Health

The Incredible Shrinking Woman

What was happening to me? How had I shrunk so much?

The other day I had my annual exam at the gynecologist. The nurse asked me to step on the scales — which I knew wasn't going to be good — and, afterwards, to turn my back to the wall so she could measure me.

"Five-six and a quarter," she said.

"Can you measure again?" I asked. "I don't think I was standing up straight." Her measurement had to be wrong. All my life I'd been 5' 7 ½", and it seemed only yesterday my internist said I'd lost half an inch. So I had to be at least 5'7".

I stood tall as a ramrod the second time around, stretching my neck the way my children used to when I plotted their height on their growth chart.

"Nope, you're 5' 6 ¼", the nurse said again. What was happening to me? How had I shrunk so much?

My mother had been getting shorter for years, even as I grew. But she was now in her 80s; she was actually old. Still in my 50s, I wasn't.

After the exam was over, I sped home, hell bent on reaching my internist to find out when he'd measured me last.

You're actually becoming the Incredible Shrinking Woman, I said to myself as I drove. Years ago, during a parent-teacher conference, my oldest daughter's speech and debate teacher even told me I looked like Lily Tomlin. She meant it as a compliment. I think. In my younger days though I'd been likened to Kathleen Turner and Cybil Shepherd, and more recently to Maggie Gyllenhaal. Any of which I'd take. But Ernestine! Edith Ann! Mrs. Frizzle from "The Magic School Bus"!

I flew home that day, too, intent on searching Google Images. In some photos, however, Tomlin looked quite pretty. And I could decipher the resemblance, although I was younger, and a fiery redhead who still thought of herself as hot. And yet: Now I was literally shrinking.

I'll admit at times my imagination can run a bit wild, but for the past couple of years I'd actually felt closer to the sidewalk and the inevitable ground beneath it. Glued to the pavement at times. And no matter how hard I mentally pushed myself to walk to the subway faster, it seemed like my strides weren't as wide or fast as they'd once been. When I stretched out full-length like a cat to sleep, I'd noticed, too, that my toes no longer dangled off the end of the bed. And I knew my bed hadn't shrunk.

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I told myself I was merely tired and out of shape and just needed to lose weight to get the spring in my step back.

Indeed, twelve years ago, after my ex and I separated, weight rapidly tumbled off with no effort at all. Miserable and stressed, I never felt so physically light or so acutely in tune with my body. My girlfriends said my face looked drawn, but I didn't care. I looked better in clothes than I had in decades. Divorce was hell so I capitalized on the few positives I could.

When I walked my youngest to elementary school, my feet seemed to glide above the ground, my fast gait something my daughter occasionally complained of.

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"Don't worry," she'd say. "We'll get there."

After dropping her at school, I'd often sing while I walked back home in order to keep my spirits up. And one of my favorite songs of that period was "Defying Gravity," the chief song of the musical "Wicked" that my girls and I had seen on Broadway, sung by Idina Menzel. A song I personally intoned as the theme for breaking free of the limits I felt others were placing on me at the time. And when no one was looking, I'd belt it out right there on the Brooklyn sidewalk.

Eventually, the weight I'd lost crept back on. And then I began to shrink. After emailing my doctor, I googled "shrinking and menopause" and learned that some shrinking is normal and can start at age 40. The culprit is loss in bone density, resulting in the spinal column actually becoming shorter. But the average rate is one-half inch every decade.

My diminishment seemed to be progressing more quickly. My doctor said I'd been 5'7" in 2009, losing another three-quarters of an inch in only six years. Immediately I made an appointment for a bone density scan which I couldn't get for another month.

In the interim, I had a trip scheduled to visit my daughter at college.

"Are you getting shorter or have I grown?" she asked me, out of the blue, while we walked around campus.

"I'm shrinking," I told her. It sounded funny, but it wasn't.

I won't know if I actually have osteoporosis until I get the results from my test. In the meantime, I'm wracking my brain to figure out how this could have happened. I've never been a smoker and drink wine in moderation. Still I probably don't consume sufficient green leafy vegetables and I avoid the weight room at the gym because I find lifting weights boring.

But I do feel like I've been given a wake-up call. And if I want to continue standing erect, I may need to adjust my ways. Although I can't change the inevitable or reverse the shrinkage that's already occurred, perhaps I can arrest further development. Daily I continue to invest in the considerable work life often requires to defy gravity when it comes to my soul, and now it's time to turn the attention to my body.

Tags: aging
   
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