Last month I was lucky enough to celebrate turning the age of 40. One would assume, as I did, that working with the geriatric population on a daily basis for years by this point would give me a healthy perspective on aging. In general, I like to think it has -- especially experiencing the resiliency of the human body and spirit. However, reaching this personal milestone came with a large dose of unexpected anxiety and stress.
I've always felt age is a subjective description of one's self -- having met 30-year-old patients who behave like they're in a 75-year-old body and 90-year-olds who don't look a day over 65. As we all know, lifestyle and genetics hold a tight grip when it comes to "aging gracefully." Maybe this is the reason I, for lack of a better description, "flipped out" as my birthday drew near.
My midlife crisis at least had a healthy theme to it. A few months before my birthday, I began swimming laps three times a week, which I hadn't done in 20 years. I also learned to rock climb and signed up to run a full marathon. I was obviously feeling energetic and very ambitious... also compensating for not having enough funds to buy a cute sports car.
For me, turning 40 was "the beginning of the end of life," which is a completely ridiculous and naive way of viewing age. But alas, that's how I felt. Luckily, working with my patients -- the above 75 set -- left me feeling humbled and appreciative. When a few patients learned it was my birthday and asked my age, I received a lot of: "Forty was the best time of my life," "If I could only go back to that age" and "You're still so young, dear." One of the best pieces of advice I received was from a 90-year-old resident, who told me "just don't stop moving." Frankly, those are some of the wisest words I've heard in all my 40 years to date.
I'm pleased to report, my birthday panic has completely gone -- funny how that happens when you learn to accept the inevitable. The good news is that I'm still training for that marathon and continue my swimming every Saturday. Best of all, working in skilled nursing every day allows me to keep that healthy aging perspective in check -- and appreciate life.