The trouble with not being 21 or even 51, with being a little older, is that younger people (and isn’t everyone younger?) assume that whatever isn’t working - be it a knee or a hip or an ear - is the result, not of wear and tear, but of incipient, if not full-blown, old age.
Take Anne, for example.
My soon to be 65-year-old friend just had her right knee replaced, not because in a few more weeks she will reach this very public milestone, but because in her lifetime she has climbed more mountains and played more games of paddle and regular tennis than all the other people I have ever known combined. And knees, let’s face it, aren’t much different from electric garage doors. They have only a finite number of ups and downs before they stop working.
Anne maxed out her ups and downs a few years ago. Had she watched more daytime TV and played fewer sports, she might not be hobbling around on crutches right now making friends with her new knee. As my daughter Lauren likes to say, nothing gets worn out and no one gets injured while sitting on a couch.
I had ear surgery last week, another procedure that done at 21 or even 41 wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but add a few decades and people think: Hearing loss? Someone is getting o-l-d!
I’ve had trouble hearing my whole life. Too many ear infections when I was a kid left my left ear like George Bailey’s in “It’s A Wonderful Life.’’ When Mary whispers to George, “I’ll love you ’til the day I die,’’ he hears nothing.
I hear a little something, but not always the right thing. Case in point: I was talking about gas mileage to a friend about a month ago and I asked her: “How often do you get gas?’’
“When it’s Thursday,’’ she said.
I thought about this for a minute because it was an odd answer. “You always need gas on a Thursday? What if you haven’t driven much that week? What if you need gas on a Tuesday?’’
“Huh?’’ she said, frowning.
“Thursday. You said you get gas every Thursday.’’
“No! No!’’ she cried, laughing. “I said when it’s thirsty.’’
That’s the kind of thing I mishear.
A tube in my ear, the kind they use with little kids, helped for a while. But then the tube fell out and I was back saying to my husband, “You’re mumbling. Why are you mumbling? Can you please stop mumbling?’’
People mumble. The TV is never loud enough. And the worst? I can never find the phone. It rings and I hear it, but I can’t locate it because it is impossible to know where sound is coming from when you don’t have two working ears.
Last week, I got a permanent tube put in my left ear. It was a simple procedure, day surgery, in and out of the operating room and home before noon.
I didn’t expect it to make much of a difference, because I couldn’t imagine a difference. But sound is louder, words are crisper, and in the morning, no matter what side I am lying on, I can hear the birds.
My father used to get so angry with me for emptying the dishwasher while I talked to him on the phone. I never understood why he complained about this. I couldn’t hear me emptying the dishwasher. But I do now. I hear the racket I make. I hear glass tinkling and metal clanking.
I also hear where the phone is. It rings, and I turn in its direction. I find it and say “Hello.’’ But what I really want to say is, “Wow! Hello. I found the phone!’’
It’s no big deal, I know. It’s not Lazarus coming back from the dead. Except in a way it is, hearing birds and pots clanging and people not mumbling. Hearing the refrigerator hum. Hearing in stereo.
Anne and I are not 21, or even 51. But it doesn’t matter because she will play tennis again and I’ve already started turning down volumes. I feel a little like a newborn. And I have the feeling that when her knee heels and the crutches are retired, Anne will feel newborn, too.