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Mileage And Maintenance


Long about half-past November last, I started feeling pain in my right shoulder. At first it was just a twinge while completing a mouse-intensive computer task. Fairly rapidly it grew into a constant, nagging stab, accompanied by a grinding of tendons reminiscent of a cranky transmission in a VW bug. When it started to get so bad that I couldn't sleep on my right side, it was time for some intervention.

Typically, I heal my sporadic muscular aches and pains quickly enough with nothing but ibuprofen and regular icing. Not this time. By mid January I threw in the towel (or rather the gel pack) and called my GP. Six weeks, three office visits and an MRI later, I had a diagnosis: a rotator cuff tear.

Okay, all you geezers and geezerettes out there, you didn't have to say that with me quite so loud. I get it — this ain't nothing new. But dig it (as we benighted hipsters said in our long-lost and lamented dissolute youths): it's new for me. After a bout of PT and an appraisal from an unnaturally conservative orthopedist who ruled out restorative surgery as a bad bet, I'm left with the civilian equivalent of a little shrapnel in my knee, a torn tendon that won't heal and has to be accommodated basically indefinitely. Apart from the removal of my lower twelve-year molars (RIP), this is the first sustained damage I've received to my corpus in all my 64 years.

Lucky me? Careful me? Who knows? I've had a lifetime of experience basically bouncing off ridiculously dangerous situations, getting up and dusting myself off like Wiley Coyote, and going right back after that roadrunner like nothing happened. I've never been the biggest and toughest in my weight and class, but I've usually been at least 90th percentile resilient. It's a quality of my health that has sustained me mightily in a career path spent indulging my creative gifts at the expense of virtually anything else. Indeed, both my sister (another musical slacker) and I agree that a necessary precursor to a life in the arts is abundant good health, followed closely by an active social life.

But my Miracle Mutant Powers Of Healing™ have left me with what might easily (and paradoxically) be regarded as a handicap, namely an inordinate sense of youthful entitlement. Not unlike all those other sad playboys of the western world that you read so much disapproval of on conservative blogs, I sail through life convinced that I'm not only never going to die, I'm never going to get old and frail and sustain rotator cuff injuries.

Or, more accurately, sailed. It's different now.

For the first time in my life, I'm confronting the prospect, not of death — I went through that when I was seven — but of senescence, of physical disability and decay, of the gradual slackening and weakening of the processes of my body into wrinkled, moribund dissolution. Followed of course by death. Quite the opposite of Billy Rose, who famously declared at eighty-something "If I'd known I was going to live this long I'd have taken better care of myself," I did my level hippy best to take care of myself in the expectation that I could go right on chooglin' indefinitely, only to bark my shin on that other old saw, "Eat wisely, exercise regularly, die anyway." Entropy, my beloved 'earers, is a bastard. Or as the jugglers say, gravity always wins.

Now, before I start sounding like an ad for the Shady Grove Independent Living Retirement Community And Crematorium, let me note that while I am in fact possessed of a genuine infirmity, it's not likely to get me any government benefits anytime soon. While any red-blooded go-getter USA!USA!USA! type-A mover-shaker would sooner dig his own grave in Death Valley with a rusty spoon than admit they didn't have options, and would chase second opinions from here to Mount Sinai, what really convinced me to trust the goodly Dr. Hsu (pronounced like it looks: shoe) in his prognosis was both his uncommon (in my experience, for an orthopod) candor regarding the likely negative outcomes of tendon resection in a man of my age and his statement, after testing my range of motion and strength following two dutiful months of shoulder phys ed, "You don't need an operation."

And in fact, disregarding the Shining Path Of Hope in this case is pretty much a gift in disguise. The treatment and rehab plan for a serious tendon staple job involves six weeks of immobility of the joint followed by three to six months of prescribed and rigorously programmed activity. For a guy who makes his living by the skin of his teeth and the use of both hands, that's tantamount to an indefinite sentence to debtor's gaol. While I was still considering options, I thought that what I'd need would be a Gofundme campaign to Help Keep Thaddie Afloat While They Tear Off His Shoulder And Glue It Back On Nicely, which would doubtless get the typical response to Gofundme campaigns not launched by young beautiful socialites, When You Feel Better Drop Me A Line. Perhaps I'm just a trifle conceited (you think?), but I'd kinda rather keep that option open for Help Thaddie Achieve World Domination Through A Live Webcast Variety Show And Get A Nifty Decoder Ring. And yeah, that is an idea I'm working on.

It's like my longtime pal Sally Cowan says: at a certain point in your life, the warranty on your body expires. After that, model year doesn't matter — it's all about mileage and maintenance. I'm not exactly thrilled at my depleted sense of invincibility, but I can take a hint when it's shoved down my shoulder, and I'm completely willing to accept a ding or three from the road of life and keep right on rotating my tires and changing my oil.

After all, when you get right down to it, given the alternative, what choice do I have?

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