One does not expect to grow seriously old without arthritis. Old people’s arthritis ruins once supple joints, and we are tempted to limp a little to avoid putting all our weight on an arthritic hip.

But then, we do not want to be thought an invalid, so we try to walk straight, with weight evenly distributed, and what we get for our trouble is more arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (old people’s arthritis) is due to degeneration of the cartilage, which serves as a buffer to the bones. Without the cartilage (solid but slightly spongy), the bones would rub together, grinding away surfaces and causing pain. That’s just what happens to old people and is the reason you see those afflicted taking shorter steps and walking slowly. No, it doesn’t get better, just worse, and must be dealt with.

OK, we’ll deal with it. What can we do? Not much. We can take pain medicine, but everyone knows there is a limit to that, and the temptation to take more or something stronger always hovers about. Addiction is a threat and may be worse than the arthritis.

So, we try to grin and bear it, but that doesn’t work either. Some of us, including me, seek a hip replacement operation, and mine was spectacularly successful. Others get their knees replaced, and that helps too.

But here’s the rub. Once the offending joint is treated and no longer causes pain (weeks — sometimes months), then we become conscious of the other arthritic joints, those whose discomfort was ignored because of the “big pain” in the badly affected joint. My orthopedic surgeon replaced my arthritic left hip with a perfectly functioning prosthesis, and I was home free. That is until my slightly arthritic right hip began to attract my attention; never satisfied, I wanted to be pain free.

But that is not going to happen. My right hip hurts, but I can bear it. It would be stupid to get another hip replacement when it doesn’t bother me too much (sometimes).

So here’s the lesson: life is hell, then you die. The marvelous thing about us humans is that we know it and still keep on trying and often succeed. The trick is to expect what you are likely to get and not whine too much about the inevitable failures of your body.

Melvyn Schreiber lives in Galveston.

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