First, Do No Harm

There is so much traffic just outside the windows of my North Street home. It amazes me now as I sit here watching the seasons change through the color of the sky and the leaves’ silent descent to the ground. Life in its many iterations is right there in front of my eyes – humans of all ages; plant and animal life; those deer and foxes that haunt the evening scene, sniffed out by the dog each morning.

The cars keep coming in a straight projection from north to south in the morning and then by late afternoon, from south to north. I know the routine all too well having lived as a cog in the wheel of American industry for so many decades, now resting and observing – oh, there goes my neighbor now!

This house in this bedroom community was my sanctuary each evening – a prime reason I pushed so hard to produce, never thinking too deeply about what life would be like when I wasn’t working full-time.

There will be a lull in the flow of traffic sometime after 9:00 am, and then near-quiet until 2:20 pm when the school buses return with their precious cargo, those vibrant youths laden with backpacks holding a future supported by spines straining under the expectations.

The cycle of life is truly visible right here just outside my front windows – the seasons, the people, the revolutions of the Earth around the sun, and the moon around the Earth. Sometimes, sitting quietly as I am wont to do as of late, I can almost hear the generations that have passed this way as sprouting new growth vies for an open space to become whatever it becomes. My soul is at peace with it all.

I hadn’t planned on such a full stop so soon, but years of wear and tear, of living and using my body came to pass. No, I hadn’t thought about it at all, except to stay busy in both mind and body. AARP hotly advises: stay engaged at all levels.

At age 39 with a diagnosis of osteoporosis, I had flung myself feet-first into exercise that I knew would save me from an old age of broken bones, or worse. Miles upon miles of speed walking followed more recently by exercise classes geared for the aging body; I also added bicycling and swimming just to mix it up a bit. I felt so good.

I took the prescribed medications intended to strengthen my bones and trusted without much study or thought that I would be spared what I had witnessed happen to my maternal aunt and my mother – the slow crush of skeletons unable to support torsos and legs no longer viable as vertical supports, and the unrelenting pain. These ladies didn’t have a childhood diet rich in vitamin D and calcium. And no doubt they had inherited a predisposition to the disease as I have. But they didn’t exercise, take supplements, or subscribe to the religion of prescription medications. I had. I’d be spared. I’d live a healthier life in my old age. There would be no stopping me.

Overuse injuries brought on by structural issues that were ignored sidelined me for months, but I was strong, and I presumed that the bright light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t an oncoming train, but a welcoming beacon signaling the entrance of yet another open space trail I needed to wander.

Yet things weren’t right. Things were going wrong. Ankles followed by a hip issue followed by back troubles tested my persistence to get better, which was getting more and more difficult. Physical therapy appointments became mental health sessions, too. Dark thoughts simply were not to be tolerated. A mantra of “The sun will come out tomorrow” was holistically prescribed by well-intentioned young bloods.

However, that swinging sword of Damocles began to cast a long, foreboding shadow across my Mary Poppins attitude despite my best efforts. While I was able to convince myself that if I walked 1 mile-an-hour on Monday, by golly, I’d have to aim for 2 miles-an-hour on Tuesday, a sense of impending doom was also settling in for the duration.

Now, as the traffic flow shifts from south to north each afternoon, my energy level is drained by the effort of simply walking around the house with crutches. Surgical intervention to repair a broken femur has been followed by weeks of in-home physical therapy, as I’ve become the lucky one in 10,000 to have a negative result from osteoporosis medications. They’ve turned out, for me, to do more harm then good.

As my husband, that champion whose loving care means everything, and I prepare to face a rather long ordeal of securing cutting-edge medical intervention at a Boston hospital, my resolve has not waivered. To be less than optimistic would be unfair to him and the rest of the family and, yes, to myself. I must press on.

Others have gone and are going through worse; I am reminded, almost hourly. My peers are familiar with waiting rooms, too.

If nothing else, maybe my cautionary tale can help someone else navigate the sometimes murky and experimental side of modern medical care. Or to at least plead, “First, do no harm.”

This Mattapoisett Life

By Marilou Newell

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