Preview of Your Coming Attractions

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 76, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 66. My very average body has had a lot of experiences in those 10 years. I've learned a lot that could be helpful to people just starting on that same path -- what to do, what to avoid, what to keep an eye on.. Consider me your canary-in-the-coalmine for the boomer generation. Tune in regularly for the heads-up advice.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How It's Going

     You know how older people get. You ask them a simple question – “How’s it going?” – and you run the risk of getting a 20-minute dissertation on all their health problems. Way TMI.
     That being said, though, I fear that I haven’t been following my own advice about “How’s it going?” brevity much lately. A lot of these blog postings  have been health related. My health.
     That’s natural, of course. Most of us think our problems are pretty darn interesting. In my case, my problems and their solutions constitute the reason for this blog. Things have happened to me that may well happen to you, too. I want you to be prepared, not surprised.
     Still, I don’t want to be hypocritical.  I don’t want to be one of those geezers who bore friends to tears with too much detail about the workings of my innards. I want you to keep asking me, “How’s it going?” without fear.
     So I’ll simply say that I’m having surgery tomorrow to repair or replace a valve in my heart. It may leave me slightly out of touch for a while. I’ll write about it – briefly – when I’m back.
     How’s it going? That’s how.

Monday, August 13, 2012

No Fear Here

     There have been all sorts of scary predictions about what will happen to patients once Obamacare goes fully into effect. But if it’s anything like the current care offered by Kaiser Permanente, maybe the fears are misplaced. Consider my recent experience with Kaiser after I noticed I was having some heart irregularity and shortness of breath.
     Fear: It’ll take forever to see your regular doctor.
     Reality: I emailed my doctor with my symptoms and was given an appointment that same day. She slapped me in the hospital for treatment of atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure.
     Fear: It’ll take forever to see a specialist.
     Reality: I was treated while hospitalized by a hospital doctor and a cardiologist, and an appointment was made with a cardiac surgeon.
     Fear: You’ll be denied the use of the latest medical devices.
     Reality: I was given an EKG while hospitalized and a CT scan with contrast immediately after my release. I’m scheduled for a cardiac catheterization and another EKG in the immediate future.
     Fear: Medical decisions affecting me will be made by bureaucrats.
     Reality: The doctors with whom I’ve spoken directly, not faceless bureaucrats or insurance company executives, thus far have made all medical decisions.
     Fear: Remember those “death panels?”
     Reality: It has been decided that I need heart surgery to repair a malfunctioning mitral valve that seems to be the source of my problems. This decision was made by my cardiac surgeon after discussing the situation with me. My age (76) and current state of health are good enough to make a positive outcome seem likely. Had I been older or my health worse, a surgical decision also would have been agreed upon by my surgeon and me.
     That’s the story so far. I’m scheduled for non-invasive valve repair/replacement surgery at the end of the month. I’ll let you know how that turns out. But if this were Obamacare – and run on the model established by Kaiser Permanente, -- I’d still have no fears.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

You Gotta Have Heart

My apologies for taking so long to get this post up. You see, I’ve had a couple of adventures.
     The first was a two-week trip to Switzerland with my wonderful wife Geri, a celebration of our 50 years of marriage. (More about that in the “Something Different” section to the right).
     The second was what happened to me during and after that trip. (More about that below.)
       For all of the vacation, I was feeling somewhat out of breath. I figured that was because of the altitude – we got up to 11,000 feet – and the excitement of seeing so many beautiful things. But when I got back home to sea level and the shortness of breath persisted, I thought I probably should call my doctor. I did, she agreed, and promptly slapped me into the hospital for four days of treatment for atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure. Those last three words shocked me. I figured you only heard them in conjunction with an obituary.
     Turns out congestive heart failure can be a process, as well as a single, final event. In my case, those two weeks of shortness of breath and irregular, rapid heartbeat were signs that something needed serious fixing.
     Medication brought the heart rate back into the ballpark. But it seems the cause of all my problems is the mitral valve in my heart. I’ve had mitral valve prolapse all my life – for me, it’s congenital – and now, after 76 years, that valve is starting to act too funky for my own good.
     It needs repair, which is scheduled for the end of this month via non-invasive surgery. I’ll let you know how everything turns out.
     But your main take-away from all this should be the reminder that if anything seems amiss in your life, health wise, call your doctor. Don’t delay. Get it fixed.
     I wouldn’t want to read about congestive heart failure in your obituary.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Getting Ahead

