(Rick Nease/Detroit Free Press)

I'm pretty sure I can blame my maternal grandmother for my distorted view of how the aging process works.

Grandma was born in 1882, married in 1900 and had 10 children, nine of whom lived to adulthood. By the time I came along, she was well into her 70s and seemingly invincible.

Except for failing eyesight, she remained strong in body and mind until almost the day she died at age 92. Because of that, I came to anticipate that age would float over me like a fine gossamer cloak, settling gently on my shoulders, slowly turning my hair to silver and my skin translucent, but remaining only a progression of harmless numbers.

Reality is such a cruel, well, unnice female person.

Oh, it lets you think that you are growing older -- not old -- with a bit of grace. I was just in my 20s when my father's genes started turning my dark brown hair white, but at least it was subtle.

Time passed, and I grew used to aging slowly. One morning I'd wake up with a little twinge in my knee, that would, over a few days, get a little worse. I'd adjust, compensate, learn to live with it.

But lately, age has become sneaky. It doesn't give you any warning. It just creeps up behind you and slaps you silly.

For more than a year, I've had what I've come to call a "wonky eye." So far, three eye doctors and a neurologist can't explain what's going on. I have a distortion in my right eye that makes reading fine print difficult, and it causes some interesting optical illusions.


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The eye, doctors say, is perfectly healthy, so it must be in my brain; the brain doctor says no, the brain is fine, too. I've come to accept it, figuring it will eventually go away or get worse, which might then uncover the problem.

But the other day while I was sitting at my desk, a lacy film suddenly spread across the vision of my wonky eye, followed by flashes of light. Uh oh, my retina is detaching, I thought. Calls to Kaiser soon produced an emergency visit, scans and the eventual reassurance that everything would be fine. It was just age.

The doctor patiently explained, using a handy plastic model of an eyeball, that our eyes are filled with vitreous. When we are born, the goo is a nice firm ball.

I already knew where this was going, and I didn't much like it.

As you age, she continued, the ball softens and becomes the consistency of Jell-O. Sometimes, pieces slough off and float around.

It doesn't cause damage, although it sometimes can tear the retina when it pulls away. Fortunately, there was no damage when it happened to me. The gunk would continue to float and probably settle in the "corner" of the eye. Eventually, my brain would learn to ignore it.

The eye issue has become a metaphor for the aging process. My body was firm and compact when it was new, but now parts are sloughing off and floating around. Who knew such a thing could happen? You're going along, trying to deal with life, and bam, your vision is suddenly occluded by bits of Jell-O.

I find some comfort -- not much -- that I'm not alone. A very good friend of my same age had been a dancer in her younger days. She is small and fit, but she took a misstep in an exercise class and broke her ankle in three places, requiring surgery, two plates and 11 pins. Now everyone keeps saying things like "well, in our time of life" and "old bones just can't take stress."

One of my sisters, who is only five years older than I am, ended up in a hospital for three weeks after what we thought was a stomach flu turned into a severe kidney infection.

Her life went from fine to wondering if she could even manage on her own. I spent two weeks helping her once she got out of the hospital. When I went with her to a doctor's appointment, the receptionist ignored her and her walker, and instead asked me questions about her health plan, as if being unsteady on your feet at age 61 meant you were unsteady in your mind.

That cloak of age I was expecting has instead turned into a B-2 stealth fighter, swooping in to drop a bomb and disappear before the smokes clears.

We get it, OK. We're getting older -- not old -- but can't we get a little advance notice before the hammer falls? Isn't there an early warning system that would broadcast an alert?

I thought that 50 was the new 30. Did age take offense at the lack of respect and go ninja on us?

The worst part of all this is that it's turning me into a grumpy old -- make that older -- lady. I fully expect that if something doesn't change, I'll soon be standing on the street corner, shaking my fist at those young whippersnappers and their dagburnit speeding hot rods.

I'm left with no choice but to fight back.

I'm not planning cosmetic surgery or an inappropriate wardrobe change. Instead, the next time age tries to sneak up on me, it's going to have trouble finding me.

They say age is just a state of mind. If so, I'm sending in a change of address.

The next time I end up in an emergency room, it's going to be because I did something childish and irresponsible, not because aging bits of me have gone wobbly.

I say this with confidence, but perhaps I'm misjudging age. After all, youth tried to kill me, too, but I survived. Age may be sneaky, but at least it's a reminder I'm still kicking.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com; or at P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.