— Jeff, are you OK driving? Is the drop-off too steep?
— Dad, you’re really off balance, are you good?
— Jeff, did you eat enough for this hike?
— Dad, are you still feeling dizzy?
— Jeff, be careful, don’t touch that grass!
No, I’m not kidding. They watch out for me constantly. I don’t watch out for myself.
Some of this is new: the grass allergy, the dizziness, the balance. Some of it, the heights and the food, are lifelong deficiencies. As an outdoorsy hiker type, fear of heights and sudden calorie deficits constrain me. If I plan ahead (I rarely plan ahead), I pack enough snacks so I don’t bonk. When I bring those snacks, I typically wind-up overeating, but that beats running out of calories. This is what it happens when I bonk: I can’t make decisions, I need to sit down, sweat pours from my body. It scares me. It annoys everyone else. The heights? Not much I can do about them. I bite my tongue and pray to the universe.
My family is running around in southern Oregon this week. This vacation looks like most of our vacations: a rental house, home cooked meals to save money whenever we can manage, a heavy emphasis on outdoor activities. And lots of time in the car, driving through mountains, on the edge of cliffs.
This afternoon, we went tide-pooling. This involves poking through the puddles left by the receding tide in and amongst a scattering of rocks. In southern Oregon, the critters to see are hermit crabs, sea anemones, sea stars and sea urchins. For the purpose of this story, I’m focusing on the rocks. Suddenly, I have a hard time balancing on those rocks. I wrote about this a couple of months ago when Susan, Eli and I went rock-scrambling at Devils Den. At the time, I blamed my fitness, but after today, I don’t think it has anything to do with muscles. I simply couldn’t get my balance just walking across the rocks.
This fragility, causing my family to watch over me all the time, weighs on me. I used to think of myself as robust, a bad ass, even. For the past few years, I feel weak. Susan and my kids have grown accustomed to it. They expect me to need help. Last week, a blood test came back showing that my iron level has crashed again. It’s currently almost identical to where it was eighteen months ago when I was chronically dizzy. Trudging up sand dunes yesterday, my head spun, I couldn’t catch my breath. Is this normal? Because my iron measured low, am I looking for symptoms? Maybe everyone else feels dizzy walking up the dunes—it’s hard work, after all.
Tonight, watching the sunset on the beach, I froze. The temperature sat in the low sixties, I wore jeans and a sweatshirt. The rest of my family felt comfortable. but even with my hood up, I was chilled. This could be due to my low iron level; it might be psychosomatic. Whatever. Just one more opportunity for me to feel fragile.
Predictably, Susan worried about me. I wish I could help you warm up. We’ll need to buy you some silk long underwear.
I know many of these symptoms are consistent with aging: chilled to the bone, poor balance, nutrition and blood composition issues, but dammit, I’m not even sixty.
Fragility notwithstanding, this vacation rocks. A few highlight photos: