At midlife, sometimes I feel like a car that’s out of warranty – that point at which things inevitably start to go awry. You know – leaks, lubrication problems, excessive overheating, smoke from the tailpipe, wear and tear (and I’m not talking about my Subaru).
Let’s face it: as we get older, our bodies start having issues. Thankfully, my husband and I haven’t had any life-threatening problems. But we have had some annoying – and scary – situations. What’s helped put them in perspective is our ability to laugh.
Case in point: Donald stood up from a chair recently and almost fell to the floor with severe pain in his left ankle. It came out of nowhere and was so excruciating that he could barely walk. After hobbling around over the weekend doing the stoic guy thing, he finally agreed to see his doctor. An x-ray revealed that he had what’s called a joint mouse – a loose fragment of bone or cartilage that floats in the joint.
He was referred to an orthopedic surgeon; of course, by the time he saw him, the pain had pretty much subsided. The upshot was that surgery to remove the mouse might be necessary down the road, but for now, Donald should just go about his life.
Since he was feeling better and surgery wasn’t imminent, I couldn’t resist: when Donald got back from seeing the surgeon, I tucked one of our cats’ toy mice in my sock and limped into the living room. When he asked why I was limping, I pulled out the fake mouse and said, “Oh, look – I have an ankle mouse, too!”
At first, he acted all tight-lipped, we-are-not-amused pissy (while I was laughing so hard I almost wet my pants). Then he cracked up, too – and took a picture of the mouse sticking out of my sock and posted it on his Facebook page.
A few years ago, the shoe (mouse?) was on the other foot. I had a weird episode during which I lost my short-term memory for a few hours. I started feeling strangely fuzzy-brained during a business call in my home office, so when I hung up, I sought out Donald and said, “My brain isn’t working right. I think I’m having a stroke. Maybe you should call 9-1-1.”
I don’t remember what happened over the next six hours or so. Donald later told me that while we sat in the hospital waiting room after I’d had an MRI to rule out stroke (which it did, thank God), I asked him how we’d gotten to the hospital; he explained that he’d driven me.
But since I couldn’t retain what he said, I kept asking that same question every few minutes, like an annoying two-year-old or someone with dementia. After the first few queries he started answering with whatever popped into his head (“By spaceship.” “On horseback.” “In a limo.”). Anyone who overheard our conversation probably thought he was being an insensitive prick – and/or that I was being incredibly obtuse.
He also told me that I kept lifting up my hospital gown and asking, “What am I wearing under here?” (Answer: yoga pants). Why I felt compelled to know that, I have no idea.
Long story short, it turned out I’d had an episode of transient global amnesia (TGA). The neurologist explained that it has no known cause, but can be triggered by extreme stress or physical activity, immersion in cold water, acute pain or sex (none of which I was involved in at the time). The recurrence rate is less than 5%. He also reassured me that TGA appears to be a benign condition that requires no further treatment and isn’t a risk factor for stroke. Whew.
Now we simply refer to it as my brain fart, and relating our hospital waiting room conversation is a great hit at parties (where these days the conversation invariably turns to health matters, and TGA is a real crowd-pleaser).
The fact is, at our age most of us are or will be facing health issues. They can be a source of frustration, fear, anger and sadness, and justifiably so. But at some point, we can also try to find the humor in a situation. It’s not about being a Pollyanna; there’s actually scientific evidence that humor has health benefits. For example, laughter’s been shown to:
- Improve blood flow
- Strengthen the immune system
- Burn calories
- Boost brain power
- Connect us with others
Which inspires this boomer haiku:
Laughter is the best
medicine, even if it
makes you pee your pants.
I also think that laughter is life affirming. It says that you’re able to find a soupcon (I always wanted to use that word) of joy at even the darkest of times – like when my sister and I got the giggles, remembering happier times while we sat at my mother’s bedside as she lay dying.
So what about you…have you had a health-related or other serious issue that you’ve been able to laugh about? Please share…
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