“It’s actually very common,” she went on in her methodical way, not that I was really listening. I was imagining a life of walking sticks and wheelchairs. “Eighty percent of people show at least some signs of arthritis by the time they reach forty.” I managed a watery smile. “Some people actually show signs in their thirties or even in their twenties,“ she added a little too hastily, as if to cheer me up. I left the hospital in a gloomy mood.
I had walked into the hospital as a relatively youthful, active chap in the prime of life, or so I had thought. Thirty minutes later I had emerged as arthritic. Physically I felt fine, psychologically I was tainted.
It had all started innocently enough. I had been jogging on a machine at my local gym as I had been doing five times a week for as long as I care to remember. The pain was sharp and sudden, sharp enough to make me immediately jump off the treadmill. I rubbed my knee. Five minutes later I hopped back on the treadmill only for the pain to re-occur. Very odd.
The next day and a replay. The same sharp pain and another aborted workout. Something was not right here. The upshot is that I have arthritis in my right knee. It may be ‘mild’ or ‘early stage’, but it’s there on the x-ray as sure as wagon wheels are round - the gradual, unmistakable erosion of matter between the bones.
It seems therefore that my days of pounding on the treadmill for hours on end are well and truly at an end. I have been advised to try a ‘gentler’ form of exercise. “Swimming would be ideal for someone with your condition.” That was what the doctor said: “my condition!” Aghhh! So it’s official: I am middle aged. I have a ‘condition.’ Goodbye youth. Goodbye frivolity and hello slippers, physio and prescriptions.
There’s no cure for my poor old knee. Arthritis is progressive. It just gets worse and worse. So it’s a case of swallowing my chrondritin and glucosamine tablets every day and hoping for the best.
And if that wasn’t bad enough my teeth have decided to call it a day too. These past twelve months I have become a fixture in the dentist’s chair. A lifetime of sugary coffee and tea are claiming their dues.
“But I haven’t had a single teaspoon of sugar in my tea for four years!” I protest to my dentist – yet another ridiculously young, crisp female. “That’s not the point,” she says ushering me into the chair, “The damage has already been done”. Damage…? “Pull the whole lot out and let’s be done with it,” I retort, imagining my prosthetic knee now being joined by false teeth and dentures. “Don’t be silly,” she says as if speaking to a child, “Now open wide…”
I have a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that people in white coats are going to play an ever increasing role in my life. A future of being probed and proded unrolls before me. Doctors, dentists and next the optician. I’m on a role.
My eyes have started playing tricks now. After serving me pretty well for almost forty years they have started to steadfastly refuse to see not only small print, but everyday print, the kind one sees in newspapers and paperback books. And as for food labels, forget it. The writing is Lilliputian! I’ve resorted to squinting and if that doesn’t work, loud oaths.
I’m just waiting for my ears to go next.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. I’m happy to report that while my body slowly decays around me, my hair is putting up a spirited last stand against the ravages of ageing. It’s still there, hale and hearty. In fact the older I get the hairier I get. The damned stuff is migrating everywhere: shoulders, ears, back, arms and most cruelly of all, the eyebrows! My eyebrows were doing just fine as they were but now, thanks to my grow-fast brows I’m a dead ringer for that ruddy wizard Geldoff or whatever they call him.
And other strange things are afoot, small seemingly insignificant signs that the changes are not just limited to physical decay. I think my mind might also be going. I’ve started doing inexplicable things.
Yesterday while walking around town I stared as a caravan went by. “Nice caravan” I thought to myself. And last night I watched a full episode of Antiques Roadshow!
Oh yes, life certainly begins at 40 – it begins to go downhill, fast!