The idea of aging gracefully is an admirable trait. It is also an ideal that I have failed miserably to achieve. Although Barb has forbidden me to use that dreaded three-letter word, denial is no longer possible. It is time to admit that I am O-L-D.
Of course, it is also true that I am not only old but I am getting older, which is the good news for as has oft been said, the alternative has little appeal. As a matter of fact, that alternative looms larger with each passing day as my circle of friends dwindles. This was brought home to me recently when a person who had been a friend of mine for more than 60 years died. I could count on him to call at least once a week just to chat, discuss politics, or whatever else was on his mind. He was a champion story teller, but as his memories faded (which happens with tired old brains) the stories were becoming repetitious and I sometimes complained to Barb, especially when those calls came as we were having dinner. She admonished me by reminding me that I should be grateful to have such a friend. She was right because I now miss those phone calls and the those stories.
PLAYING THE “OLD GEEZER” CARD
Old age is a mixed bag. It does allow one to get away with stuff. For example, one can be insulting with little risk of physical retaliation. I have learned to take full advantage of people’s tendency to be deferential or even patronizing to an old geezer like me. A prop of some kind is helpful in perpetrating this kind of fraud, and the use of a cane will frequently get you a free ticket to go to the front of the line. Another advantage of aging? Permission to fail…all kinds of screw-ups are typically forgiven as a sign of impending senility.
RESPECT YOUR ELDERS?
When I was a kid I was taught to “respect my elders.” I never did understand this axiom, but suspect it was a hold-over from the days when ours was an agrarian society where vital information was passed down through generations…which is in marked contrast to today where we old folks can’t even program our TV remotes. Today, society seems ambivalent towards old people. On the one hand we venerate those who reach certain milestones yet when they become a burden they are frequently dumped in an institution.
Much of the blame for this conundrum lies at the foot of the medical profession for it is clear that we are now living much longer, but at considerable cost. In a previous blog I have written about the exponential increases in medical costs as we age. We take a lot out of the economy, but don’t put much back. It could be said that we are living too long. If that is true, I hope they will make an exception for old bloggers.
IT’S A SUPPLY and DEMAND SITUATION
In the U.S., there are a lot more widows than widowers, partly because women live 5 years longer than men on average, while in Canada (a socialized medicine country by the way) both sexes live nearly 4 years longer than in the good old U.S. of A – go figure. (Click here for source link) Consequently, old guys can take some comfort in the availability of replacement chicks if the need arises. This only seems fair since we men contribute to our early demise with risky behaviors designed to attract and impress our mates. Throughout the animal kingdom, men must do stuff to be noticed while women only need to look good (sorry Maggie).
AFTER 40 IT’S JUST PATCH PATCH PATCH | AGING AIN’T for SISSIES
It seems clear that time does take a toll on the human body. There are undoubtedly multiple factors which conspire to damage organs only some of which are self-inflicted. In my case 50 years of tobacco use added a couple of cancers among other things to my medical record. But even you who have had the good sense to take care of your bodies and are looking forward to retirement should realize that there is some truth in the adage that “getting old ain’t for sissies”. You will find that in spite of your best efforts, organs will not work as well as they once did. A pain free bowel movement becomes a cause for celebration.
Other excretory functions will likely also become impaired. Prostate glands loom large in old men’s lives both literally and figuratively resulting in difficulty eliminating urine while women experience the opposite problem. Diminished bladder capacity means prolonged road trips must be calibrated carefully to include proper pit stop planning. Old folks who, like me, are prone to flatulence, may find themselves at risk of becoming social pariahs for such explosions may occur spontaneously without warning. This can become a particularly acute problem as you find yourself attending more funerals where a strategic exit is not possible. You can only hope that it will not occur during a moment of silent prayer.
With the exception of a few very emotionally disturbed people, everyone dislikes pain, and as you enter the “golden” years you will likely become well acquainted with that sensation. Athletes say that the legs are the first to go, and indeed since they get the most work, they do go quickly and the knees are the most vulnerable part of the lower extremities. When you see a gimpy old fart like me hobbling along with his cane it is usually a safe bet that he has a bad knee or knees. Not to worry, for you can get a new one for the paltry sum of $57,000 on average. It is not clear if you get a quantity discount for doing both at once.
