Column
December 24, 2014

Aging in Place: Ambushes

By Scott Funk

How is it you can go to bed feeling great and wake up in the morning with a pain in your leg that turns out to be osteoarthritis? (For the younger readers of this column, osteoarthritis is a degeneration of joint cartilage the and underlying bone, causing pain and stiffness, usually in the hip, knee, spine or thumb.)

It makes no sense. The right hip joint wore out last night and now there is bone on bone where cartilage used to be? What happened after I fell asleep? Was it a dream of “The Long March” and I walked across China?

These are ambushes: injuries haunting us from our past, or the general wear and tear of life finally catching up to us, and Wham! out of nowhere you’re limping around, looking for a cane.

Naturally, I’m griping about this because it happened to me. One day I’m walking up and down hills with my wife and our dog. Next day, I am hobbling about the house trying to figure out what happened.

Of course, whenever you have a health problem, you learn a lot of neat stuff, like hip replacement surgery is one of the most common operations in America. The average age of the patients is 62. Slightly more women than men are affected. At least those are the statistics at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

You also suddenly encounter everyone in the Green Mountains who has a new hip or is avoiding getting one. They all have the same story, too: “Got up one morning and Wham!” So, what am I going to do? I am going to get the surgery as fast as it can be arranged. Yes, it scares me, but if I am going to have a problem today then I want to solve that problem as quick as I can. Better to be struggling with recovery than just struggling. All of my life, my problems have been good news. At 65, my recovery should be much easier than if this became an issue at 85.

As much as I resent being ambushed, as I look back there were warning signs. For the past five years, I’ve been getting a shooting pain in my right hip if I moved laterally just right. When I had my shoe heels replaced in the spring, the left heel was worn down more than the right, which suggested I had been favoring the right leg. Something was already wrong before I had to reach for the cane. It just took that much pain to get me to pay attention.We don’t get to choose what goes wrong or when, but we do get to choose what we do about it. Aging in place, it doesn’t happen by accident.

Scott Funk is Vermont’s leading Aging in Place advocate.

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