Adjusting to Retirement The Unconventional Way
Lorna is retired at 48 years old. On the outside, she looks tired, but otherwise doesn’t seem disabled. What’s going on under the surface?
To look at me, you’d think I was scamming the system. I had all my limbs, wasn’t lugging around an oxygen tank, or hearing voices to kill certain “colleagues” at the college. I started wishing I had something
gross obvious so when people wondered why I wasn’t working, I could point and shrug pathetically. But all my “issues” (I wouldn’t call them problems), were invisible: dizziness, nausea, achy joints, lack of mental focus, insomnia, migraines, lethargy, vacuuming aversion (okay, I had that one forever).
Since I retired at the end of the spring 2006 semester, I had the summer to contemplate being “disabled” without having to deal with being “retired.”
Lazy Professors don’t typically work in the summer. I often worked on updating my courses and other academic projects throughout the summer. An online writing group became my substitute activity. Now that I had time, I decided I would do something with the short, funny stories I’d been writing since I got dizzy. But I needed to know if someone other than people who loved me and loved my writing (the same people who told me I looked marvelous in a buzz cut) thought my stories were publishable. I joined the Critique Circle and let aspiring writers tell me what they thought of my work and I got a lot of practice telling them what I thought of their work. I dove into this new adventure with the same zeal tenacity thoughtfulness as I did my teaching. This new obsession endeavor gave me an answer when the inevitable question arose, “What are you doing with all your free time?” I said, “I’m an aspiring writer.” It was something.
Chuck supported my new adventure as long as he didn’t have listen to me read my work. He didn’t have the patience for that. His attention span for my “hobby” was, at most, 5 minutes. If I was working on a book or something that would bring money or fame to
him us, then he may have treated my efforts more seriously. He spent incrementally less time at home, but called often to check up on me. On the weekends and many evenings, he loved to go to “our” place at the lake, which had a very nice “park model” camper with an attached deck. While he “invited” me often, the place felt like his get-away from to me. We had a cadre of pets: 2 dogs, 2 cats, and 1 cockatoo (Reggie, who didn’t travel well). Chuck was allergic to pet dander. Keeping the camper pet dander-free made life easier for him, but leaving the pets at home meant I could only “visit” for short periods. We brought the dogs and Reggie down several times, but it was cramped and not very relaxing. Thus began a pattern of separate living accommodations in the summer for practical of reasons.
In August, Chuck had a business trip to Chicago. I accompanied him. We had a delightful time, even though I started getting fairly chronic back aches that
prodigious amount of Advil nothing seemed to relieve. I had given up my daily jogging routine about a year ago because I developed flu-like symptoms for days after even a short jog. My body didn’t want to move faster than a slow walk, so I walked.
Two days after returning from Chicago, my back hurt so much I laid down with a heating pad in the middle of the day. It was a Saturday. When I tried to get up an hour later, I couldn’t move my legs without
kill-me now searing pain. Odd. I cried called for help. Chuck tried to get me on my feet. I collapsed to the floor in agony. Again, odd. In Never-Let-a-Little-Thing-Like-Paralysis-Stop-Me fashion, I tried, with Chuck and Alex’s help and the assistance of a rolling office chair, to get downstairs and to the car so we could drive to the ER. We got a far as the car. As I tried to get into the car, I wondered what the woman in the magician’s saw-the-lady-in-bits trick felt like if the trick went wrong. I bet she felt better than I did.
We called the ambulance and I got my first-ever ambulance ride. They offered me morphine but I declined. I wanted to be
in excruciating pain able to accurately answer any diagnostic questions when I got to the hospital. After all ER tests and questions were done, however, I gladly accepted as many doses of morphine as they would give me.
The surgeon on call was a cardiac specialist and felt confident I had a muscle spasm. He released me with an Rx for muscle relaxants and suggested walking. By Monday, my back pain was worse and my left leg was getting numb. Odd and ominous. I went to my doctor. An MRI showed that I had a partially blown L-4 disc.
I worried about being depressed that, for the first time since I could recall, the fall semester started without me. Turns out, I worried needlessly. I was having emergency back surgery to prevent possible paralysis of my left leg. Missing college wasn’t even on the radar.
Back surgery? You’ve got to be kidding?