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.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Relax, dudes

     I had planned to post this Sunday. Didn’t get it done. And that’s OK.
     What I was planning on writing about was learning to relax. So I did – relax, that is. And if that means missing a self-imposed deadline, so be it.
     I’d never miss a work deadline, of course. If other people are counting on you to come through, you must. Reliability and responsibility are important parts of life.
     But so, too, is learning to relax, especially as we get older. Time tends to rush by much faster than it did when we were young. Remember how long summer vacation used to seem? But now, it’s one thing right after another – fast, fast, fast – and developing an ability to relax a bit becomes an important part of survival. Stress is harmful, both mentally and physically. So make it a point to just step back, whenever you can, take a deep breath or two, and just let go. Realize that you shouldn’t sweat the petty stuff, and that much of life (with the exception of loved ones, serious illness and death) is petty stuff.
     That’s why I let this week’s deadline slide for a bit. I’m sorry if you were disappointed, but it’s more likely that you didn’t even notice. And I had a few more hours of relaxation as a result.
     Some experts recommend that everyone should spend at least five minutes each day in meditation, consciously relaxing. Sit quietly and clear your mind. I do that and I fall asleep. Guess I must be doing the relaxation thing really well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hello, Sunshine!

     I got a reminder last week about the importance of sunscreen.
     It was at my dermatologist’s office, but she didn’t have to remind me verbally. All she had to do was pull out her little liquid-nitrogen blowtorch and set to work freezing off all the incipient skin cancers on my face and body.
     Not fun. It hurts (although not nearly as bad as would letting those little blemishes turn into full-blown skin cancers). But it does give one pause.
     The cancers-in-the-making, as I’ve noted here previously, are caused by exposure to sunshine. You may have been exposed years and years ago, but the results pop up only now. And pop up. And will pop up again. I see the dermatologist twice a year as a result.
     When I was doing the George Hamilton tan dude routine all those years ago, not enough of us knew (or cared) about sun damage. I didn’t start using sunscreen until much later in life. I’m using it now, though, and how. Wouldn’t want this year’s sun damage to show up when I’m 90. And no, that’s not too old to care.
     Yes, doctors say we all need our Vitamin D, and that the best way to get it is from sunshine. I get my Vitamin D mostly from enriched milk, thank you. In warmer weather, I wear shorts and let my legs be exposed to sunshine – but briefly. And only the legs. They bear far less evidence of earlier sun damage than my face, ears, shoulders and the backs of my hands. And my nose. It must have been a real sun-magnet in my youth.
     Today, even if it’s cloudy, that schnoz is protected by sunscreen. Or, better yet, sunblock. (Neutrogena makes one with an SPF 55.)
     No more reminders needed.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hard To Swallow

     Boy, do we love pills. Too bad there aren’t any pills to make us smarter.
     Instead, we pop pills to lose weight, to grow hair, to get healthier without having to exercise or improve our diets, to do just about anything we can dream of. The problem is: Unintended consequences.
     Take me, for instance. I’d seen the ads and commercials for glucosamine. Helps the joints, they promised. My joints are getting a little creaky so I started taking glucosamine. And the next time I went in for my annual checkup, my blood test showed a spike in my glucose level. Not quite diabetes territory, but heading in that direction – a direction I’d never headed before.
     And then I began to think: Glucose. Glucosamine. Pretty similar. Could there be a connection? I checked with my doctor (which I should have done more carefully before), and stopped popping the glucosamine pills. Another blood test, and my glucose levels were back to what’s more normal for me.
     Lesson learned? Not entirely.
     I’d also read and heard a lot about Omega-3 fatty acids – how good they are for heart health and all that. These fatty acids are found in salmon and sardines, among other things. I like both fish, but I don’t eat them daily. Would a daily fish-oil pill do a better job? My doctor didn’t say no, so I started taking them.
     And then, last February, I had the hemorrhagic stroke I’ve written about here previously. In the absence of other causes, the doctors guessed that the prescription blood-thinners I’d been taking for hypertension and incipient heart disease may have contributed to the stroke. My super-thinned blood had leaked right through a small vein, causing a pool of blood inside my skull that, in turn, caused the stroke. And guess what: Fish-oil pills also act as blood thinners. I’d been exacerbating the process.
     So I’m not taking glucosamine or fish-oil pills any more. I’m not even that high on taking a daily multi-vitamin pill. Eating a well-balanced diet should be sufficient for most people’s needs. The vitamins and minerals in vitamin pills are extracted from natural sources, removed from the other source materials that could be making them work better if they were all left together.
     Self-prescribed pills are major industry. They’ve become a part of our “I want it now” culture.
     I’m just no longer on the bandwagon. Unless someone comes up with that make-you-smarter pill.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

To Your Health!

