Grace and Acceptance

By Susan Estrich

April 3, 2008 5 min read

It started with my hands. They hurt. They were numb and tingling, and the pain went up and down my arms.

I did not like it.

I am a worrier, not a whiner. I'll put up with almost any level of pain and discomfort, so long as it's not accompanied by fear of something worse. Tell me it's not terminal, and I'm ready to go back to work. I proudly think of myself as a horse — I worked through walking pneumonia, gave a speech right out of the operating room after hernia surgery and billed most of the hours I spent in labor to a client who, believe me, got almost my full attention.

Not being able to use my hands is a problem. I'm not a pianist, but I am a typist. So, with my hands throbbing, I did what we do these days: I typed "sore, swollen, numb hands" into my web browser and promptly got inundated.

Carpal tunnel sounded right: 30 years on a computer, three jobs, four columns a week, briefs and motions. Could be me.

The good thing about carpal tunnel is you don't die of it. You deal with it; you have surgery if necessary. I went to the hand surgeon and then to the doctor who puts needles in your fingers and checks the electromagnetic current. They agreed on the diagnosis: carpal tunnel in both hands. Surgery recommended. No problem.

But then my feet started hurting. I called my friend and internist and asked him whether it was possible that I could also have carpal tunnel in my feet. I was kidding, but actually there is such a thing. The only problem was, or is, that I don't have it.

So I had the surgery on one hand, but the other hand and my feet, and also my elbow if I'm being honest, hurt just about as much as my supposedly fixed hand. "Was it really carpal tunnel?" I asked my hand surgeon, a talented and lovely man.

"Absolutely," he said.

"So why does everything else still hurt?" He looked at my toes and suggested I see a rheumatologist — another doctor, another set of forms, another history and more insurance cards to be photocopied on both sides.

I'm not complaining. I have insurance. I have access to health care. I may work three jobs, but at least I can take time to run to my different doctors. The rheumatologist didn't like what he saw. More X-rays. More blood work. More tests.

He talked to my hand doctor, my heart doctor and the various other doctors on the growing list of a healthy boomer getting older. I remember how my mother, in her last years, spent most of her days going to doctors, how which doctor and what for was the topic of every conversation. I remember thinking, not meanly I hope, that this was not a life I looked forward to. All of a sudden, I noticed my own calendar crammed with visits to the various medical offices around town.

A "robust rheumatoid" — that's what my newest doctor says I am. The good news is that I tolerate pain well. The bad news, really the danger, is that I tolerate too much and the disease could progress without our aggressively addressing it because I just put up with it.

So now I'm on more pills: four of these every Saturday, one of these the other six days, two of these every day and another one of these if the pain is too much.

No, thanks. I'll take the four and the one and the two, but I'm drawing the line at the other one. Too many side effects. Pain is better.

So my hands and feet hurt, and my elbow, too, but compared to so many friends of mine fighting really tough stuff, what's a few sore limbs? Not much, except that it hurts, physically and mentally.

Getting old beats the alternative, but not by a lot. Michael Kinsley, who recently underwent a nine-hour operation for his Parkinson's, wrote movingly about feeling like a sort of "scout" for the baby boom generation, as we face the not so pleasant realities of aging. Ultimately, what is required, I've decided, is grace and acceptance, not necessarily the strong suits of a generation that has lived with the fire of change and possibilities. But given the alternatives, what choice do we have?

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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