Monday, May 08, 2006

Backbone: An Impression

Through a rainy window
If I had to tell you the impression I have long held of myself, I would say that I thought that I was invincible. I wouldn't say that I lived in denial, although others have said that about me. That was their impression. I have my own. I live inside my skin, and that's what this is all about. I had an impression, a vague sense that I was not bound by the laws of human aging. I somehow planned to escape the ravages of time and the vagaries of biology. Not that I planned to live forever, but that I would just grow old, and never decline in health. It was a perfect plan.

Then I went to the doctor and just like that (imagine the snap of smart fingers here) she disabused me of these notions. I'm going to be 54 years old in a few days, and to celebrate I went and had a complete physical. What the heck. I feel pretty good. I eat well. I exercise (if taking long walks on trails and on beaches with a camera is considered exercise). I am doing all the right things, even the red wine and dark chocolate are consumed strictly for their healthful properties.

I had very little to say when the doctor inquired about my health. I had no real complaints. She looked at my stats and vitals. Heart rate 68. Blood pressure 98/64. Height 5' 1 1/2" (I'm shrinking), weight 110 pounds. Skin healthy, no moles. I appear to be in pretty good shape, unless you look deeper, inside.

The view is soft and muted
Come on in, come take a look at my bones. I'm small, really small. Most people think I am taller than I am, but that's because I walk on the stilts of gravitas and self-confidence. I have a tall presence, but I am very small-boned. I had a baseline bone density scan done in December 2000, and I was diagnosed with osteopenia. Some thinning of bone. But it could not be determined if my bones had ever been much denser because of my small size (a theory I latched on to and held as my truth), or if there had been actual bone loss. That's why a second bone density is done for comparison after a few years. I had that one done in April 2005, but never had anyone read the results (long story), until my complete physical.

The nice doctor looked at my bone density results and said, "Uh-oh. This does not look good." I'm as close to having osteoporosis as one can get without actually having it. The range for osteopenia is -1.5 to -2.4, and osteoporosis is defined as a density lower than -2.5 . In April 2005, my spine was measured at -2.4. That was a full .6 drop from December 2000. My hip density stayed the same. All that walking really did help, but since I do no weight-bearing exercise for my spine, it has been deteriorating. Holy shit. Quick! Someone give me something heavy to strap to my back besides the psychic pain of caring about the world. Because as heavy as that is, it simply has no real weight.
And vivid in the sun
Impressions change. I have to look at things more clearly, more deeply. I always thought that if I did all the right things with diet and a regular amount of exercise, I would maintain my health. Not so. As an advocate for getting all of my vitamins and minerals from food, I didn't ever follow the advice of doctors when they told me to take Calcium and Vitamin D supplements. Not smart. I just plainly thought it couldn't happen to me. Now I have to toughen up my backbone. It's funny, that's the one thing I always thought I had plenty of. So, how clearly do you see yourself? What's your secret impression?

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