And so I said to myself: Now, look here, buddy. You’re almost seventy. You passed your “Use By” date long ago. You’ve had diagnosed cancer – to be precise, multiple relapse poly-lymphomic chronic leukemia – since 2011. You’re now on the ninth month of your fourth six-month ChemoFest. You’ve had several strokes, a TBI (traumatic brain injury) with capillary bleeding, and the chemo pills may be doing reprehensible things to what’s left. Your energy level’s down around Donald Trump’s congeniality index. Your life expectancy’s somewhere between zilch and whatever. And you will never, ever abide, let alone master, Windows 10.
Get to work.
So I did. Nothing heroic. Just a man in his final years, supremely fortunate to live in Israel, more interested in doing what he still can than in giving up or giving in.
The moment of decision came without a moment of decision.
In May 2017, I had a mild stroke. A couple of months later, the MRI revealed that I’d had at least three prior strokes and a TBI/capillary bleeding that I’d never known about. All the MRI report, or the docs, could tell me was that they were “old.” True, but not particularly useful. Clearly, both some Internet research and some personal introspection were desirable.
So I did, and gradually it dawned upon me that for decades I’d been struggling to cope with a condition – physical brain damage – I’d known nothing about, and could not have imagined. After all, how can you have multiple strokes and not know it? Apparently, you can, and apparently you can also offset some of the deleterious effects, simply by knowing what you’re up against and adjusting your habits and ways accordingly – and I find that I’m a more productive and perhaps even occasionally more lucid writer now than I was 30 years ago when I was doing it back in the Old Country.
So I decided that if I could make such changes, so could others, provided they chose to keep on keepin’ on.
In my last sermonette, I offered the physical aspects of a Coping Code.They’re so obvious that they’re far too often ignored. They are:
First and foremost, shut up about your ailments. Kvetching rots the soul. Tell people what they need to know, when they need to know it. And no complaint-swapping parties. Undignified.
Get enough sleep, preferably undrugged, in whatever way you can: long stretches, short naps, some combination. Don’t let sleep deprivation add to the normal fatigues of age and disease.
Stay mobile, even if it’s only walking around your living room. Get a stationary bike and spin. Try to get outside daily.
Finally, pay attention to your nutrition as your needs change, and they can change very quickly. Do some targeted reading. Maybe try some new foods and recipes.
Now we come to the four mental aspects of Dr. Philip’s Coping Code.
This is not “Do as I Say, not as I Do.” This stuff works.
1. Pay attention to time. If you’re ailing, you probably have lots of time, not all of it usable. Make it usable, even if in 12-minute segments (which is how lawyers bill, and look how happy they are). Do not expect every day to be the same. Just slow down, adjust constantly, and enjoy as much usable time as you can.
2. Doing what? That’s up to you. Think, perhaps, of these final years as developing a “late style.” What to leave in, what to leave out? Whatever contributes to your late style.
3. Engage the world mentally. I find that my interest in the world grows ‘Dr. Philip’s Coping Code: Par t 2’ as my tolerance for same-old/same-old and things I’ve heard ten thousand times wanes. Don’t bother to argue, especially with those who need argument to feel alive, and with those who think there’s something cute about acting curmudgeonly. Mentally, go your own way and if you’re fortunate to find people with whom you can share, proceed.
4. Finally, faith. Your call. Whatever you have come to believe, or find yourself believing, as mortality approaches. But it also matters that faith applies to how we live our final time.
I would not presume to discuss my own faith here, or comment on anyone else’s. But I would offer two items from my understanding and practice of classical Stoicism (which is far more than Mr. Spock on the bridge of the Enterprise or courage under Novocain).
The first is, never trust your first reaction. Go with your second. This is not the place for a disquisition on Stoic epistemology, but the principle is apt. Take the time to understand what you’re reacting to, and why, especially in these final years.
The second views death as just one more of life’s processes and events.
As my favorite philosopher puts it, what matters “is to see the moment’s work done well.”
Do give it a second thought.