Thoughts from a Retirement Coach
By Mariella Vigneux, MBA, ACC
Certified Professional Coach
It was hard to know just what to think when my doctor’s office called and asked me to come in to discuss my test results. When I saw the doctor, she said, “We’ve got to talk about your bone density. You’ve got significant osteoporosis.” Wow, I thought! Now that’s a wild card! Out of the blue. Unexpected.
My lab report indicates that within the next 10 years there is an intermediate risk that I will break a bone. I know what that will feel like, having broken many bones in my childhood: both arms, both legs, and two chipped vertebrae. They hurt. And then they heal. The only difference is that, next time I break a bone, it won’t heal as easily because the bones have become fragile. The break may become infected. I may develop a blood clot while bedridden, leading to a stroke. I might develop a dowager’s hump. Become wheelchair bound. I may be sent to a leper colony and forgotten by everyone who ever knew me. Am I catastrophizing? Am I feeling sorry for myself? I don’t know. I’m just a little bummed out, I guess.
Contemplating the timeline
It takes time to process this kind of information. At home on my couch, I contemplate. My cats contemplate me. The leaves continue to fall from the trees. The sun continues to shine. But I feel a shift in my perception of my world. I see a shortened timeline. It’s not that the timeline has changed; it’s only that I now see the timeline more clearly.
I recognize how self-indulgent my thoughts are. Lots of people have osteoporosis. After looking into it, I discovered an estimated 10 per cent of Canadians 40 years of age or older reported having been diagnosed with osteoporosis. One in three women will suffer a fracture from osteoporosis in their lifetime. One in five men. With most of these people, their osteoporosis will go undiagnosed and untreated. Twenty-eight per cent of women and 37% of men who suffer a hip fracture will die within the following year. I imagine these are older people though, not 60-year-olds like me!
I know the medical news could have been much worse. I could be one of the many people diagnosed with cancer, dementia, bipolar disorder, or any number of nasty diseases. Worst of all, I could be one of those parents whose child has been diagnosed with a nasty terminal illness.
Dark versus light
And do these wild cards really matter? Will they change how I live today? Maybe a little. I’ll do what my doctor says – I’ll take 2000 UIs of vitamin D, I’ll increase my intake of calcium to 1500 mg per day, and I’ll walk more. The good news… I love milk, cheese, eggs, English muffins, kale, and yogurt… no boring dairy-free or gluten-free diet for me! And maybe this wake-up call will only intensify my enjoyment of life – the appreciation of dark chocolate squares melting in my mouth, the warmth of a duvet fresh from the dryer, the view of ice-encased crabapples through my window. Instead of focusing on the dark possibilities, receiving a wild card can lead me to live each moment with more clarity and vitality.
All that has happened is that, once again, I am facing a new limitation – or a new opportunity, as my better-adjusted friend would say. (For more on this topic, see Adjusting to a new limitation – what works?) We can expect our health to diminish. And, when it does, we create opportunities to reconstruct what we’ve lost, but in new ways. We focus on others instead of ourselves. We remain hopeful. Eventually, I find, we revert to our normal emotional equilibrium. We become ourselves again. It’s like a game of cards. We keep getting dealt new cards, each card changing our hand, changing our game plan. I don’t want to be one of those card players who always complains about their cards, as if the card dealer is out to get them. As if their luck is any worse than anyone else’s. Get on with it. Enjoy the game, for heaven’s sake!
My partner has a lovely way of seeing aging and the procession of body breakdowns presented to us. He laughs. He sees the business of getting old as amusing. And he says that if we let it get to us, it can crush us. He also reminds me to be hopeful. The medical advancements are startling.
The sun is now lighting up the massive, old sugar maple outside my window. The cats are sleeping. My chest no longer feels tight. My normal good humour is reasserting itself. Thank you for being part of my therapy.