Monday, May 04, 2015

The Price

The “gift of life” is not actually a gift: it is a balloon-payment loan which can be rescinded at any time.

It’s been said that no one can fully understand something until and unless they have personally experienced it. This is certainly true of me and growing old, and it is only as I grow older that I have realized that the longer one lives, the more expensive the “gift” becomes.

In my mind and heart, I am somewhere in my mid-20s—that time when mind and body are both young and work together effortlessly. However, after reaching a certain age (which varies from person to person), one becomes increasingly aware that the gift of life does indeed come with a price tag. 

The mirror and the calendar tell me I am 81 years old. I can accept the fact that I have lived 81 years, but there is no way possible that I am 81 years OLD! I sincerely believe that I am, sadly, a young man trapped in an old man’s body. And as such, I am forced to watch, in something akin to horror, as my mind and body lose their effortless synchronization. My always-serviceable, always-dependable body becomes less and less serviceable and less and less dependable.

My largely-unjustified vanity has turned against me and become a curse. I cannot bear to see myself in any reflective surface. I am truly embarrassed by my physical appearance and avoid social situations with people I do not know well, and even with those I know, I am ill at ease. It may not bother them to be in the presence of an old man, but, oh, how it bothers me. I know it’s irrational and emotionally unhealthy, but I can’t help it. To inadvertently catch sight of myself reflected in a store window never ceases to shock me. Who IS that person? Most certainly it is not me. 

In an attempt at self-protection, I have developed the ability to have my mind step aside and become a detached, objective observer of my physical deterioration. To realize that I am as young today as I will ever, ever be again does not help.

Having, more than a decade ago, adopted the namesake Dorien Grey from Oscar Wilde's novel, I find myself relating with the fictional Dorian Gray’s portrait. The residuals of radiation received 12 years ago, like the interest in a savings account, have accrued over time to render my entire mouth all but useless for the purposes for which it was intended. My speech is nearly unintelligible—to others and to myself. And although my salivary glands were destroyed by the radiation, my mouth still manages to produce great quantities of liquid which, with my head permanently bent forward by radiation-induced arthritis, pools in the front of my mouth, causing me to drool frequently without my even being aware of it. Whenever I try to speak, the liquid pours out. This horrifies and embarrasses me, and as a result, I almost never speak.

I cannot whistle, run, or—having totally lost my senses of taste and smell within the past year or so—eat more than two bites of any solid food, and I’ve lost the ability to even care. I now take all my nourishment in the form of liquid nutritional supplements—exactly the same thing  in exactly the same amount every single day. And because there is absolutely no pleasure in even trying to eat, I don’t.  It gets a more than a little boring.

Of course, I don’t have to worry about becoming obese. 

The price you will be charged when your balloon payments start coming due, and what forms those payments may take can’t be known until they begin. There is no one set price. What I pay is almost certainly not what you will be charged…but you will be charged.

And after saying all this, I will willingly continue to pay the price for the gift of life as long as I can afford it.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Kage Alan said...

Not that you need a reminder, but you still have your faculties, you still write, and you can still get around on your own. My father is ten years younger, is pretty much now unintelligible when he speaks, can no longer feed himself, can no longer clean himself, no longer knows what's dangerous or safe, and no longer recognizes his own image in the mirror.

That's a hell of a price to pay to live to be 71. Given the choice, he might have paid your price to be where you are.

And that being said, my father-in-law wouldn't have paid the price you did. I have to say he went mostly on his terms two years ago, though I know he wanted to stay much longer.

It's a strange world we exist in, D. I get the feeling it's not over yet either.

Helena said...

As I was reading this I was thinking how different your life would be now without the Internet, given that because of it you are still able to interact with other people in spite of the fact that you cannot really do so face-to-face.

I do admire your general positivity given your medical conditions.

I am a few decades off your age (I must say I had though you were at least 10 years younger), and I am already thinking that living a long life is not necessarily desirable. When I see reference to health choices which might result in my living five years longer, I always choose the option which is more enjoyable: I ask myself whether I'd actually want five more years without X (let alone the years between now and then). I feel that quality and not quantity is what matters.

I do so agree about being a young person trapped in an unrecognisable body! How did that happen? I kept waiting to feel "grown up" and wondering whether anyone truly did feel it. I think I feel grown up now, just about, but I also feel decades younger that I appear.