     Here’s a toast to the miracle health liquid you’d do well to drink a lot of: water.
     That’s right, just plain water. We’re fortunate enough to live in a country where good, clean water is as close as your tap, and it’s the best thing you can swallow to keep everything in your body working right. Our bodies are more than 90 percent water anyway, and it’s wise to keep your tank topped up.
     I’ve discovered that as I age, I need to pay more attention to hydration. I don’t recall thinking much about drinking sufficient water when I was younger, but in those days I wasn’t really thinking all that much about my health anyway. When everything is working, you take it for granted. But when you start developing the aches and pains of old age, you tend to smarten up. And drinking water is smart.
     Our bodies need sufficient water intake to keep the kidneys working properly, flushing out all the stuff that needs flushing. Take in too little water, and you can suffer dehydration, often more quickly than you think. The brain can get wobbly. The digestive system doesn’t work as well as it should. Some people have been known to become light-headed or pass out. We’ve all read of performers canceling shows because they were dehydrated – too loopy and dried out to physically perform. They were working too hard, being too busy, to think about keeping up their water intake, and they paid the price.
     I drink a big glass – 16 ounces -- of water every morning upon awakening. After all, my body has gone without the stuff for the previous eight hours or so. Then I make sure to drink another big glass during the morning, and another in the course of the afternoon. (Those ubiquitous plastic bottles of water can be handy, even though I dislike their effect on the environment, if you’re out and about without easy access to glasses; the bottles provide the measured amount you need.)
     That’s all it takes. No need to shell out for expensive potions or pills to “remove your toxins.” Three glasses of water, or their equivalent, every day do everything you need to accomplish that end. Oh, sure, you’ll need to keep a sharp eye on where the nearest toilets are. You’ll be peeing regularly. But you’ll be doing that more as you age anyway. Might as well have a good reason for it.
   So here’s to those three daily glasses, minimum. And if you want to have a little more water at the end of the day, with a dash of Scotch in it, that’s fine, too.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Balancing Act

     A well-balanced life is important. You know, both work and play, activity and rest, dessert and more dessert – that sort of thing.
     But having a body that can balance itself is important, too. The older we get, the harder it is to balance. Older people tend to fall. A lot. Some break hips (although it’s sort of a tossup whether you fall and break a hip or the hip breaks and you fall). None of that is good.
     So while you still have a sense of balance, it’s smart to exercise it. You’ll need it later. Trust me.
     I’ve never had much of a sense of balance. I’m just extremely fortunate that I’ve never been pulled over at a DUI checkpoint and asked to balance. Walk a straight line? Not that easy. Stand on one foot? Never happen. And that’s when I’m completely sober.
     Balance stems from a few things: a healthy inner ear, legs strong enough to keep the body balanced, and good feet to anchor the process. (I blame my feet for my problems – misshapen toes don’t always work all that well.). I’ve already written about the value of keeping your legs exercised. When those muscles go, you’re in trouble in so many ways. The inner ear? Everyone’s is a little different, but all benefit from overall good health. Eat, sleep and exercise well and most ears will see you though.
     There also are some easy exercises to do to keep your sense of balance working.
     1.  Stand next to a wall that you can use to steady yourself if necessary. Place one foot in front of the other, heel to toe. Hold that position for a count of 10. Then reverse feet and do it all over again. (It helps if you focus your gaze on a fixed point in front of you.)
When you get so good at this that the 10-count seems easy, then try it with your eyes closed. (You won’t have that fixed point to look at, but if you can keep one in your mind’s eye, it helps.)
     2.  Stand on one foot, lift the other off the ground, and hold that for a count of 10. Reverse feet and count again. Then follow the same eyes-closed routine when you get good. (It helps to have your feet on solid, level ground or flooring, not on carpet. Especially not on padded carpet, unless you relish a challenge.)
     3.  The Wii video game has a nifty variation on the stand-on-foot routine that involves rhythmically lifting the other leg and opposite arm, then reversing. My wife Geri is really good at this. I can only gaze in awe.
     Do those exercises regularly, and I think they’ll serve you well as you age. Critics still may call you unbalanced. But you’ll know better.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Breasts and Beards

