Decrepitude, senescence, degeneration. Call it what you will, it all seems to be happening to me right now; the events of the past few weeks have left me feeling that I'm living Paul Simon's Run That Body Down!
On a macro scale, this weekend was three years since that slightly alarming vertigo/collapse/vomiting episode at the running club that Sunday morning. Or to use the succinct analysis of a running buddy, on that day "you scared the living crap out of us" . It took me a while to come back from this; not so much physically as mentally. The labyrinthitis (for that is what it was) cleared in about a week, but then there was the matter of the pericardial effusion and falling through the health-care system cracks and I was essentially scared off running for all of 2008.
When I finally came back, a couple of things happened. In the very first race I did, the first 'cross race of 2008, I decked out hard on a gravelly corner and got those stitches. Yey!
Also, I found that the ca. 9 months I taken off had taken a toll on my recovery time; it just took a little longer to recover from a hard work-out or a race. When I was 20, sleep was an Etchasketch. Tough race on Sunday? Go to bed tired, and one quick shucka shucka shucka and on Monday morning everything was back to normal. Race? What race? I know the physiological basis for this but it always seems to be that a prolonged time off exercise (in the order of months off, rather than a day off) accelerates the deceleration of recovery times!
Finally, it seemed in 2008 my running buddies all took huge leaps forward in their training and started to hit some truly amazing times. I was always barely hanging off the back of this group during my "good days" and when I came back, the elastic was so much longer and was snapping far more often. The French expression for dangling off the back is jouer le accordeon. In English we call it yo-yoing because it's easier to say yo-yo when you're dangling off the back then finding the extra puff to squeeze out the addition syllables in accordion!
As a consequence, poorer recovery and getting shelled out the back a whole bunch more, I'm running a tad slower that I used to. This is most evident in the marathon where, although I'm still running open-men BQs (usually), I haven't broken 3hrs since I came back; 3:05 is the best I've managed I think, a good seven minutes off what I was running and a shocking 13 minutes off my PB. I think the half suits me more now, but even there I'm a minute or so off.
So this was where I was living until this past fortnight, with the 25km+ Sunday runs beating me up more than they ever used to. Then I took a blow to the head last weekend (eight days ago) in a silly prat-fall at home and I took myself off to ER to get checked. It looks like early February is my ER time! They saw what was originally called an anomaly on my lateral c-spine; a small broken-off bone-spur around C5. The radiologist however said this wasn't anything to due to the fall; it was just a "degenerative change", a normal part of the aging process and within the normal range of someone my age.
My age! MY AGE? I don't feel my calendar age, I don't look my calendar age and I sure as hell don't act it! X-rays are, apparently, no respecter of age and told the (ahem) naked, unvarnished truth. Bastard electromagnetic radiation. I hope the inverse square law makes you feel inadequate. I was free to leave ER, with a clean bill of physical health but with my ego, unlike my vertebral discs, ever so slightly crushed.
Good things come in threes, naturally. So in hindsight, that appointment with my GP for a flu-shot wasn't a good idea. He looked at me, looked at my file, did the needle-in-deltoid thing, looked back at my file again, did the math and said "so, 41 eh?". Before I knew it, I was leaving the office armed with a requisition-form for blood-work, essentially cholesterol, HDL/LDL and PSA, all based on no pathological indicator other than my age. See comment above about the radiologist.
Sigh. So it begins, the indignity of male middle age. Routine blood-work is so, well, routine, but how long before statins, ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers become part of my repertoire?
Here's the thing. As with the degenerative bone-spur on C5, the harder you look, the more things you'll find. I believe studies have been done on this. Good job they didn't image my knees last Sunday, or they would have booked me into ortho stat! For example, I altruistically had a routine cardiac echo for a study on bike-riding and cardiac function, they found a PFO. Nothing life-threatening, 30% of the population has one, but most of them don't know it and it never bothers them as it's a post-mortem finding. Anyway, just another finding, albeit thirty years early and it was a cardiologist, not a pathologist, who made the note in my file.
The human body is an amazing thing. However, it's fanatasitcally complex, in part because if you stop to think about it, it's almost haphazardly put together. If it had been intelligently designed our chests or abdomens would look more like a car engine, with laid-out straight lines and tubes that clearly go where they should with a minimum of deviation or wastage. We'd all look exactly the same, with I suppose, some allowance for scale. Oh, and if we were designed our retinas would have the photoreceptors on the outside and the nerves on the inside rather than having to reverse engineer in a punctum caecum and have to do some fancy processing in the visual cortex so we don't see the hole. While we're at it, the recurrent laryngeal nerve wouldn't loop itself around the aorta as it goes back to whence it came either, but like the recurrent laryngeal nerve, I digress.
So, instead of being ideal physical specimens, we merely approach the Euclidean ideal of an ideal body. We exist, as a species, on an anatomic and metabolic continuum. Given my recent history of outlying radiological findings (the echo could technically be considered a radiographic finding, even if no tungsten nuclei were harmed during the production of the image) my worry, quite naturally is how does my approximation of the human body match up with the Gaussian standard metrics of the human body? Which lets face it, were probably drawn 50 years ago using white male farmers from the American mid-we (who needless to say, have contributed little to my genotype. At least I'm a guy!). Will my cholesterol, HDL:LDL and PSA fall within 2SDs of the norm? And what does that norm mean anyway?
Here's hoping I can put a stop to the rot, for now. If not, the next stop on the senescence train is bifocals!