Adjusting to Retirement The Unconventional Way

One of my tricks to make me feel peppy even when I'm tired is to dress in snazzy outfits.

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.

I could never write like BoBo. His imagination and keyboarding skills were incredible. Maybe someday I'd be as talented a writer as BoBo...

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.

Ha! I got out of my cage and I'm going to shred your "Easy-Up" while you try to relax on your deck.

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.

Yeah, if that were real, I felt like the woman in the box, only worse.

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.

I saw my future go from this ...

... to this.

Back surgery? You’ve got to be kidding?

~ by Lorna's Voice on October 26, 2011.

34 Responses to “Adjusting to Retirement The Unconventional Way”

  1. You’d think it would get better… 😉

  2. Did they name a wing at the hospital yet? You have been there so many times you could have your room on hold for the next visit.
    I’m not surprised that other things started flairing up. It usually happens that way for me. I suppose the good part is that it was happening while you were still feeling miserable and sick. Can you imagine feeling terrific …. then having to go back to be poked and prodded in their search for your ailment?
    Well … being sick sucks so by now, I ‘m sure, your beginning to feel like –
    Dear God … What else???
    Write – on sista … it’s got to get better – right???
    Izzy

  3. You’ve got to write your story. I’d love to read it!

  4. Lorna,

    Yet another similarity. Only I blew out the disks in C3 & C4. Face, right side went numb, then couldn’t move them. Thought I was having a stroke. But not. Yeah, the story is more complicated but this is your time. 🙂

  5. Moving forward with a smile was always my only option. I guess I’m just built that way. Thank for your kind words of support! ;

  6. My goodness…the pain you have endured is truly unimaginable. One would never know by just looking at you.U are one tough cookie 😉 It’s amazing that you tell your story with a smile and that inspires us to feel your triumph inspite of your trials.

  7. Imagine that–book tours and signings? You think that’s possible? Heck, anything is possible in my life, right? Pick out a nice restaurant with good vegetarian options and I’m there! 🙂

  8. Al, I’m going to give you a spoiler in my story–just to save you thesaurus time. No more surgeries. Well, I can’t predict the future, but I’m not planning on anymore at least! But there is one more health-related close call. I just had to ride in an ambulance one more time… 😉

  9. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure brain tumors aren’t contagious via reading!

    And just to clarify, the surgery wasn’t botched, the diagnosis by the cardiologist covering the ER that night was. If he had diagnosed me correctly and gotten me to back surgeon immediately, I may not have suffered any nerve damage. But that Sunday, as he ordered, I tried to walk and I just put more pressure on the blown out disc. The pain killers made it possible for me to bear the pain of walking and that just probably severed those nerves. I don’t have the rail-thin body of a runway model anyway, so no great loss to the fashion industry! 😉

  10. Can’t stop writing (except for to read my blogger-buddies’ posts). Too much good stuff left to tell… 😉

  11. Thanks so much for telling me that my story-telling voice is one that resonates with you. Because this will eventually be a book, that kind of feedback is really helpful. I hope you continue to drop in, read and let me know what you think! 😉

  12. Amy, I was pretty much clueless. I worked so hard at doing what I thought would make Chuck happy, regardless of my illness, that I forgot about my needs. I kept justifying everything that was happening as a “life lesson” so I hung in there in the face of my sisters telling me Chuck was bad news for me. I just kept remembering my recommitment to the marriage in counseling, something I took very seriously. But the harder I tried to do things “right” in Chuck’s definition, the worse it got. I eventually discovered there was no way for me to please him–something hard to swallow for a life-long “Good-Girl-Pleaser.”

  13. Thus was it ever… 😉

  14. I’m glad your brother is okay, but a back injury has a way of haunting you. I’m one of the people who always figures “it could always be worse,” but there were time when I had to dig pretty deep in the barrel of “worse” to make myself feel better about my situation.

    Yes, I’m writing this whole story through to where I am today. It’s going to be an autobiography or memoir and it WILL get published somehow. I’m leaving some details and stories out so that my wonderful blogger buddies will have something fresh to read in the book-version. 😉

  15. Everyone has their trials and their trails to follow. I’m just laying mine out for the world to see. No one, even if they pretend otherwise, has an easy time navigating life. 😉

  16. I’m not sure about which publishing route to take. I’m hoping that will reveal itself to me as I finish my story. Maybe someone in the publishing arena will happen across my blog and guide me. I mean, things have worked out so smoothly in my life so far, why not? 😉

  17. How much can one person take?! I am seriously realizing how inconsiderate and un-helpful doctors can be. Sometimes I watch that show “Mystery Diagnosis” and I’ll be yelling out the diagnosis for those poor, suffering patients well before the doctors get around to it–that is so wrong on so many levels! Some of them can be so dismissive…

    You are much more than an aspiring writer! 🙂 If you’re able, please make a book-signing trip my local Barnes & Noble in Orlando after you get your book deal and you can sign a copy for me–we can go to dinner afterwards. xo

  18. Hmmm…..brain surgery or an L4 Laminectomy….hmmmm…..tough choice. Oh, I know, I’ll do them both! Only in Lorna’s world.

    I’ve used up all my adjectives and adverbs to describe what an amazing life you’ve lived and how wonderfully you’ve told the story. I’m going to the thesaurus now…..I’ll be back later.

