My dog operates like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, stashing his meds under his tongue and then depositing them elsewhere later. Half-tablets of Glucosamine Chondroitin show up in assorted locales – under the dining table, camouflaged by a multicolor area rug in the living room, discarded near the foot of my bed. One time, not to be bothered with movement, my dog simply removed the supplement from his food bowl and dropped it alongside the dish in an overt display of defiance, as if saying, “Don’t let this contaminate the good stuff.

It’s hard to explain to Speck that the medicine is for his own good, that his joints will thank him later, that due to his trick knees if he doesn’t chew and swallow, he may end up with arthritis. Of course, if I could explain it to him, he may request to see the research proving the effectiveness of the medication. He may pull up studies with contrary conclusions in order to challenge the benefit of ingesting a tablet whose taste he clearly finds disgusting, for this dog rejects nothing outside this medication. My dog eats dirt, for God’s sake, revealing that he does not have the most discriminating palate.

On the days that he can’t be bribed to take his medicine willingly, I pry Speck’s mouth open to shove the tablet inside, and I think of my father who always says he doesn’t have time to attend to his failing knees, who claims that work calls and there are countless demands on his time. I say that none of those things will matter if he’s unable to walk, that suddenly he will see that he has all the time he needs to attend to his health. I point out how much more he could do if he could walk more easily, how life would be richer.

I don’t say that it’s not fair to ask others to fetch things for him off the dining room table as he sits perched in the easy chair in the living room because he has a hard time standing up. I don’t point out that when he decides he doesn’t have time for physical therapy, he’s assuming we’ll have time to come to his rescue when the option for therapy has passed. I do say that if the roles were reversed and I were neglecting my health he’d be outraged and lecture me that nothing takes precedence over care for our own bodies, how if I argued he would call me stubborn and sigh with frustration. And in response he nods.

When a month goes by and he still hasn’t returned to physical therapy, I give up and let my thoughts drift to what kind of older person I will be. It’s hard to watch our parents age, to see their limitations grow, to see ourselves next in line. As if offering a warning, my body showed me the effects of neglect the other day. After some weeks off from an already scaled down exercise regime, too busy and too distracted to be bothered, I felt the neglect undeniably piling up. I called to my son, “Let’s do the stairs today.” He agreed. We donned our exercise clothes and hopped in the car.

Falling in line behind the other climbers, up, up, up we go. It starts easy and quickly gets difficult. Just steps from the top, my lungs are trying to leave my chest as if convinced they could get more air on the outside. I’m startled by how quickly I have declined, that even as a former competitive athlete I don’t have much in the bank. We complete our routine – up and down a few times – legs trembling before sweat can even appear. Despite the difficulty I feel proud that I am back on track.

The next morning I wake up and can barely stand from bed. I’ve done the stairs before, so I feel completely betrayed by my body’s reaction. By sheer coincidence, the elevator in our building is out – we live on the third floor – and we face the long Christmas weekend with no chance of repair for days.

Trying to walk down the stairs to my car, I feel a hundred and two years old, pain surging through every muscle I never knew I had, and suddenly I want to call every old person I’ve ever mocked and apologize. I swear that as soon as I recover, I’m back to a routine that includes the stairs regularly. Suddenly it’s simply about being able to function, about picturing myself traveling the world and facing Machu Picchu or some other equally demanding physical challenge. I’m unwilling to be the one who waits at the bottom for the others.

Days have passed and I’m still hobbling, the elevator is still broken, and Speck is still spitting out his medicine. Soon it will be the New Year. While part of me wonders if I will ever achieve prime form again, ‘Do stairs’ will be high on my list of resolutions. ‘Find flavored Glucosamine’ will be close behind. As far as prodding my father back to therapy, well, maybe I'll try to replace that goal with acceptance because some mountains are too high to climb.


Anonymous said...

there is so much to this i am not sure where to start. you have quite a way with words, De...

i love the caretaker of others and self. of subtle mirrors and uneven stairs.

fringes said...

That is quite a list. I love the way you recorded it for us. Have a great new year!

Emily said...

I really like this...what a great way to start the new year. And isn't it these small goals which help us get through.

Trouble said...

SOunds familiar. I use to run cross country and track, and now I count myself lucky if I can pound out 1.5 to 2 miles.

My dad refuses to go to physical therapy for his injured shoulder. If I had a painful and persistent medical condition and refused to get help, he'd chastize me, but won't take care of himself.

It's funny how we don't want to do what we need to do, it's almost a form of denying that we will all be old someday and best prepare for it...kind of like failing to save for retirement. I think some people think that if we don't think about it, it won't happen.

Margaret said...

you're a beautiful writer

kristen said...

This is fabulous if only because it speaks to my disappointment in how my body is letting me down. It takes 2 weeks to undue months of exercising so that when I've gotten back on the horse so to speak, I'm weak, winded and sore the next day. I'm experiencing symptoms that are described as peri-menopause, the remedy birth control pills. And I've had to stop drinking wine and spirits with any regularity, because I pay, pay, pay that night (poor sleep) and the next day.
The irony is that I'm so comfortable in my brain space, finally like myself and now, the body starts to go, oy!

Anonymous said...

"It's hard to watch our parents age, to see their limitations grow, to see ourselves next in line."

So true. And so beautifully said.