Last week, I walked out of a movie, feeling nauseous. By way of background, I have a cow heart valve, well, not exactly a valve, more of a valve part. It was installed in 2002 when my aorta started to give out. The valve leaflets had started to get calcium deposits and they were replaced with parts from a cow. As an aside, it isn’t really a cow valve, what I have is a valve part that has been manufactured from the cow’s pericardial sack, which is the tough tissue that encases the cow’s heart, by Edwards Lifesciences. I’m told that cow parts are used because the tissue is very similar to the tissue in a human valve. I’ve also been told – I don’t know for sure as I was anesthetized at the time – that the remanufactured valve parts arrive from the manufacturer, arrayed by size on some-sort of flesh like tray. I got the 25mm model. End aside.
Anyway, I was feeling nauseous and because of my cow valve, I started to low-grade panic. We ended up going home early, I went to bed, and the panic abated. The next morning, I felt punk but much better, then I had a piece of toast and a soft boiled egg and the nausea returned reinforcing my hope and belief that it was my stomach and not my heart. The next day Michele looked up nausea epidemics and said that there were bouts in New Hampshire, Yolo County, and Chipotles – I mentally added Portola Valley – and they usually ran for 24 to 72 hours. Now, at last, here is the point: I used to consider myself as having an iron stomach and, if it said 24 to 72 hours, it meant 12 hours for me, now I think, Oh, I’m on the 72-hour side of this time frame. It reminds me of a flue warning when they say “Be especially careful with children and old people.” and I realize I am the old people they are talking about. In this case, when the nausea ran past 72 hours, I started to panic again and, then, it was gone. I felt great, it was like a storm being pushed through by a warm front and after the storm everything is clear and bright.
The whole experience has left me thinking about growing older and the differences between my reality and my expectations. Not in the main arc, I suppose, but in lots of little things. For example, every now and then, I mis-swallow, gagging slightly, I never did this when I was younger or, for the first time in 65, 70, years, since I was a young child, I now occasionally, accidentally, bite the inside of my cheek or my lip. Now, my balance sucks but, when I was young, my balance was so good, I could walk the 2×4 top plate of a stud wall. Strangely, as I have gotten older, my sense of smell has increased and my eyesight has gotten better, two things I would not have predicted.
I want to end this post and am at a loss for a good ending, so I will leave it with a poem from the great Billy Collins:
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.