barbara rose brooker and the words "boomer in the city"

Age is not a number

One minute you think you’re going to live forever, and the next you’re in a geriatric ward. Age has many sides — how you feel about yourself and the world, your body, mind, spirit, goals. Age is not a number. You are not the number.

Here’s my story: I’m 80. I never think “number.” I’m still pushing my career, still searching for romantic love. I have lots of new goals to help make a difference in the world. I love dogs and orange roses.

Anyway, who goes around thinking “I’m 80 so I can’t do this or that?” Age is misinformed.

I awake with excruciating pain not only in my abdomen, but in my back. I can’t stand up straight. Am I having a heart attack? Oh my God.

I throw on a coat over my black sweats and T-shirt, and call Yellow taxi. “Emergency,” I say. Before I’m downstairs, the taxi is waiting. It takes me to the emergency room at California Pacific Medical Center.

They rush me inside, past ailing people waiting somberly. I’m given morphine and the next thing I know, I’m rushed to another room for abdominal cat scans, lung MRIs and other tests. I’m told that I have not only pneumonia, but also an extreme diverticulitis infection and heart arrhythmia. A mess.

Vowing to never again eat potato chips and fries, I’m determined to be new and healthy. I’m given a series of IVs and I’m in the hospital for days — sharing a room with a Spanish-speaking woman who is on the phone all night, shouting. The hospital is like another time zone — perpetual lights and noise and zombie-like.

Oy.

Please stop talking baby talk to me like I’m an invalid. Please stop talking to me like I’m on my last legs. And please stop referring to me as elderly, I want to scream.

And why do I have the label “geriatric?”

As the days pass timelessly, I slowly walk down the hallway, shlepping my IVs behind me, as they check my heart rate. If it goes up a bit, all these whistles and bells screech and I’m hustled back to my narrow bed with sidebars up. I wave to men and women my age walking in the hallways; some look like corpses, as I probably do too.

Finally the day comes when I go home. My daughter Bonny talks to the care nurse who will come to see me twice a week, and to the dietician.

“See Mom, I told you that you should have a Life Alert bracelet. See what happened?

“Not to mention you don’t eat right. Chips, burritos, no fruit or vegetables, no fiber. You’re 80.”

“80 is a friggin’ number!” I protest. “Not who I am. Next you’ll want to buy me a Jitterbug phone and a walker! Numbers don’t define you. How you age is how you perceive yourself!”

She sighs heavily. “Mom, you have to face reality.”

The days pass. I’m eating carefully, resting, watching old movies. I feel better. The hospital sends a home care nurse twice a week, checking to see if I’m alive. I talk on the phone a lot with my friend Mimi. We talk about our health issues.

“Stuff happens after 70,” she says, sighing. She tells me about dating a 73-year-old man with memory loss. “He thinks I’m his ex-wife. His 19-year-old Swedish housekeeper said he’s in the hospital and that he’s telling everyone I tried to kill him.”

“Honey, he took too much Viagra,” I say. “These boomer-plus guys with their Viagra,” I rant. “It’s like giving guns to 2-year-olds.”

Mimi continues the rant: “I had a fix-up with this 76-year-old retired professor. Poor thing. When I touched him his tan came off in my hands. Plus, he was cheap. He had the nerve to want to see my medical records.”

Days later, I’m on a walk. The air feels great. How beautiful are the colors of the sky, the sway of the trees in the breeze. Every moment is so lovely, a poem.

The mind is ageless and amazing. As long as I wear my Skecher shoes, walk slowly, don’t fall or think negative thoughts and eat spinach, life is good. And look at the roses! They’re in bloom.

Barbara Rose Brooker
Barbara Rose Brooker

Barbara Rose Brooker is a native San Francisco author. Her latest book is “There’s Something Wrong with All of Them.” Barbararosebrooker.com.