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Wake-up call

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.
Talking about one's health--definitely a sign of aging. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

As I moved through my sixties and into my seventies, health, or lack thereof, seemed to be a popular topic among my contemporaries. Not me, though, I was perfectly healthy, or so I thought. No high blood pressure, no high cholesterol levels, no knee or hip replacements, no pacemaker, no skin cancer, not even cataract surgery (yet).

I come from a line of long livers; one aunt lived until 105. “At my age, you take life one-half day at a time,” she told us once.

I donated a kidney to a cousin 14 years ago and was momentarily thrilled when I read in an article that people who donate kidneys live longer lives. Then I realized it probably has more to do with the fact that unless we’re healthy to begin with we’d never be approved as donors.

Nevertheless, my state of bliss lasted until recently.

One afternoon, when I was working on the computer, I started seeing double. A bit frightened, I left the cubicle to let the people in the main office know what was happening. They had doubles too. I sat down and after a few moments, things returned to normal. They asked if I wanted to go to Emergency, but by then I was feeling perfectly fine. Why would I sit in Emergency if there wasn’t anything wrong? It must have been just a little glitch with my vision.

Later that evening, I mentioned the incident to my daughter when I was talking to her on the phone. She’s a nurse in Kelowna, and her reaction was immediate. “I’m calling an Uber. You’re going to Emergency.” The Uber was at the door by the time I hung up.

Six hours of waiting later, I had an MRI and a CT scan. After a short sleep, I had another scan, this time with dye. Upon release I was told I’d had a TIA (transient ischemic attack) and that there were indications I’d had others in the past. (What? When?) I was put on three medications and given a referral to the Stroke Prevention Clinic.

I’ve had the signs of a stroke on a fridge magnet for years. I looked at it when I got home. Sudden vision problems are a warning, along with dizziness, weakness, trouble speaking and sudden headache. I know the importance of going to the hospital promptly when you have a stroke. So why didn’t I connect the dots? Denial. It couldn’t be happening to me. After all, I was perfectly healthy.

Seven weeks later, I finally had my appointment at the Stroke Prevention Clinic. I thought I might get advice on diet or exercise. Instead, the neurologist told me I might have Giant Cell Arthritis (GCA). At least that’s what I thought he said. I couldn’t figure out how you could get arthritis in your brain but didn’t want to look stupid by asking. “It’s Giant Cell Arteritis,” my daughter told me later. Arteritis made a lot more sense to me than arthritis.

The neurologist had gone on to tell me that if GCA is not caught quickly enough and treated with steroids I could go blind. I was blindsided! I’d been having a difficult enough time getting my head around having had a “mini stroke” let along contemplating losing my sight. Fortunately, the blood tests he sent me for ruled out GCA.

So here I am talking about my health — like a stereotypical senior. What comes next? Showing pictures of my grandchildren? Eating nothing but bread and jam? Adopting a cat?

Shirley Serviss is an Edmonton freelance writer and writing instructor. She is struggling to come to terms with being an older adult.