Aging makes more sense with a canine to commiserate

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 5/29/20

There are benefits with aging, beyond just more time.

Alec Guinness, for instance, had enjoyed a long and distinguished stage and screen career when he played Obi-wan Kenobi in the original …

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Aging makes more sense with a canine to commiserate

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There are benefits with aging, beyond just more time.

Alec Guinness, for instance, had enjoyed a long and distinguished stage and screen career when he played Obi-wan Kenobi in the original “Star Wars” — he was 63 years old when the movie premiered in 1977 — and he effortlessly out-cooled his much younger co-stars.

So there’s that.

But there are pitfalls to aging, too. Even, I’d imagine, for a Jedi.

One is joint pain.

It can occur at any age — I began grappling with intermittent “tennis elbow” years ago, whether I actually played tennis or not — but the odds of experiencing tennis elbow and other joint discomforts increase, as those things do, the older you get.

I haven’t swung a tennis racket in more than a decade, but I’m still apt to suffer the elbow affliction associated with it, once in a while, and these irksome pains come on suddenly and unexpectedly.

As they did this past week.

Around mid-afternoon one day, weary of my telecommuting work space at the kitchen table — the lighting is perfect and the ambiance not bad, but the wooden seat is unforgiving after long intervals — I moved myself to the living room couch, where I ensconced my entirety in the cushions and settled there to work for an hour or so, legs outstretched and a computer balanced on a pillow atop my lap.

It was a nice arrangement — once I’d settled into place, I wondered why I hadn’t moved to the comfy couch sooner — until it came time again to stir.

When I stood, my left knee allowed the movement but its companion on the right side begged me not to, protesting with a slightly-more-than-mild pain that was somehow simultaneously dull and sharp, and completely unexpected. I stood, taking a few cautious steps and by the time I’d made it back to the kitchen/office a few paces away, the pain had subsided.

But it still left me a bit bewildered. I’d only been resting in a reclining chair, after all. What protests, I wondered, could I have expected from my knee and other joints had I spent the hour instead running, or swinging a tennis racket or lightsaber?

It helps as we navigate the pathways of aging to have a buddy along for the ride experiencing the same things, so I’m lucky to have Bella, the other senior citizen in our household, to commiserate.

Though at age 11 she’s younger than I (who was eligible for AARP membership in 2015) by several decades, in “dog years” — the most appropriate measure since Bella is a canine — she’s further along the pathway of aging.

But we’re both feeling it, especially in the joints.

I handle it mostly by staying active, believing that keeping my joints loose and limber with activity is better than not. The couch incident — which had me feeling for a couple of stiff minutes like the oil-needy Tin Man — seems to bear out my reasoning. But my age-related aches are more an occasional nuisance than a sustained worry.

Bella, on the other hand, began suffering joint pain so bad a few months ago I scheduled an appointment with her vet, believing the dog and I were nearing our goodbyes.

Instead we came home from her doctor visit with three bottles of pills and a product — not cheap, either — for her joint health called Dasuquin, which look like dog treats but, judging by the middling interest Bella musters when offered one of the “soft chews,” taste more like medicine. Whether Dasuquin deserves the credit, I don’t know, but Bella soon enough sprang back to a condition close to her old self and was doing fine until — Dasuquin aside — she overestimated her reservoir of youth and experienced a second sharp decline, requiring another vet visit. So I masked up and took her to the doctor.

She’s on a second round of pain pills and anti-inflammatory meds, now, and for an old dog, she’s doing OK, mostly resting.

With Bella out of commission for the moment from her routine patrols, and her threat level — like her mobility — diminished, the squirrels and moles and other invaders of the territory she’s tasked with overseeing have relaxed their guard.

I decided to help Bella, one senior citizen to another, and patrol the perimeter in her absence, though that’s overstating it. What I really did — on a whim, because I don’t plan these crazy things — was pick up every single pine cone in the back yard. My real motivation for the chore wasn’t Bella, of course, since she doesn’t care about pine cones. Instead, it was the large black snake I’d seen that morning slithering into my shed. I don’t really mind that he’s there — those are good snakes, right? — but I also know I don’t want to step on him, or his kin, as I walk about the back yard, which I do a lot. So I aimed to clear as many distractions from the earthen floor as possible, the pine cones being primary, making snakes and other things I’d prefer not to encounter more plainly visible.

For an hour I gathered cones, stooping and standing and accumulating enough of them to nearly fill an old ink barrel I keep around for such things.

When I’d finished the chore, I felt great, like a fully-oiled Tin Man.

But the next day, the previous day’s up-and-down task of pine cone collecting had caught up with me and my physical movements, all of them, were met with reminders that my body recovers more slowly than it once did. I felt silly, too, since all I really had to show for my work and pains was a barrel full of kindling.

I keep reminding Bella to take it easy, to focus on caring for her aging self and forget about the trivial stuff. Let the squirrels frolic, I implore her. Ignore the tell-tale signs of mole activity, I suggest. Forget about the lizards, I admonish. And despite the language barrier, she seems to understand and comply, opting to rest and recuperate instead of engaging in those potentially joint-hurting diversions.

Meanwhile, I — hard-headed human — am realizing I should more closely follow the canine’s lead. Those pine cones, after all, weren’t really hurting a thing.


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