Ryan feared a Russian spy had poisoned him.
He awakened one weird morning in March with all the aches, pains, and groans he had always heard came with those years after turning 60. But he had been so cocksure he would stave off the ailments that his friends had: heart problems, chronic back pain, scoliosis, lupus, bursitis, pulmonary problems, and liver problems.
Except for an enlarged prostate that occasionally made him get up in the night, and hay fever, Ryan was actually in pretty good health. Sure, he was 20 pounds over what the charts designed for kale-fed hipsters said he should weigh. But he went to the gym four times a week, doing 20 minutes on the stationary bike, and grunting at six resistance machines.
He liked to walk, often bounding upstairs rather than riding an escalator.
Ryan only ate red meat once a year, usually a steak at a top shelf place like Bobby Van’s. He lived on fish, poultry, pasta, pizza, and vegetables.
He gave up smoking 30 years ago. He hung up his tankard three years later. He played the Lottery when it occurred to him, but otherwise didn’t gamble so he didn’t take regular beatings from bookies or have limbs broken by impatient loan sharks.
Without alcohol, tobacco, or gambling as vices, he indulged in sweets to feed his Celtic guilt.
Ryan had his gall bladder removed and kidney stones excised. He’d had a ventricle tachycardia about 20 years ago for which doctors were never able to find a cause.
It was a one off.
His various chest X-rays, colonoscopies, and MRIs had given him a clean bill of health.
So, Ryan was coasting through his 60s like a guy 10 years his junior.
That was, until that morning in March when he tried to push himself up in bed and felt sudden pain in his wrists and elbows. Not screaming pain. But a low-groaning, what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-me pain at the joints, like he’d been bitten by a rattler.
Ryan fell back on his pillow and tried to swing out of bed, legs first.
“What’s wrong with my knees?” he shouted.
There were probably a few words beginning with the letter F scattered in the question. Behind his knees raged a flaring pain that worsened when he tried to bend them. He got to a sitting position and tried to stand.
That’s when the ankles wobbled like a newbie on water skis in Long Island Sound.
Wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles.
He plopped back on his bed. He didn’t need to Google those four words to know they added up to one word: Arthritis.
He had a brother with arthritis but he first suffered it in his 40s, almost certainly linked to Agent Orange his US Army unit was exposed to in great abundance in Vietnam.
He Googled it anyway.
He had all the symptoms, except the online sites said it usually comes on gradually. Ryan’s ailments came on about as gradually as a Mike Tyson left hook.
He hobbled to the medicine chest, gobbling three naproxen tablets. The pain started subsiding in about 20 minutes. Not completely, but enough to function.
He spoke to his doctor, who said it sounded like sudden onset of osteoarthritis. “What do I do about it?”
“Grin and bear it.”
“Does it get better?” Ryan asked.
“No, worse. As you age.”
“So, this is my body saying the warranty is wearing out?”
“Good way to put it. Come in next week. But I won’t prescribe opioids for that.”
“I don’t want opioids. I want to be like I was yesterday.”
“Don’t we all. Keep going to the gym. That will help. Lots of water. Less salt and sugar.”
Ryan called his arthritic brother, who said he takes a turmeric pill twice a day to help him with his arthritis. Ryan took two naproxen every four hours and a turmeric morning and night.
Until four days later, when Ryan drove round trip from Southampton to Manhattan on business.
That night when he took off his sneakers, his feet and ankles had swollen like Macy floats. When he described this to his doctor, he was warned it might be edema, which is exacerbated by ibuprofen or naproxen. “Elevate your feet, drink lots of water, stop using salt,” said Ryan’s doctor.
And so, in his mid-60s, Ryan finally felt his age.
Ryan felt sorry for himself for another hour. Then he looked at a smiling photo of his deceased father, an Irish immigrant who lost his leg to gangrene at age 24 and went on to marry and raise seven kids in a tenement on a factory worker’s wage.
He got up every morning, strapped on his wooden leg, and went to work and never complained, unless there was no work.
Ryan smiled at his old man who looked like he was laughing from the photo at his spoiled American kid with two good legs moaning about a few aches and pains.
It made Ryan reread part of Woody Allen’s riff on aging: “In my next life, I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people’s home feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy . . .You work for 40 years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for high school.”
Ryan laughed again, took two Excedrin, and went to the gym on his own two feet.
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