Dispatches from the Fourth Quarter, Chapter 2
Here’s some good news about geezerdom: As you age, you’re going to make a lot of new friends. What’s more, many of them will be really smart, rich and talented.
The bad news is that most of them will be doctors recruited and paid to take care of your mounting list of ailments.
In my late 20s, I didn’t even have a GP. Back then, we present-day oldsters were mostly bullet proof. Trips to the hospital were few and far between, and most of them were due to injuries sustained doing something incredibly stupid on a dare or bet.
“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” you might have rationalized after breaking a leg while jumping 25 feet into a creek.
Back then you looked for trouble. Now trouble finds you.
To deal with mine, I have over the years enlisted a team of MDs: a GP, a cardiologist, a dermatologist, a hematologist, a urologist, a radiologist, an oncologist, an orthopedist, a neurologist, and maybe a few more that I have forgotten.
How the hell did this happen?
When I went to work for The Union Democrat back in 1973, I decided not to enroll in its health care plan. “Why would I?” I asked my 27-year-old self. “I never get sick and the money I save on needless premiums could buy me a few six-packs a month. It’s an absolute no-brainer.”
Of course, I was the absolute no-brainer. But in my mid-30s, I did some serious soul searching and concluded that I was indeed mortal. So I signed up for the paper’s health plan and somehow scraped by without the extra beer money.
Still, I made few insurance claims before hitting my 40s, when my right hip became creaky and uncomfortable. I got X-rays and went to an orthopedist, who warned me that my right hip was “bone-on-bone” and that hip-replacement surgery would be necessary down the line.
Down the line came in 1996, when I checked in to a Sacramento hospital for the inevitable operation. I was showered with gifts and well-wishes from colleagues and friends. I began thinking that, hey, this sympathy mongering isn’t all bad.
That was just the beginning of my medical woes: In the decades that followed I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, atrial fibrillation, hemochromatosis, ocular migraines, pre-cancerous skin growths and creaky knees that themselves will eventually require surgery. I’ve had biopsies, colonoscopies, phlebotomies, MRIs, cardioversions, EKGs, cystoscopies (don’t even ask!) and more.
Those cards, gifts and well-wishes that came with my first surgery waned over the years, then all but disappeared. Medical procedures became a ho-hum part of geezerdom’s landscape: Hospital Happens. Our calendars are now littered with appointments, labs and tests. It’s just the way it is.
On the bright side, I often meet long-lost fellow geezers in lines at the drugstore or lab, where we swap health-crisis and close-call stories.
Yes, the clock is ticking for all of us. As I warned earlier, most of us won’t be making it out of this quarter-century alive. So how do we cope?
I could get all preachy about diet and exercise at this point, but I will spare you. You’ve probably heard enough of this from spouses or friends who’ve made your wellbeing their mission in life.
And if you’ve hit 70 without a good diet or regular exercise, it could be too late. A raft of kale and cranberries, or a jog down the block here in our extra innings of life likely won’t get you to 100.
So let’s look at the good news: Many of us new fourth-quarterites are still kicking — or at least walking.
You get up this morning? You feeling OK? You in touch with friends and family? You look forward to get-togethers or maybe even travel? Well, be thankful for all of that.
And we might also be thankful that squadron of docs I referred to earlier is in our corners. Mine are scattered throughout Northern California: Sonora, Modesto, Stanford, San Rafael, Livermore and Sacramento.
The operations, radiation, screenings, blood tests and vaccines that have kept my heart beating and my lungs breathing are largely due to their efforts.
So, yes, I’m happy I joined The Union Democrat’s health-insurance plan way back when and, later, that I signed up for Medicare and a good geezer-supplement plan. Otherwise I would have ended up in the poor house.
List prices for medical procedures in the U.S. are stratospheric to the point of absurdity, and I’m grateful I pay only a very small portion of them. Yes, my surrealistically inflated bills to date have no doubt run into the millions.
But at 75 and going on 76, I’m feeling OK. And who can put a price on that?
What’s more, harkening back to some 20s logic I cited earlier in this account,
I actually do have some beer money left at the end of each month.
Although these days — in a development my 27-year-old self could never have comprehended — it’s going for non-alcoholic brew.
Next week: They’re coming for your keys.
Contact Chris Bateman at email@example.com.