Oliver Sacks dreamed about Mercury the element with Atomic number of 80, as a marker of his old age on turning eighty. Sacks picked that relationship because of his childhood fascination with the Periodic Table. When I was Reading about it made me think, “Wow! Why not pick on the idea from the great brain for my article on turning 70”. Checking the Periodic Table, I found the element with atomic number of 70, is called Ytterbium. The familiarity with the word is extremely low, far from being a household name, plus the sound of the word made me jinx the idea of using it in the title. So I am back again, toying with the use of word mercury.
Being resident of Houston, with its space center monitoring the space flights it made more sense to think of mercury the planet as a moniker for my approaching old age. Did I say old age? Sorry! I need to correct that, to be with the flow of times and call it ‘golden years’. For Sacks the element mercury, with its properties of being huge, shining globules of quicksilver rising and falling was the moniker, which I have changed to the planet Mercury. Mercury the planet closest to Sun and is fastest planet to complete its journey. Now, I can relate to planet Mercury, as I will be completing my life’s journey faster than most readers reading this.
Still, the issue of the title was far from being settled completely. It made me ask, “Houston! Help me.” Bingo! The famous words of Neil Armstrong on landing on moon rang in my ears. That helped come up with the part of the title “Approaching Mercury” Well with the Covid-19 situation requiring social distancing there is still reluctance in even taking any air flight. So, venturing is quite restricted and when even a visit to grocery store is considered as a potential for COVID-19 exposure. Thus considering the pandemic situation we are in, it is not going to be undertaking any new adventure outside the house.
Wondering I looked back, it took me to the day of imposition notification of social distancing on March 13, 2020. That evening we had taken our 4 year old triplet grandchildren, to the park in our neighborhood. We loaded the children in the back seat of the cars. Suddenly their eyes fell on the maps in the back pocket of the driver’s seat. All the three so engrossed in reading the maps, as if they were seasoned cartographers in this GPS age. The maps being read were the Texas map, but it looked as if they were charting the course to a distant planet.
On reaching the park, the maps just dropped out of their hands on the car floor as they rushed to get out of the car. Suddenly, a new and more important engagement awaited them and maps could be discarded like the used face mask. At the park the triplets were playing on the parallel bars. My oldest of the three by less than 5 minutes asked me to lift her up so that she could grab the bars. I picked her up, while trying to raise her above my shoulders; suddenly I heard a popping sound from the right shoulder. I was in severe pain which forced me to land her back on the ground. The kids continued playing and having good time in the park, while I started agonizing in pain.
After sunset we all came back home. Still in pain, with reluctance to schedule a visit to Doctor because of Covid-19, I was hoping for pain to slowly go away on its own. But the pain did not show any sign of abating. It looked like it will become my companion and a reminder of fragility of life. After living with the pain for over 2 months, I decided that a visit to the Doctor’s office will be in order. I had now realized that it was not a muscle cramp, but now was wondering that it could be something more serious as the shoulder dislocation. Every movement of the hand over shoulder was greeted with the ratcheting sound of the socket joint and shooting pain. It was in a way triggering a reminder of the bonus life span that I was enjoying after crossing 70. The pain though not agonizing yet it was more of an annoyance, even making combing of hair challenging. Finally I secured an appointment for August 04, 2020. Doctor’s office visit turned out to be a new type of experience with new Covid-19 driven regimen right from lobby, till walking out. This visit acted as a refresher of our changed world reality due to the virus. After the examination of the shoulder followed by a set of X-Rays, Doctor presented his report to me. Doctor said that I had Acromioclavicular osteoarthritis (AC). I inquired how long will it take for the pain to go away. I was told that it will not abate and my options were:
- Live with it if I can handle the pain
- Apply ice pack to the joint as it will decrease the pain and the inflammation at the joint
- Steroid (Cortisone) injections for treatment of moderate to severe pain
- Final and last option was shoulder surgery
While I am thankful that this AC joint issue is not life threatening, but a new life reality. No! No! Not the Covid-19 induced reality but old age reality. It is a constant reminder that ‘expiry date’ is approaching. The thing about expiry date is we check it, before we buy anything at stores. But what about our own expiry date? It is neither outside visible to others; nor it is inside visible to us either. I was thinking that when the conditions from Covid-19 become normal again, and I was going to fly somewhere, I will have to ask for help to stow my hand bag in the baggage compartment. Now that is reminder of new reality. Hello Houston! Approaching Mercury!
As I am approaching Mercury, I am looking back at my life and wonder what a journey it has been. I have been blessed with multiple cultural, social and religious exposures. I have had experience of living in the poorest countries and the richest countries. I had been privileged with opportunity to study Guru Granth Sahib, the universal Holy Scripture. Some of my own understanding of it, I have tried to share with others. I am thankful that I am relatively healthy, fully capable of fending for myself. I have seen many who are reduced to a fraction of their previous self, because of dementia, Alzheimer, arthritis, stroke or other health issues. I have had my own share of health issues, but it is all part of life and growing grey. Only thankfulness comes out of heart as new sun rises every morning. I am hoping that when I hit Sacks mercury (being 80), I can also repeat his words on life.
“I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.” — Oliver Sacks
Images of Mercury and Shoulder Joint (c) istock.com