The first time I said the word out loud was at my annual doctor visit. She’d asked a simple opening question, how are you doing? And I was surprised how easily it fell out of my mouth. I feel like I’m dwindling. Her incredulous What? surprised me. I did a casual take-back and we went on to more pressing topics.

I got a similar reaction when I’d said the word to a couple of friends. Again, it was a you-must- be-joking kind of response.  But the feeling is real. It started last year when I’d had surgery and was informed just before doing under that the anesthetic was known to affect MS. And sure enough, it did affect mine.

It took a few days, in fact I was already home from the hospital, for me to realize it; but the symptoms didn’t lie. The numbness in my right hand and then starting in the feet and coming up the legs was all too familiar. So, I was recuperating from gall bladder surgery with the nausea and general weakness and had to deal with this too. That’s what made me think of that downward spiral. Dwindling.

It’s an old word that I’d learned as a social worker long ago when I was managing a caseload of over one hundred elderly and disabled adults. It was my job to keep them at home and living independently as long as they were able. My routine, yearly contact often was full of surprises as I watched that vibrant Edith and that feisty Alice become more frail with each visit.

The medical definition of dwindling is a condition of physical deterioration involving several body systems, usually in an elderly person or a colloquial term for failure to thrive. “The dwindles” it was called. While I don’t fit the medical definition, there is still something going on.

The thing about each MS exacerbation is that there is always loss. And with each incident, I could tell. Less strength. Less stamina. Poorer balance. I hadn’t had an incident in quite a while so this one was more dramatic. This time, the balance had been very affected and my usual full remission didn’t occur. I have to use my walking stick much more and that’s been quite an adjustment. Perhaps because it’s so visible.

I guess that settles it. Though I don’t fit that medical definition I know what’s going on. But actually, we all are dwindling aren’t we? The twenty year old athlete at forty can’t accomplish what he used to. Hugh Grant’s wrinkles attest to the loss of his boyish good looks. Andrea Mitchell’s fumbling words mark the approach of possible retirement. These are realities and they affect us all.

Maybe it’s word choice that causes such discomfort. In my case, its caused quite a reaction. So let’s say the same thing in a more palatable way. My thesaurus connects dwindling to declining, decreasing, diminishing.  That still sounds pretty ominous to me. But hey, how’s that for poetic alliteration!



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