“I am very impressed”, said the surgeon – “about how much damage you’ve managed to do to your hip. “You need a full replacement, so let’s see how soon we get you scheduled”. Two thoughts occurred right on top of one another: a) boy, am I lucky to have an option to reduce the pain, b) wow, I am officially old.
I admit to being a surgery rookie – fortunate to have avoided hospitals since my tonsils were removed, so many years ago. So many years ago, that Robbie the Robot was the toy of the year. But now, I am joining the Society of Waiting Room Junkies, an exclusive club of seniors who inhabit a labyrinth of calendar conflicts almost totally devoted to medical service. I figured to be pretty good at this, as my working life taught me to wait productively in airports, but I have to admit that doctors’ waiting rooms have their own vibe. Mostly, older and infirm individuals emit auras of fading energy, but I have witnessed some full-on, call the cops outrage with the administrative process.
Problems tend to arise when patients do not understand insurance-speak or waiting room ethics… and some admins tend be unaware that folks may need to be ‘socialized’ into appreciating the specialized tasks assigned to various members of the medical team: front desk reception (‘what is your birthdate, please’), intake nurse (what is your birthdate, please’), medical history admin, phlebotomist, x-ray tech, surgery scheduler (‘what is your birthdate, please’), co-payment processor – oh, and the physician or PA.
Since western medical practice is a symptom-oriented approach, specialists exist for every symptom. Your medical team wants to know (in addition to your birthdate) the names of your urologist, cardiologist, nephrologist, neurologist, oncologist, physiatrist (yes, that’s a thing), psychiatrist, ophthalmologist, dermatologist, proctologist, and pharmacist. In addition, your team will be pleased to hook you up with an anesthesiologist. Look at all the new friends! We may have not found the cure for COVID, but we have certainly cured loneliness in our lifetime!
Obviously, I speak with tongue-in-cheek, observing a rite of passage that people of a certain age must cleave to, or not survive past that certain age. We are fortunate to have excellent healthcare, even if at times the process gets in the way of the service. How nice it is to encounter the upbeat nurse, the skilled practitioner, or the pleasant fellow traveler… they keep us keepin’ on!
When I was in my forties I had a phone conversation with my colleague Jack. He asked about our health insurance coverage to see if I had any knowledge of reimbursement for a procedure he had scheduled. One thing led to another and soon we found ourselves immersed in a completely health-obsessed exchange of body parts, broken bones, previous illnesses, and surgeries. He paused, chuckled, and then said we sounded like two old men who talked about little else than their medical conditions – he called it the Organ Recital!
Ever since that day I remain observant when I find myself pulled into such a conversation and seek to make it more about gathering information rather than enjoying it as a new mode for social entertainment. And now Wal’s post reminds me that, in fact, I am an old man who will have more and more medical issues waiting for me on the horizon. The question remains how much of the “concert” I choose to participate in and/or listen to.
As Wal points out the challenges that lie ahead include more than just the condition of eroding body parts; they include the endless stream of paperwork, administrative error or incompetence, and waiting rooms that bombard us with a myriad of conversations and germs! I’m thinking that George’s approach from his previous post will likely serve him well; expect the worst and you’ll likely be surprised that it wasn’t as bad as you expected. And, as Wal reports, sometimes these conditions can lend themselves to pleasant surprises when we might experience highly respectful and efficient check-in and follow-up services and the opportunity to make a positive connection or two. I try to combine my optimism for the latter with preparedness for an experience that might require much patience and a Zen mind. After all, if this is the new normal for “Old Guys” then it makes sense to adapt and accept it.
I think the part that I have control over is whether I make these medical interventions a symphony I play in regularly or an intermittent recital I can leave behind when the visit is over. Perhaps if I choose to bring my playful and curious nature to this venue rather than become an organist playing and replaying the same old song, I might just continue to enjoy the music!
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”
-George Bernard Shaw
Everything is relative! I just had a major revelation about everyone’s fixation about my glass being half empty all the time. It just occurred to me to get a smaller glass and pour my concerns into it and magically my glass is FULL! Not half full but all full (say it slowly and enunciate so it doesn’t sound like ‘awful’) See? Relative!
In our youth our social life consisted of parties, big events and social gatherings! Every weekend was filled and work took up our weekdays! Life was busy and full (not half full), fun and laughter were the currency of those gatherings. Life was good! In our mid-life prior to the crisis, our social engagements quieted down slightly. Our social calendars were filled with weddings, christenings, work related parties, road clean ups. Life was getting softer, quieter and cozier. Life was comfortable if a little quieter.
The Golden Years, which sneaks up on you mercilessly, changes the nature of our social calendars. The weddings and christenings are finished for the most part, gatherings become less frequent but the one commonality we all face at this stage is the maintenance of our physical bodies. Life can become concerning. They say in your mid-fifties your ‘check engine light’ comes on and predicts the ailments and medications soon to be arriving at an organ in you! The friends you maintained over the years are in the same boat and remain faithful at your side, sympatico to what you are going through. Hence the conversations Henry refers to as organ recitals. Now here’s where my new revelation about my glass kicks in. You begin to see your week is filled with blood work, X-rays, appointments with specialists, Medicare physicals where you get extra credit if you remember the four special words in their right order! But as Wal pointed out, the new socializing opportunities are in the waiting rooms of all these new and exciting locations. New friendships develop as you run into the same person you met at your general practitioner’s office pops up the following week at your cardiologist’s office! “How is your son doing with the divorce?” Or “Social Security thinks you died? I have a friend that was declared dead by them and he had to be resurrected!” Meeting new people is always fun and the conversations are so much more interesting than in our youth. So you see, everything is relative! Just a little digression. Wal and I have the same general practitioner so I had to fill out that list of specialists as well, so after I listed my Cardiologist, Nephrologist, Dermatologist, Therapist, Orthopedist, in my snarkiest printing I added one that wasn’t on his list….I figured since they want to know everything about me I listed my Veterinarian too! The doctor asked me if I was trying to be wise and I told him I didn’t have to try, it came with old age…