Hi, kids! Uncle Randy here. As a younger man, I found nothing quite so boring as listening to old people complain about their ailments. But I'm here to help you and give you some insight into growing older, so that you might prepare yourself. Also, I'm here to remind you to dance as much as you can. You'll miss that. My advice comes with an appeal. Can we finally stop using the infantile term Baby Boomers to refer to my generation? I'd prefer Atomic Kids or Original Mouseketeers, and I'd like to find the person who branded me a Baby Boomer and throttle him. There's nothing baby-like about growing older but the diapers, and hopefully, that's still down the road a few decades. I believe the party who's guilty of creating the "boomer" moniker worked for Life magazine. Remember magazines? They're those things that sit on the tables in doctors' office waiting rooms. I'm sure Kindle will make them obsolete before you have a seat. But you will take a seat, nonetheless. The doctor will see you now.
While visiting with a friend and listening to him complain about a hernia, I felt the need to one-up him with my gruesome tales of last year's gall bladder surgery. I've embellished the story over time, though the basics are true. They had to open me up the old-fashioned way and remove the gelatinous mass that was my gall bladder, except I didn't have health insurance, so they scooped it out with an old, rusty garden hoe. It's been over a year, and I'm still walking around like Groucho Marx. Except, I'm not the only one. It seems like all my contemporaries are either being scoped, scanned, prodded, or pricked. In these trying times, I can understand how someone might develop stomach problems, but everybody at once? The number of clinics waiting to probe you for the insurance money are growing like Pizza Huts, and the "oscopy factories" are as efficient as the Cadillac assembly line. The unseen consequence of this explosion of invasive procedures is a generational obsession with digestive regularity. When a group of older people go out to dinner, they'll call the next day not to ask how was the food, but how did the food go down? They say "all things must pass," but not according to my peers. Once, we used to discuss acid, now it's acid reflux. I thought I could once again trot out that joke about "all the old hippies getting together now to drop antacid," but we're way beyond over-the-counter medication now. Even friends who once shunned drug use are now hooked on Senna.
Of course, the exercise gurus are right, you have to get off the couch, but football is just so colorful in hi-def. I still have several friends who walk, jog, or play tennis, but they're forever complaining about bursitis and there's always medication and shots involved. My theory about vigorous exercise was always "no pain, no pain." But of all the workouts of which I'm aware, there is no correct way to exercise the gall bladder. So, this wasn't a case of "use it or lose it," as the doctors advise. Years of expensive tests which failed to detect the problem have convinced me that I am another victim of the Medical/Pharmaceutical/Insurance Axis of Evil, and all the exercises in the weight room won't reimburse me what I've forfeited to the "procedure" industry. And make no mistake, the majority of doctors quietly bought into the insurance scam long ago because it made them rich. It's no accident that Germantown Parkway is dotted with private medical clinics. I think I might have built a wing on one of them. I've been told there are exercises I can do that thankfully don't strain stomach muscles, but my career as a promising cage fighter is over. My new motto is "Live healthy, eat right, die anyway."
To quote the great American poet Curtis Mayfield: "I know everybody whose heart is still thumping is drinking, shooting, snorting, or smoking on something." If there were singles bars for the aging, instead of "What's your sign?" the main pick-up line would be "What anti-depressant are you on?" We gather now in small groups and discuss the merits of Lexapro as opposed to Effexor; and is Abilify really worth the boost at over $400 dollars a month? When with a group of old friends, our discussions go straight from politics and protests to prostates and our PSAs. With that particular gland, size does matter. And when you get past six decades, suddenly nobody can pee anymore. For that, the doctor prescribes Flomax, and for sinus congestion they prescribe Flonase, but I know a guy who confused the two, took out a handkerchief and blew his penis. (Come on, it's original.) And what's growing faster than the erection industry? Nowadays, guys without any erectile dysfunction whatsoever will take a Viagra just to make a point. It's enough to give a man restless leg syndrome.
I just figured that a year after invasive surgery, I should be feeling somewhat better, so after yet more tests, my doctor returned with a good news/bad news prognosis. My nerve was cut, so I can expect to live a life in a certain degree of pain, plus I will continue to have unpredictable and sudden gastric episodes, which will keep me closely tethered to my reading room. The good news is it's not going to kill me. How is one supposed to respond to that? "Great, I'll suffer from these maladies then die of something else?" I've been informed that there are preventative measures that will allow my wife Melody and I to go out and socialize without me constantly worrying that I'll pull an Elvis and do a header into somebody's bathroom floor. Melody assures me, however, that she will not allow me to sit and vegetate, which reminds me, I need to eat more vegetables. One of my father's wiser sayings was "It's better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick," only I never thought I'd have to put his theory to the test. So, I'm grateful to the Church Health Center for looking after me, and I'm going to try harder this year to become more active. But, if you younger folks should happen to see me around town and I have a cane by my side, take a look but don't stare too long, for I am you.
Randy Haspel writes the blog Born-Again Hippies, where a version of this column first appeared.