eThoughts : A New Year and Shifting Identity

The psychologist Erik Erikson thought that one’s identity is ever changing and that one of the major tasks as a human being is to keep up with that change.

January 1, 2010 marks the beginning of a new year for a lot of us as well as the beginning of a new decade. As many have written, it is time for a change—the “aught” decade has been a trying one. Of course, beauty and ugly often co-exist, so while the aught decade has been troublesome on many levels, it also had its time of beauty. Nonetheless, it is time to move on.

As I am facing some changes and as I write what has been stirring in me, this particular musing will be a bit more personal.

I am sixty-two-years old and for the first time in my life, I’m facing surgery. I’ve had a few stitches in my day—and I literally mean just a few—but I’ve never even had a broken bone, though I’ve been an active runner, played football for a bit in college, was a landscape contractor for over twenty-two years and did martial arts for over 11 years. I was hospitalized only once and that was when I was thirteen. Apparently I had over-exerted myself in a run the day before and managed to cause a serious enough inflammation in what I recall as my left leg that the leg began having seizures. It apparently shouldn’t have and the doctors at the time had no idea what the problem really was, so they put me in isolation and kept me there for a week. I did learn about the pain-relieving benefits of Demerol which I needed big time—to this day I have never had such uncontrollable pain.

Nearly four-years ago while hiking, my left knee seized up and I hobbled back into camp wondering how I was supposed to make it out. My left knee had given me enough problems in 1976 that I had to stop running for a year, but all had been well until 2006. This time, however, my knee just wasn’t coming around. Then nearly three years ago, the real problem was discovered via x-ray—about half the cartilage in my left hip was gone and I was not only bone-on-bone in that area, but had managed to distort part of the bone in the hip socket. So began my efforts to figure the problem out and avoid surgery as best as I could—I certainly wasn’t going to have the surgery in the same hospital where both my parents had died some thirty-two years apart and I wasn’t going to try it before I had lived past the age my father had died (he passed away six months after his sixtieth birthday). It was not to be and I’m now going to have a so-called hip-replacement surgery (the ball on the end of the femur is replaced with steel, including a stem that goes into the femur and the hip socket is cleaned out and replaced with steel as well—steel-on-steel).

Yeah, I know that surgery is a near normal routine for many and that many people, especially in my age category, have gone through it. No big deal, right? Well, it’s new for me. And it isn’t just the surgery, it’s the change in life style. There will be no more running and no more jumping, short of the need to do so because of some extraordinary circumstance. But then, I haven’t been doing much of that lately anyway.

Okay, a long journey into the identity issue. The short one is that not only am I facing surgery, I’m undergoing a shift in identity. The former I’ve never faced, the latter has been an explicit part of my life. However, the identity changes that I’ve undergone before have been pretty deliberate and each shift has resulted in a better, stronger me. This time, I’m realizing, pre-surgery, that if I’m going to be a better, stronger me, it’s not going to include the physical verve that had been so much a part of my life before. The question now is how do I compensate for the long-term physical narrowed-ness? Certainly I will be glad to get beyond the daily structural pain—bone pain is an interesting pain. But I harbor no illusion that hip-replacement surgery is a panacea. However, I do realize that some of the muscle pain that I’ve had over the years—including the left side of my back as well as the left knee—is likely a result of a congenital problem in my left leg to begin with. My guess is that my left leg a just enough shorter than my right to cause issues. Certainly I had a lot of trouble running downhill as my left leg never liked it. But, I’m not a medical doctor and my Ph.D. doesn’t qualify me to make a diagnosis, though I’m aware that being an MD doesn’t necessarily qualify one to make a diagnosis either.

Any way I choose to look at it, life in 2010 will be noticeably different for me, and that will shape me from now until my death—as usual. I hope for the better. And once again, I will have to find who I am. As that new GPS my son gave me for Christmas announces when I don’t go the suggested path, I will likely be hearing a lot of the word “recalculating” as I try and decide best paths.

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