post: some reflections on the importance of companionship and friends as one grows older. The scourge of loneliness. How the breakdown of traditional family links, the growing tendency for people to isolate themselves in an online world, and the phenomena of extended lifespan, all seem to point towards a lonely and spiritually impoverished old age for generations to come.

Here is my blog No. 4 about growing old....