  19. A broken body, a broken house, but not a broken spirit? I also relate to the hidden disabilities. And the husband sleeping somewhere else. And the politics of teaching. I often wanted to put a cast on my weak leg, and say it was broken, and have some great skiing accident story, so much better than a botched back surgery so many years ago. So many parallels between us, I am now worried I have a brain tumor. 😉

  20. Brain surgery. Back surgery. I can’t even begin to imagine…
    Makes my issues seem rather tiny. Amazing, Lorna! Keep writing!!!

  21. Wow you have been through a lot. I definitely love the voice you use to tell your story. Thank you for sharing that with us!

  22. I want to explain my comment. This is almost hard for me to read with all the sadness. Why is it so much easier for others to see these events heading in one direction? How would anyone deal with the sense of quiet desperation you must have felt. Or did you have any sense of the looming bad news? Perhaps our naivete is a God-send.

  23. Double, double, toil and trouble…it’s looming, Lorna!

  24. You put a laughing brave face on it, but what a difficult time you’ve had! I’m so sorry all of this has happened to you. My brother fell off of a ladder at a construction site and fell 2 stories onto his back when he was in his early 20’s! He’s okay, but it changed his entire life. There are SO many things he can’t do, but no one cares because he could have been paralyzed. I hope you have lots of family and friends to love you through all of it. My prayers are with you (not knowing all of the story until you finish it for us! [hint hint]). 🙂

  25. Oh my goodness. You *really* didn’t have an easy time of it!

  26. I’m pretty speechless now. You look pretty healthy and aware in your picture but someone has realy put you through the blender in health matters. As always you are gutsy in the face of the adversity. AS to the writing I am interested in which way you would move your manuscript to market: through traditional routes or through some e publishing route

  27. Yes, that doctor seriously misdiagnosed my back problem, and as you’ll see tomorrow, there were permanent consequences. Either arrogance or rushing in the ER. Who knows.

    And Reggie was very well behaved. I lavished so much attention on him. Unfortunately, he died very young–4 years old. He had a congenital nerve disease that wouldn’t allow him to swallow. At the end he couldn’t even take in water. It was so sad. We had him put down before he died of dehydration. I grieved over that bird like he was my child. 😦

  28. Yes, if only I was as smart as you… 😉

  29. I love the from this…to that.. photos. So funny I burst out laughing, here in the office. All kidding aside we were so worried about you. Your angels were with you protecting and guiding. I knew what Chuck was about, it just took you longer to see it.

  30. It never seems to end, does it? I admire your ability to go on when things get rough. I know several people with chronic illnesses that have completely given in to it and let it define their lives. I was diagnosed with CF/FMS and autoimmune problems 15 years ago and I know how tough it can be.
    Your ER doctor should have known by your symptoms that something more serious than a spasm was going on. My husband is in the medical profession and we’ve both come to the conclusion that a lot of physicians are idiots. It isn’t very reassuring.
    Reggie’s awfully cute. I just hope he’s better behaved than Herbie, my Nanday Conure.

  31. Yes, it’s going to be a book. The “bones” of it are unfolding here in my blog. I’ll flesh it out with details and a few stories I haven’t told and then try to figure out how to get it published. Thanks for asking. You know you’re only encouraging me, don’t you? 😉

  32. I don’t mind the questions, Phil. I just figured Chuck was a very busy guy and had lots of commitments–the price one pays for being a successful business owner. His attention to me was more platonic. I felt he cared deeply about me, but I was in a special category–not wife, partner and definitely not lover–more like a sister or dear friend. We never had much of a physical connection, but he lost interest in that aspect of our relationship after it was clear that more children were not in our future. After I got dizzy (sick in his mind), cuddling was about the only real physical contact we had besides holding hands and brief kisses or hugs. He rarely even slept in the same bed with me. I suppose if he defined me as ill, he wouldn’t find that a turn-on, but I tried to keep that element of our relationship alive, to no avail. He always found excuses to stay away. I just got used to being celibate, untouchable.

    Maybe for him, his checking-out was a way to deal with his disappointment in me becoming sick (rather than a PhD with status in the community). This was especially true after I retired. He wasn’t taking care of me like I was bed-bound, so care-giver fatigue wasn’t his issue. His dream of us as a “power couple” wasn’t manifesting and he didn’t know what to do with that emotionally. Also, he had so many opportunities to explore public life without me. Why not? He wasn’t finding satisfaction with me and he needed to find it elsewhere. Who can blame him for that? I told him felt like his business was “the other woman.”

    It was all very subtle at first from my perspective. Of course, I wasn’t at my most perceptive. All of his reasons for being gone made perfect sense. It’s only when I made a fundamental shift in the way I started dealing with my life that things between us bubbled to the surface. And, hate to do this to you, but you’re going to have to wait (not too long) to read about that. 😉

  33. Wow Lorna. It seems as though this period of your life embodies the saying, “Things are never so bad, they can’t get worse.” And yet, I can totally understand how people might not take you seriously because you just don’t “look” ill in any manner, whatever that is supposed to mean.

    What is going through your mind as Chuck seems to be detaching and following a more independent path? You mention he frequently checked on you, but was not around as much physically. Was the same occurring emotionally, or was it subtle at first? What did you make of all this at the time? Was he too suffering from a chronic fatigue of sorts, dealing with your health issues, or was he checking out emotionally, exploring a more independent life away from you?

    Yikes. I ask too many questions at times. Hope you don’t mind.

  34. Your first paragraph really struck a chord with me: when the Hub was ill but undiagnosed, I had a period when I wished it was something life-threatening so people would believe there was something wrong with him.

    You have really had it hard, haven’t you? I hope this is all going in to a book?

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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