A hole in our heads? Or our hearts?
Why they call it Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus entirely escapes me. There’s nothing normal about it. For obvious reasons, however, the condition’s name has been shortened to its initials: NPH.
The cause of the condition also escapes me. But here I’m joined by the entire medical/scientific complex. Absent some other trauma to the brain, it just seems “to happen” to a few old folks like me.
But what NPH does to those whom it afflicts is pretty well known: excess spinal fluid accumulates in your skull which then “squeezes” the brain. The symptoms that often follow are also pretty well known: weird, wet and wobbly. I’ve written about this dandy little condition before in April of 2017. The condition is usually progressive. So, what’s new with me over the last two and a half years?
Weird? Yes. But far more than mere weirdness; that’s the largely self-inflicted malady of my youth and, these days, millennials. With NPH, it’s one of the most feared diagnoses of the elderly (aside from the “elderly” itself): Dementia. Forgetfulness. Memory loss. Trouble dealing with routine tasks.
What’s changed in my mental acuity during these years? Hard to say for sure. Is that a good sign, an indication that the changes, if any, are so subtle that I can’t even put a finger on them? Or a bad sign, that my memory is failing about how I used to be? I can’t really say for sure.
I do take some comfort, however, in this blog. If nothing else, it’s a strenuous mental workout. It forces me to stay informed and, I hope, to communicate clearly. Now, if I can just get enough people to confirm that opinion by following this blog, I’ll be in like Flynn. So, come on folks, get with it! I need your help.
Urinary incontinence. Now, there’s a fun one. And I could tell you stories about my days campaigning door to door, far from any public bathroom, that you probably don’t want to hear. Or what it’s like to get home and do my best to change my clothes and take a shower before anyone sees me. Or my pants. But I’ll spare you those as well.
But here I definitely have good news. Several years ago, after I finally got an accurate diagnosis, they put another hole in my head, installed a brain shunt, and began draining excess fluid from my head to my abdominal cavity where my body cleanses it before returning it to my skull. So, with the shunt at work, the progression of the “wet” third of the condition has slowed markedly-if not completely. But not, as I hoped-and as sometimes happens- reversed.
The third one? The good news is that it isn’t embarrassing. The bad news? It’s scary too, but in a physical, rather than mental, sort of way.
In the literature it’s called “gait disturbances.” But I liken it to being on the deck of a ship in a storm. I tell myself that most people probably don’t notice me wobbling down the sidewalk as if I’d have trouble passing a roadside sobriety test. And no-one has ever said anything about it. But nevertheless, the formerly simple act of stepping off the curb is an adventure. Moreover, if I can possibly avoid it, I never go down stairs without a firm grip on the handrail.
I do my best to stay active. I almost invariably park my car at the far end of the parking lot and walk to the front door of the store. Twice a week I work out with a trainer who focuses on agility and strength. For an additional three to four more days a week I work out on an elliptical and lift weights. So, for my age, I’m in pretty good shape. But mind over matter isn’t a breeze when the mind that controls the matter refuses to fire on all cylinders.
This getting old stuff isn’t for sissies
When I was a kid, there was a song that made a brief appearance on the charts of Denver’s ultra-cool “top 40” AM radio station, KIMN. It was “Those Were The Days.” Not sure why what started life as a Lithuanian folk song reached the top of the charts for teenagers, but it made an impression on me.
And now, pushing 70, with my share of the medical slings and arrows that come with advanced age, it’s more than just a catchy lyric:
Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
There are probably about as many ways to interpret this tune as there are people who hear it. But it reminds me, as Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French inventor, mathematician and theologian once wrote, that “there is a “God-shaped hole in the heart of each man that can only be satisfied by God, made known by Jesus Christ.”
“Those Were The Days” and Pascal were talking about the same thing. The nagging fear, even if we can often suppress it with mindless diversions, that this life won’t be all that we hoped for. That, in the end, we might not get our way. And that, instead, the relentless march of time will. Unless, that is, we can bring ourselves to allow The Great Physician to mend our broken hearts-and heads-as only he can.