But the knees are merely the introduction to what is to come. You soon learn to appreciate the wide spread density of pain fibers throughout your body, and come to a greater understanding of the term chronic. Archaeologists tell us that a major factor which led to man’s dominance was his learning bipedal locomotion, yet with age walking upright becomes a liability. The National Institute of Aging reports that falls by those over 65 result in 2.8 million Emergency Room visits, 800,000 hospitalizations and 27,000 deaths each year. The latter statistic is personal for me as I have lost two friends from falls. The loss of lower extremity muscle mass also limits agility. Thus, to fall when alone even though not injured can be serious if you can’t get up. The agility factor also affects some of the simplest of activities. For example, before senility set in, I sneered at those who went to a Podiatrist to get their toenails trimmed. I now understand.
As one gets a few years behind them, the retirement thing becomes an issue. It may seem like a godsend, but for some it can be a death knell if you believe that well warn maxim about how indolence will hasten a person’s demise. Conventional wisdom is that one should prepare for retirement by planning activities of some kind – travel, hobbies, volunteering, or even a second career. I initially retired at age 70 however; I was one of those people lucky enough to like what I was doing for a living, consequently, I decided to go back to work.
Although it is true that shortly after I retired for the first time Barb said: “I don’t get anything done when you are around here all day”, the real reason I went back to work was that I missed my patients and colleagues. Besides, there was a serious shortage of psychiatrists and all those people who were recruiting me to come work for them made me feel important. Barb did have some plans for our retirement, but I assured her I would only work for a year or two until they found a replacement. A replacement could not be found, and time goes fast not only when you are having fun, but when you are old consequently; I had hit the trifecta. I finally hung it up for good 12 years later.
A desire to travel is a common theme I have heard from those planning retirement. I have not traveled a great deal, but what I have done has left me feeling that it is overrated. My few trips to Europe have not been as exhilarating as have those of PBS’s Rick Steves. The idea of spending long hours squashed into plane seats which would have been marginally comfortable when I was 10 years old in order to stand in long lines to catch a glimpse of some famous object or place has even less appeal. For a guy who can remember a time when getting there was almost as much fun as being there, the idea of such a trip sits right up there along-side waterboarding as one of my least favorite pastimes.
This retirement protocol is upside down anyway. If retirement is to give one the time and wherewithal to have fun, then it makes little sense to bestow it on us when we barely have the energy to make it from our lift chair to the bathroom. Why not retire first and go to work later? On second thought that would present a number of problems. For example, after having all that fun would we ever be interested in work? There does seem to be some inherent need in most humans to be productive, or is it simply a learned behavior (perhaps a good topic for a blog).
YOUTH WORSHIP (AND I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT CHURCH CAMP)
The opposite of old is young and the latter seems to be the most highly valued time of life. The myth of a fountain of youth has been around for thousands of years. Herodotus wrote about it in the 5th century BC, and the search continues. In 2018 Americans spent $16.5 billion dollars on cosmetic surgery and $49.2 billion on cosmetics alone. Most, if not all these efforts, seem to be designed to promote a more youthful appearance, and are not confined to women alone.
The worship of youthfulness is not the exclusive province of those with idyllic childhoods, for many of my patients who had endured horrific experiences as kids also did what they could to present a youthful appearance. People who choose healthy lifestyles in order to promote longevity are to be admired, but I daresay there is a much larger group who are more preoccupied with how they look, and in particular with all those drooping and wrinkling tell tale signs they are getting old. The question arises as to whether they are trying to fool the world or themselves. After all, an appointment with the grim reaper looms larger each day, as the walls of denial crumble.
90 on the HORIZON
When my age is revealed I often get the response: “You don’t look that old.” I don’t know if I should thank them, apologize, or be insulted. In a couple of months, I expect to have completed 9 decades of residence on this planet and get ready to start my 10th, and the kids are already planning to make a big deal of it. For no particular reason other than we have used the decimal system for a few thousand years, we tend to make a big deal out of any figure which ends with a zero. Birthdays have always been a mixed blessing for me because my son has the same birthday, and I have always felt that my birthday took something away from his celebration. It has never seemed that he should have to share a cake.
Although 90 years seems like a long time, in my case it is not nearly enough, and I would like a bit more. I first became interested in this phenomenon we call life about 75 years ago and it became my life’s work. In spite of the monumental discoveries of the past century, it remains a wondrous mystery, and I am convinced that a total understanding of its complexities is beyond our ability to comprehend. No doubt, I will continue to complain about the vicissitudes of old age (how else could I get any sympathy) in spite of having witnessed first-hand suffering far beyond what I can even comprehend, not to mention the horrors endured by millions of others around the world. Indeed, it is clear that I can no longer deny that I am O-L-D, but it has caught me by surprise for it happened overnight. Little did I know when I first saw light on that autumn day in the midst of the Great Depression that I had hit the mother lode and was destined to be blessed with the most wonderful life imaginable.
By the way, does anyone know how to blow out candles while wearing a mask?