... don't look back
For those of you who are approaching the age of 80 and those who are now working their way through the labyrinth of the 80's, I am writing to share my experience in the hope of providing you with aid and comfort.
When I turned 40 I never had a mid-life crisis. I was not depressed because I wasn't a millionaire, or governor of Massachusetts of even a member of the Melrose Board of Aldermen. When I turned 60 I still remembered where I lived and my wife's first name and, most of the time, where I had parked my car. But now that I am turning 80 my mind has often been occupied with the answer to the question - do you ever run into that guy who used to be you?
What sent me down memory lane was a conversation I had recently with a close friend and neighbor who mentioned that her mother-in-law had become confused and forgetful but, she said, "That's what you expect when someone is eighty years old."
I have become sensitive to remarks in conversation which add up to the idea that once you turn 80 it's all down hill. Friends, family and even mere acquaintances who don't even know you at all feel free to take the doom and gloom approach to people in their 80's. Too many people in my world, people in their 80's, have suddenly gone from elderly to "old."
A clear indication of how our children feel about our problem with the aging process is the constant pressure to buy a computer before we become totally out of touch with what is going on in the world. Our children don't watch the evening news and rarely read the daily papers. They get their information from the internet.
This explains why ads on the evening news are geared to the elderly. Ads for remedies for arthritis, deafness, memory loss, sinus trouble, dry eye syndrome, dysfunctional bladders and other troubles dominate on Channels 4, 5 and 7 as part of the evening news.
The ultimate ad shows a group of merry seniors whirling around in motorized wheelchairs in ever narrowing concentric circles with their new found freedom to move on their own: some are even singing.
My recent medical history provides a clue to the dark clouds which surround the idea of turning 80. Like me, by the time you are entering your 80's you probably have a thick file at your local HMO. And instead of going to one doctor you are probably being treated by a stable of specialists. Originally, up to 25 years ago, I made an annual visit to my "primary care doctor." He was my only doctor who gave me an annual physical, shook my hand and said, "everythings looks fine, keep up the good work."
That all changed as I worked my way through the following surgeries - two cancer operations, treatment for congestive heart failure, two hernia surgeries, sinus and the ever popular colonoscopies. Each of these surgeries require semi-annual follow-up exams by your stable of doctors.
All of these surgeries have caused me to become a star in the ever challenging world of prescription drugs. I now take 17 pills per day and my wife also takes several medications. To control this deluge of drugs we started out by buying matching white pill containers. Although this seemed like a nice idea it didn't work because I am an early riser and I would sometimes take my wife's morning pills, which could have produced interesting side effects. Immediately my wife ordered me to buy a green pill container.
Pill containers are also challenging. They are divided into little plastc boxes labeled, "Before breafast," "After lunch," "After supper" and "At bedtime," and by the days of the week. This system works well if you remain at home all day, but if you travel to Mohegan Sun Casino or take a trip to Niagara Falls, the system collapses because you often forget to bring the pill box or, if you get absorbed in winning a jackpot at the casino, you lose all track of your pills.
Above all, you cannot try to make up for not taking your lunch and supper pills by doubling up at bedtime. That could lead to drastic "side effects." I will write more about side effects shortly.
Another problem about pills, especially morning pills, is that they sometimes roll onto the floor or into the sink. Because most of them tend to be tiny and white you can't see them lying on the kitchen floor because they bounce and roll. If only one pill rolls on the floor then you have to figure out which pill it is so you can replace it. I personally have to use a magnifying glass to pick up the otherwise invisible marking on the pills. Pills which roll into the sink usually dissolve quickly.
I quickly learned that it is not a good idea to wake up your wife in the early morning to have her come down and crawl around on the kitchen floor looking for a tiny white pill: this sort of thing could wreck a marriage, even one of 53 years.
Another thing you must learn how to handle is the problem of "Possible Side Effects." When you pick up your prescription the pharmacist hands you a little white paper bag containing your pills and a printout describing the pills and, at the end, listing "Possible Side Effects." This section states possible unexpected physical problems somehow caused by your reaction to the medication.
Allow me to list some of the side effects which could take place with just one of my prescriptions: dizziness, drowsiness, fainting, difficulty breathing and yellowing of eyes and skin. We can be thankful that the list does not include your nose getting longer, called the Pinnochio effect or, if you are Irish, your hair turning bright green. You are advised to call your doctor immediately if any of these problems occur. That is if you are able to get to the phone.
According to many people my my world, you are really not a qualified octogenarian unless you have had cataract surgery. I think the majority of my elderly friends have already qualified.
I hope that my insights have provided you with an enjoyable trip through your 80s.
Remember the immortal words of Satchel Paige, a Professional Baseball Hall of Famer who was still pitching in his 60s.
"DON'T LOOK BACK - SOMETHING MAY BE GAINING ON YOU."
August 3, 2007