Take a gander at the old guy in the mirror ...
It kind of creeps up on you, doesn’t it? Aging, I mean. Until the arthritis hits, or the dosette starts to fill up, you hardly notice it, writes Dave Davis.
|The secret to aging well, to living healthily as long as we can is laughing every day, according to Dave Davis. - Gary Yokoyama,The Hamilton Spectator file photo|
The cake was as big as a little kid's toboggan, large enough to hold a long greeting, something like, "Happy Birthday to a Grand Old Man!" with little candy-grams of fireworks, and champagne bubbles on top. There were dozens and dozens of candles, too many to count, enough to warm the room. They certainly warmed your heart. We were in one of Burlington's first modern nursing homes, and the birthday celebrant was a much-loved grand old man, my patient. I'll call him Mr. Andrews.
He was turning 100, as in a hundred years old. Quite a milestone. He was triple my age at the time.
He was a little guy, maybe five-foot-nothing when I got to know him, the burr in his voice telling me he had grown up in Scotland (the wee north he said; the Shetlands, I think). You could almost see him wearing a kilt. I loved talking to him. The day before he joked with me that he had achieved a lifelong dream — to be a "dirty" old man, easily forgiven for off-colour jokes and even behaviour because of his age. He wasn't a dirty old man, not off-colour or inconsiderate of others in the least. Instead, he was one of the nicest, with-it men I've known, without an unkind bone in his body. And funny. His conversation was peppered with phrases that began with, "Have you heard the one about ..." His daughter, then in her late 70s, said, "He laughs every day. That's the secret."
The secret to what?
The secret to aging well, to living healthily as long as we can. That year, I watched a famous geriatrician as she demonstrated the hoped-for lifeline of the elderly — the goal of geriatrics, maybe all medical care. It was a graph, with two axes, the horizontal displaying years of life, and the vertical, which portrayed quality of life and freedom from illness or disability. The goal, she said, was to keep the quality of life line as high as possible, as long as possible, into our 90s or, like Mr. Andrews, even beyond. The evidence is stronger all the time about longevity and maintaining that vertical line: don't smoke; watch your diet, particularly red meat, sugar and salt; and, especially, exercise. Studies vary but the bottom line (pun intended) is get up off your duff. Walk. Don't take the elevator if it's only one or two flights. Leave the car at home when you head to the corner store. Take yoga or tai chi. Get a dog and walk him. Park as far away from the Costco door as you can. Like that.
For sure, there are lots of stories of the old that don't abide by these rules and live to be centurions like Mr. Andrews. You've probably read about some guy who lived to be 150 somewhere in the Ural Mountains. The guy who smoked like, I don't know, a dozen cigars, and knocked back 12 fried eggs and a large pig, all before lunch. Every day. OK, maybe 10 eggs. They're the exception though, and maybe they count years differently in the Urals, who knows?
It kind of creeps up on you, doesn't it? Aging, I mean. Until the arthritis hits, or the dosette starts to fill up, you hardly notice it. Out of the blue (well, kind of) my grandsons are now as tall as their grandma.
And I have other reminders. This summer, I met up with a handful of my former med school classmates, all guys (50 years ago, guys were just about all you got in a med school class; pity). We had a great lunch, one-part reminiscing (remember the surgeon who used to ...), one-part catching up (what ever happened to old Harry?). I enjoyed the lunch; these are awesome guys, friends from The Day. As the meal progressed though, I indulged in a little internal bragging. There they were — older, balder, greyer, heavier — as I was thinking, "Damn, Dave, look how they've aged. You, on the other hand, you're still looking pretty good!" Until, that is, we stood up to leave. I happened to glance in a mirror I hadn't seen when I was sitting down. There, in the mirror that framed all of us, I saw a new guy, standing with my old classmates — an older, grayer, balder, fatter guy — right in the middle of the group. A little stooped. Me. Damn.
Old Mr. Andrews would probably have made a joke about the guy in the mirror.
PS: By the way, I'm pretty sure Mr. A. got to celebrate his 106th birthday, though maybe my memory doesn't resemble reality very much. It happens when you get older.
Dave Davis, MD, is a retired family doc and medical educator. His first novel, "A Potter's Tale," published by Story Merchant Books, Los Angeles, is available on Amazon in Canada, CA and the US. You can visit him at www.drdavedavis.com, or follow him @drauthor24.
Dave Davis, MD, is a retired family doc and medical educator. His first novel, “A Potter’s Tale,” published by Story Merchant Books, Los Angeles, is available on Amazon in Canada, CA and the US. You can visit him at www.drdavedavis.com, or follow him @drauthor24.