We’ve all read the medical advice that we need to stimulate and exercise our brains in order to keep them working right. Not doing so could lead to memory loss and a few other things I forget.
     So I’ve been consciously working on crossword puzzles and other word games to keep the old bean in tune. But now, it seems that’s not enough.
     Those medical experts are saying that we constantly need to give our brains new things to work on. Crossword puzzles are fine, but they’re not enough. Some of the tips I’ve read recently include:
     Take up violin if you already play piano.
     Learn to speak another language.
     If you’re a crossword puzzle pro, switch to Sudoku.
     Use your non-dominant hand to write or brush your teeth.
     Play board or computer games that activate strategic, spatial and memory skills.
     Dance. Intricate choreography is good for both body and brain.
    It seems I’m not through, that I need to upgrade my brain workouts. So here’s my plan:
     I don’t like Sudoku, so I’ve been brushing my teeth with my left hand. I’m going to be traveling for a couple of weeks, so I’ll brush up my rudimentary skills in French, Italian and German. And when I get back, I’ve got to start doing what I’ve long said I was going to do: learn to play the piano (or, for starters, at least learn to read music).
     My head’s tired already. How about you? 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Insure Your Future

     No matter your political leanings, Boomers, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding medical insurance reform has been a winner. It has you thinking about medical insurance. You need it. You need it more than any other segment of our population.
     As we get older – and yes, you Baby Boomers are getting older in larger numbers than any other single segment of our population – we need more medical care.  Bodies begin breaking down, despite your best efforts to keep it otherwise. You will find yourself needing to take more pills than at any other time in your life, just to break even. You’ll need more preventive care. You’ll need more medical procedures to repair what doesn’t get prevented.
     All of this costs money. Lots of money. Without medical insurance, the expense would eat up any savings you have in a heartbeat. A heartbeat you need to keep monitored, by the way – and that’s another expense.
     So get that medical insurance (I have Kaiser, and find it works well for me). But get it. It’s a must for your peace of mind and body. The United States does have the best health care in the world, but only for those who can afford it. For most of us, that means medical insurance
     And please, none of that silly bleating that the government mandating that you get health insurance somehow robs you of your patriot freedom. Our citizens have always joined together to jointly face common problems, be it the draft in all-out wartime to Social Security in time of economic turmoil, not to mention the taxes that enable us to jointly support our schools and highways and police and fire departments and all the rest. The fabric of our nation has somehow managed to survive.
     Being told you must get health insurance robs you only of the freedom to be stupid and the freedom to be selfish – stupid to procrastinate about getting something vitally necessary and selfish to expect the rest of us to foot your medical bills if you are uninsured.  
     If you want to worry about freedom, worry that the United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other country in the entire developed world. But worry while you’re medically insured.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Look at This

     As we get older, our brains age along with us. We sometimes forget things. I’ll tell you what eventually. It’ll come to me, I know.
     But not to worry. The brain is an amazing thing. You can see that by reading the message below:
7H15 M3554G3
53RV35 7O PR0V3
D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5!
1MPR3551V3 7H1NG5!
1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG
17 WA5 H4RD BU7
N0W, 0N 7H15 LIN3
R34D1NG 17
W17H 0U7 3V3N
7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17,
C3R741N P30PL3 C4N
R3AD 7H15.
      Cool, huh? Your brain performs a work-around, just as we do to fix computer problems. Don’t have all the letters available? The brain makes us recognize some numbers as letters, given their similar shape. It can perform similar work-arounds for people who’ve had strokes or for those who body parts have lost connection with the control room over time. It requires some concentration, but it works.
     And now I remember what I was going to say: That’s reassuring.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

No Guarantees

     You’ve probably noticed by now that a lot of my posts have to do with health – thoughts on keeping it, enhancing it, worrying about it, that sort of thing. But please note that those are only thoughts, not warranties.
     Let me explain:
     I recently learned that a friend has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the adult-onset kind. She was surprised. I was surprised. She is lean, exercises regularly and rigorously, watches her diet. She is exactly the person who, statistically, is least likely to get diabetes. She got it anyway.
     That made me think of all the non-smokers who have contracted lung cancer. They did the right thing, avoided tobacco, and got the disease anyway.
     And remember Jim Fixx, the runners’ guru, who convinced thousands that jogging and running would help them avoid such health problems as heart attacks? He died of a heart attack. While running,
     I don’t bring up any of this, of course, to suggest that practicing good health habits is futile. Not in the least. But a great many of us persist in thinking that if we just do all the right things all the time we’ll somehow avoid all health problems. Doing the right thing is the right thing to do, all right. It increases your odds of a good outcome. But it can’t insure that. You have to be philosophically realistic if you want to avoid going bonkers.
     This is life. There is no magic bullet to prolong it. So just enjoy every day that you have to the absolute maximum.
     There are no guarantees.