A few thoughts on my 64th birthday – health, resilience and the future

Yesterday was my 64th birthday. I did not get to spend it as I would have wanted. I’ve been held back for the past four weeks by bronchitis, which has lingered longer than expected. I had been hoping that the condition would fade away as my body rallied its resources to respond to the illness and restore me to health. It didn’t happen. Although I got my voice back (I was practically aphonic in the first days), my chest developed asthmatic conditions.  I could still slog through daily activities (I made a trip to Florida), but I ended up being exhausted at the end of the day.

Photo: Michael Smith seated on a Caribbean beach - 2008
An old shot on the beach at St. Johns, Virgin Islands in 2008

This week, I finally forced myself to see my doctor, who prescribed a round of antibiotics and an inhalant to help me breathe. The past few days, it’s been a throwback to my childhood. I had an allergy that manifested itself as hay fever, asthma and skin rashes. I can remember being pulled out of my primary school classes to go to the doctor for my monthly injection. Being asthmatic affected how I approached physical activity.  I could never fully trust my body so I never pushed it to its limits. I was timid at sports. I was among the last one picked when dividing up to play neighborhood sports. By ninth grade, I had ruled out the prospect of participating in competitive team sports, and turned to choir, drama, and debate as extracurricular activities (My senior year I decided to join the first soccer team at my school, but that’s another story). By the time I went to college, I did not need my allergy shots and could manage my allergies with antihistamines. My asthma and skin rashes had gone away.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve tried to attend a few yoga classes at Thrive. At that stage, my condition was not contagious but  I warned the people who put their mats next to me that my cough was not contagious.  And I did cough as I tried to clear the phlegm from my chest, especially when lying on my back. I wheezed my way through the classes. Most of the time I did not have the energy to go to class. It’s been frustrating that the recovery has been so slow.

Turning point

Photo: a man seated with laptop in an empty meeting room
At an international conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina

At this milestone in my life, I am reminded that my body is vulnerable, slower to recover from illness, and a potential liability. I had hoped that after nearly two months of active yoga practice, including one month of yoga teacher training (YTT), I would be at peak performance and ready to tackle the challenges of the next 12 months of my life. I also know that I need my yoga to keep my mind working optimally.  Now I feel a little bit like my 12-year-old self trying to measure my physical activity to avoid provoking a coughing spell, shortness of breath or fatigue.

Since coming back from Florida, I’ve tried to tackle several major projects that I’ve had to get out of the way or underway. I’ve been struck at how long  it’s taken for me to accomplish them. Certainly, getting a used car’s tags and title transferred (I bought my son’s car) at the Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland is not meant to be a snap for anybody. But I do wonder whether my lingering illness or my “advanced” age is having an impact on my mental skills, memory, or focus. Maybe, I am just overly optimistic about life in the big city. Or I’m going back to a second adolescence of wheezy lungs and immature brain.

With the completion of my YTT, I thought I had completed the “transition” phase after leaving my job at the OAS. I’ve sought to shed the kinks and knots of working in a bureaucracy for 15 years.  My wife has ensured that I’ve taken vacation time to refresh my mind and body. I’ve worked at clearing my desk of several major issues that hovering over my head for months, even years. I’ve assessed how to set up a productive work environment at home as I try to generate some income from being “self-employed.” I’ve identified several opportunities that could make use of my unique combination of experience, skills and creativity. The past four weeks of illness has kept me from drawing a sharp boundary on my “transition” phase.