     Funny things, hormones.
     When you’re adolescent, they kick in big time – and we can’t wait for them to do their stuff. Boys check the mirror each morning in search of whiskers to shave. Girls anticipate the hormones’ arrival with the lyric best expressed in “A Chorus Line” – “tits, when am I gonna grow tits?”
     The bodily changes happen and things pretty much stay the same through middle age. But as we get older, something strange occurs. The hormones are back. But the second time around, their effects are reversed.
     Women start getting a little more testosterone, perhaps to give them a hand with increased assertive behavior when they outlive their mates (as most women do) and have to run the show on their own. But with testosterone comes those whiskers the teenage boys were longing for. Older women become more hirsute. You may have noticed this when you kissed your grandmother and got whisker burn. The electric shaver becomes one of an older woman’s best friends.
     Men start getting more progesterone, perhaps to finally get us more in touch with our feminine side. We tear up in movies more easily, and don’t care who knows it. We seem to be more empathetic. And those tits? Yes, men start getting them, too.
     I didn’t notice at first that it was happening to me, because I was working out, lifting weights. “Man, look at those pecs!” I’d marvel. The weights must really be working.. But then I began working out less. My biceps and triceps pretty much returned to their pre-workout size. But the “pecs” stayed as is.
     Fortunately, I’m pretty lean of build so my man-boobs aren’t all that big. If you’re a heavier guy, though, you may want to consider slimming down some before your polo shirts start looking  as though they were designed for Dolly Parton.
     As I said, funny things, hormones. And funny thing, life. We start out in diapers. Boys grow whiskers. Girls grow breasts. Then women grow whiskers. Men grow breasts. And we ultimately end up in diapers again.
     All you can do is laugh.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Say What?

     I was going to write today about a couple of aspects of aging that few people talk about: breasts on men and whiskers on women. And then I started thinking. There are things that also aren’t being written, most specifically comments from you about this blog.
     Now a lot of you have said you enjoy what you’re been reading here. But you say it in emails to me or messages on Facebook or in our occasional face-to-face encounters. But actual comments from you on this Boomerometer blog? Not so much.
     Why is that? Under each posting there’s space for your comments. All it requires are a few keystrokes on your keyboard (or thumbstrokes if you’re using a smartphone). Couldn’t get much easier to express yourself. I wish you would.
     It’s not that I’m looking for praise, although I never turn that down. I actually can take criticism, too. That’s the nice thing about electronic communication. Nobody can see you sob until you pull yourself together.
     But what I’d really like to hear are your opinions on what I’ve written. What you’re thinking about on this journey through life together. What subjects you’d like to have me explore. What subjects you’d prefer that I keep my big nose out of. What’s up in general – have an actual online back-and-forth about your concerns. That would mean a lot to me. It might even be meaningful for you.
     And next week, I’ll get back to man-boobs and bearded ladies.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Testing 1-2-3

     It’s a darn good thing that we’re old enough to learn patience. If we weren’t, the constant, conflicting health recommendations from experts would drive us nuts.
     I’m thinking here about the recent guideline controversies regarding pap smears and PSA tests. I can’t speak from direct personal experience regarding pap smears. Their frequency has been called into question by people who fear we’re being over-tested and, as a result, made overly anxious. I just tend to think that I’d want as much information as possible about possible threats to my health.
     I can speak directly about the PSA tests that screen for prostate cancer, though. As readers of this blog know, I’ve had the tests. I’ve had prostate cancer. I don’t have it any more because I got treatment. You can figure that I take this a little personally. But please don’t discount what I’m about to say because of my perceived bias or conflict-of-interest. Use that patience thing.
     The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says it’s no longer recommending routine PSA tests for seemingly healthy men. It isn’t entirely clear, the task force says, whether the test leads to life-saving treatment. Many prostate cancers are extremely slow-growing. Something else may kill you first. Biopsies to determine if a guy actually has prostate cancer are medical procedures, and any medical procedure carries risks. Spikes in PSA readings can be caused by common things: a vigorous bike ride, an infection, recent sexual activity. And there’s that over-testing concern.
     Here’s my take: Don’t test seemingly healthy men? Prostate cancer exhibits no symptoms until it’s further along than you’d like. Prostate cancers can be slow growing? What if they’re not? What if they’re aggressive enough cause a spike in your PSA test? What if sex caused the spike in your reading? Ask for another blood test and stay out of the bedroom beforehand.
     And those over-testing concerns? It sure beats over-dying at the other end of that scale.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Don't Delay

