October 25, 2010

The march of time

I USED to leave the table whenever my parents and their friends would start discussing their many ailments. My Pop would dispense information about which kind of fruits his doctor allowed him to eat because of his diabetes, while my Mama would talk about the food supplements she took to help oil her joints. Then other friends would pipe in with their heart conditions, or hypertension medicines, etcetera, etcetera.

I never liked old people’s conversations whenever they took this turn, as it was bound to transform any happy get-together into a bummer. One minute, they’re discussing their kids’ accomplishments, then next thing you know, it’s their illnesses and the amount of drugs they’re gulping down. Then they try to remember the “good old days”, when they were all so young and vibrant just to comfort themselves.

Then just about the time the new millennium rushed in, my gal pal Miggy started talking about her high blood sugar. Miggy used to be the type who would be the first to sit down at the dining table and the last to leave. This was why I always made sure I parked myself beside her, because I was the same, too. We just relished every morsel of food popped into our mouths and would feel unperturbed that while everybody else was already having their desserts, we were still occupied with our main course.

When her mother passed away due to a kidney ailment, a direct complication from diabetes, Miggy went into discipline mode. So now after eating, she needs to take her glucophage to control her blood-sugar level. And when we have dinners together, we now usually listen to her airing her feelings of guilt especially when faced with a table full of high-cholesterol, carbohydrates-packed, or strong sugary foods. You can trust her to be there lecturing some hapless diabetes sufferer on the kind of diet and exercise he should be adopting in his lifestyle.

Mercifully, this disciplined diet has led her to a trimmer figure such that she looks very young for a golden girl. Lately, though, she has been complaining of brittle bones.

Then there’s Ms. RP and her hyperthyroidism. The way I understand it, the thyroid oversees the body’s metabolism. Such that your ability to burn fat is affected. The usual outward manifestation is weight gain, but there are other symptoms as well, such as dizziness, rapid irregular heartbeat, and being mentally and physically fatigued. I only saw her weight gain and, fortunately, not those other terrifying symptoms.

I don’t remember what drugs exactly were given to Ms. RP to treat her thyroid problem, but it surely has worked as she’s back to her voluptuous self. (Or maybe it was her recent bout with amoebiasis that has made her thinner, hahaha!) Seriously, hyperthyroidism, while not life-threatening, can lead to very serious complications if left untreated.

While Miggy and Ms. RP are a few years older than me, I had contributed some choice ailments to our gang’s discussions over the years as well. First, there was my bad back.

Of course, this wasn’t strictly a senior problem but more due to a previously sedentary lifestyle. There I was in my old apartment reaching out for something, then suddenly my lower back just gave out, and I fell to the floor, unable to get up. When I was well enough to get an actual diagnosis from a doctor, the first thing he asked was if I exercised. “Uhm...no?” Fortunately, that experience put me on the path to yoga and I have been free of any back ailments so far, knock on wood.

However, there are illnesses that one is cursed with because of one’s genetic predisposition. From my father’s side, I stand to inherit his hypertension and diabetes. For now, I’m quite lucky that a side benefit of my regular yoga practice is that it keeps my blood pressure and blood sugar on an even keel.

But then, there’s my mother’s glaucoma. This terrible medical condition cost her left eyesight. It just crept up on her. She didn’t experience any symptoms at all...then bam! she just went blind. What happens is too much fluid in your eye builds up, increases the pressure inside your eye, and when left unchecked, it damages your optic nerve. There is no cure for this. Once you go blind, you stay blind, which makes it doubly scary. Since this is an inherited condition, and as risks are higher as one reaches 40, I’ve been getting regular checkups—sometimes annually, sometimes every two years.

So last week, I dropped by the Asian Eye Institute at its TriNoma branch to have my eyes checked as part of my regular glaucoma monitoring.

AEI is very thorough when it checks for glaucoma. First, they will refract your eyes to see if your vision has remained the same or has increased. I already have astigmatism (courtesy of my father as well), a condition that popped up in my mid-30s, so I use eyeglasses. The medical assistant checked if my glasses still worked to correct my vision; good thing it still did.

Then to check for glaucoma, I went through this test to check if my peripheral vision was still clear. Apparently, as one gets closer to having glaucoma, the field of vision narrows tremendously. Tunnel vision, literally.

The medical technician then took an in-depth photograph of my eye, then another test to measure the pressure inside my eyes. Then yet another to measure the thickness of my cornea because, as per my glaucoma doctor Dr. Imelda Yap-Veloso, the thinner one’s cornea is, the more susceptible he is to glaucoma. Guess who’s got a thin cornea? Damn.

After all these exams, Dr. Veloso told me that while the pressure in my eyes was still normal, their drainage was slowly closing off. Gulp! When it completely closes, the fluid in my eyes that lubricates the surrounding tissues will have nowhere to go. This will eventually raise the pressure in my peepers.

It devastated me to hear that there was no way to prevent this. It’s just how my eyes are structured. But she said there is a way to secure them by creating another path to drain the eye fluid. To do this, I would need to undergo a laser eye treatment… yikes! (An older friend who earlier had a retina problem said undergoing a laser eye treatment was as easy as pie, so I shouldn’t worry. Still, the thought of having some contraption slice through my eye is discomfiting enough, and then there’s the anxiety about possible side effects.)

Of course, my initial reaction was to blame my mother. What’s one more issue to pin down on her, eh? At least with the other illnesses I’m predisposed to thanks to my father’s genes, these can be prevented or controlled by diet and exercise. But this drainage problem is not only inevitable but could only be solved by a costly procedure. Thank you, Mama! Grrr.

(As I comforted myself with salmon sashimi, a Philadelphia sushi roll and a tendon, I furiously texted my older sister who was in New York then tracking down the historical hotdog cart. I vented my frustration over the outcome of my eye exam, and I also reminded her to get an exam, as well, as soon as she returned home.)

Obviously, I’m being facetious. More than my mother’s unholy inheritance to me, what really kills is that no matter how young I think I am (I still watch cartoons, for heaven’s sake!), there is no way I can deny that age is already creeping up on me. This eye condition is but one more topic to contribute to my gang’s “senior” discussions about the various ailments that are now plaguing us.

And why am I am telling you all this? Because that’s what old people do. Waaah!

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Cartoon from Mrs. Z's photos.)

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