Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Life's Second Childhood

Life can start as a whirlwind and end up a boomerang.  

You get your big break in life as an infant/toddler under the tutelage of your parent(s) who coddle you and raise you in their shadow.  All of your needs are filled and all of your decisions are quietly watched and judged.  You have little to worry about because they make most of the important decisions and allow you to drift happily through life while feeding and growing like the plant outside your bedroom window.  In the boomerang analogy, this is the initial flight just after leaving the hands of the thrower.  

You then progress into adolescence and gain just enough freedom to choose which kind of pizza or milkshake you like best before you have to shoulder the responsibility of schoolwork, manners, and the like.  

Then you become a teenager.  Oh Lord, the awkward years. These years are a challenge as you struggle to identify yourself as an individual and try to break from your parents’ reign.  Lots of changes occur physically, mentally, and emotionally.  There is no way to prepare yourself for this Six Flags’ roller coaster. 

Before you know it, you move out of the house and into adulthood.  The early years of adulthood are littered with choices about college, relationships, jobs, weddings, divorces, and more jobs.  Hopefully not more divorces.  Whirlwind does not do this time period justice…

You then wake up one morning and have three kids, a spouse, a mortgage, and you are what most would consider middle-aged.  Oh the horror…not really.  You adjust your life based on work and family while making the most of opportunities big and small.  Life passes you by whether you are watching out the window or not.  

It’s not clear to me yet (my age is closest to the last paragraph) when one realizes that they are OLD, but it cannot be a groovy feeling.  I don’t want to sound like an agist so please do not misunderstand the point, BUT let’s face it- you cannot stop the hands of Mother Time.  Despite this, plenty of people age gracefully and continue to have an active lifestyle.  

However, at some point usually between the age of seventy and eighty, most Americans realize that part or all of their existence has returned to a second childhood.  Now I’ve piqued your curiosity.  A second childhood?  Really it is more like a second toddler era or infancy- only in reverse.  

The perfect example is a stroke victim’s regression to childhood.  Strokes affect millions of Americans and often take the strength and feeling on one side of the body and can force a person to be bed-bound.  Their fate is determined by the caretaker, usually a child…often a daughter or grandchild.  They must be fed, bathed, dressed, and cleaned up by another person just like an infant is.  Most of the time, a stroke victim is no longer capable of making decisions without guidance in the same way as a toddler would not be without an overbearing parent.  Sadness, grief, depression, and/or disgust can set up residence in your soul as you ponder your life both past and present.  

Memory loss is also a very common medical issue at the end of life and can debilitate patients.  Simple tasks such as keeping a checkbook, driving to the store, and turning the stove on/off to cook meals can become problematic if not downright dangerous.  Often, children and grandchildren are enlisted to check on the aging parent to ensure safety and health, not unlike a parent would do for a toddler only in reverse.  The boomerang is deep into the last turn and heading toward the finish line as fast as a Nascar leader chasing the checkered flag.  

As a doctor, I see it all the time:  “Grandad has a little dementia so he wants us to make his decisions” - is how it starts out.  Then it transitions to your divorced daughter moving back into the house with you and assuming the household duties because you no longer are “capable” of this.  Finally and God forbid, you have a serious medical illness strike you so that your family must feed you, bathe you, change your diaper, and kiss you goodnight.  The time is near when the boomerang returns to the hands that launched it in the first place.  

Admittedly, the thought of life ending as a boomerang is not happy nor something to look forward to.  However, as an adult cardiologist who sees early-in-life strokes, heart attacks, sudden death, and the like on a daily basis- I do not see life ending happily or "the way I want it to" in MOST situations.  A second childhood at least guarantees a long life and might allow a beautiful flight until the boomerang returns to the sender.  

David Jones, MD is the owner/blogger at DoctorRated.com and is a private practice cardiologist.  

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