     What made the folks dubbed by Tom Brokaw as “the Greatest Generation” so great? Well, they did win World War II, which isn’t shabby. But some experts theorize that they accomplished that – and as much as they did overall -- because they practiced deferred gratification. They were willing to put off getting what they wanted for themselves to make it easier for those who followed after them to get what that generation needed. Sacrifice now, enjoy later.
     But I’m not suggesting that you do the same thing.
     No, I’m not saying you should be like some of the subsequent generations who sought mainly instant gratification: “I want it now. I want what I want when I want it. Save for the future? That’s only for old people.” Way to self-centered.
     But you are older now, and there are things that you want. I think you should go after them. Not all of them, mind you – this is an “everything in moderation” suggestion – but certainly, go after some of them. You’re not getting any younger, and that’s the problem.
     Travel, for instance. If there’s a trip that you’ve been wanting to take, you probably should take it. While you still can. My wife and I just got back from a great tour of New Orleans. Doing it right required considerable walking. We had to climb or descend occasional flights of stairs to explore some of the city’s great old buildings. We had to have the stamina to get up early and party late, at least for a few days. We did it all. We had a ball. But there were some people on our tour who had put off going for too long. One woman needed to use a walker to get around, meaning that stairs and narrow passageways were impassable. Others had hip or knee problems, or tended to fade as the day got longer. Oh, sure, they had a good time. Just not as good as we did.
     So don’t delay all your gratification. Spend some of your kids’ college fund if need be – they’ll get by; it builds character – but get yourself out there. Do some of the things on your bucket list before you kick it.
     You may even want to emulate the dowager whose will, read at the end of a long and fruitful life, said simply of her estate: “Being of sound mind, I spent it.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hair Raising

     Getting older can be a hairy proposition. I mean that literally.
     Sure, some people actually seem to lose hair in the process. Men go bald. Women’s hair can become seriously thin, or their foreheads get higher and higher. It keeps wigmakers in business.
     But I suspect that we don’t actually lose hair. It just is sucked into our craniums somehow – sort of the way a gopher will pull one of your prize plants down into its hole – and the hairs pop out at other places on our bodies.
     Ears, for instance. Hair begins appearing on the inside edge of your ears, just above the lobe. If it isn’t trimmed back regularly, it could develop into such a tangle that you’d probably have trouble hearing. You’d certainly have trouble getting a hearing aid through the thicket.
     Eyebrows, too. The brows just start growing as if they have minds of their own. Women pluck them, as they’ve done for years, but now with greater intensity. Men tend to tame their brows with scissors (we have lower thresholds of pain, apparently, and plucking is no picnic). Let the brows go, of course, and you get the Andy Rooney effect. People looking at you may be able to detect your eyes under there somewhere, but don’t count on it. Clearly, Rooney is not self-conscious. Clearly, he is the exception.
     And then there are the hairs on chests and arms. All of them get longer. And longer. If we still lived in caves, only the elderly would have a chance at survival by weaving those arm and chest hairs into blankets. You thought those pictures of cavemen showed them wearing animal skins? Not so. They were growing their own animal skins.
     None of this is particularly pretty. None of this is particularly ugly. It just is what it is.
     Hairs to you.
     Hairs to us all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bad Stuff II

     As you get older, statistics indicate that one of the Big Three – cancer, stroke or heart attack – will get you.
     Well, I’ve already told you about my experience with prostate cancer. Now, let me tell you about my stroke.
     It happened in mid-February. I’d been having a persistent headache in my right temple, which a doctor diagnosed as a possible sinus/allergy reaction. But then, when I went for a shopping trip to Costco, the other shoe dropped. I tried to reach into my pocket to get out my Costco card, and found that I couldn’t. My left hand wasn’t working, I wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do. Uh, oh. Headache and paralysis – two of the warning signs. Instead of going shopping, my wife hustled me to the hospital instead.
     Walk into an emergency room, tell them you think you’re having a stroke, and lots happens fast. They quickly stuck my head into a CT scan machine, where it was discovered that there had been bleeding – a puddle of blood at the temple where I’d felt the headache – that was affecting my left hand. I was given anti-seizure medication (the paralysis was diagnosed as a non-convulsive seizure), plus medication to reduce that blood puddle, and taken to the ICU for overnight evaluation.
     Subsequent brain scans showed the bleeding had stopped. It took awhile for the docs to get the proper balance of meds to keep my symptoms from recurring, but eventually they did. If the bleeding had continued, they would have had to go to Plan B – drilling into my skull to drain the blood – but that never became necessary. Good thing. I didn’t need another hole in my head.
     I had no recollection of bumping my head, which might have caused the bruise on my brain. It may have been that blood-thinning medication I’d been on to forestall heart problems had been contributory. No way of knowing for sure.
     But what I do know is that today I am symptom-free. The blood puddle has been reabsorbed. My left hand works the way it did before the stroke. The medication – and getting to the ER in a hurry – did the trick. If my stroke had been caused by a clot, and if I’d also gotten to the ER within three hours, they would have used TPA, a drug that busts clots, and I’d be in the same good shape afterward as I am now.
     The take-away from all this:
     Recognize the symptoms of stroke: sudden numbness of face or limbs, sudden severe headache, sudden dizziness or loss of balance, sudden difficulty speaking or understanding, sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes. You don’t need to have all of them. Any two will do.
     And if that happens, call 911 or get to a stroke center ER within three hours. Don’t put it off or hope you’ll get better. You will get better – but only if you get prompt help.
    So for me, that’s two out of the Big Three, and I’m still up and kicking. If I ever do have a heart attack, I hope I’ll be able to tell you about that afterward, too.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Get a Leg Up

     I don’t remember when I lost my ability to hunker. I only know that I can’t hunker any more, and I miss it.
     You know what a hunker is, right? That’s the sort of squat where you sit on your heels, knees bent. Kids, Native Americans and rural folks from the South and West are sort of famous for hunkering. They do it with no sweat. But now, when I try to hunker I find that I can’t. It’s too painful on my knees, and I don’t have the leg strength to get back up.
     I wish I’d worked harder at maintaining that leg strength when I was younger. Without legs that work well, you’re in danger of all sorts of bad things. Being too sedentary is bad for your health. Worse yet, a friend of mine has lost the use of her legs altogether – they’re just too weak now – and has become bedridden. Not many good outcomes follow that.
     So my wife and I now walk everywhere we can. We climb 10 flights, of 15 stairs each, every morning at home, weather permitting, and when it’s raining, I’m pedaling on my stationary bike instead. When I visit an office building, I try to use the stairs there, too. As I said, I’ve lost too much leg strength, and I’m trying to maintain and build up what’s left.
     I’d recommend that you keep your legs in mind, too. Use them. A lot. Get up out of your chair without using your arms (leaning forward is the key). Hit the gym when you can. Do laps around the block. Swimming is good, too. Get those muscles working regularly. Don’t take anything for granted.
     And don’t just sit there. Unless you still can hunker, in which case do that repeatedly as often as you can for as many years as you can. I guarantee you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Take Care

     Having medical insurance is a big deal.
     In an earlier posting, I told about being operated on for prostate cancer. You can’t just walk into the Emergency Room and say, “Well, I have prostate (or breast or any other kind of ) cancer” and expect to have it taken care of, no sweat.. It’s going to cost you. Plenty.
     I recall once having foot surgery late in the day. I was still too woozy to handle the crutches when it was over, so the doc recommended that I spend the night in the hospital and then go home the next morning. When I saw the hospital’s bill for that – a bed for the night and a ham sandwich for dinner – I was astounded. It was as if my entire family had checked into a suite at the Ritz-Carlton, ordered room service and then completely cleaned out the mini-bar.
     Fortunately, I was still employed when my foot and cancer were treated. The medical insurance that my employer and I paid into took care of the bills. That’s one reason I continued working as long as I did, to age 70, to have that insurance guarantee. Having medical insurance helps you sleep better at night, ham sandwich or no.
     So I’d recommend doing whatever it takes for you to get and keep medical insurance while you’re working. And, if you can, put some money aside for when you’re not. Once you retire, you’re still going to need supplemental insurance to cover what Medicare doesn’t. Without such insurance, the gap between what Medicare pays for and what you’ll owe the medical establishment can be substantial. You wouldn’t want a serious illness to completely wipe out the finances of you and your family.
     Which insurance plan is best? That’s your call. I only know what I’d want for myself in the best of all possible worlds.
     No, not the Democrats’ Obamacare. No, not the Republicans’ Wedon’tcare. What I’d really want is Congresscare. Right. I want the medical insurance that our Representatives and Senators give themselves. I want the medical insurance that’s good enough for John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and Michele Bachmann and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi. If it’s good enough for them, it should be good enough for us, the taxpayers who’re footing the bill. They’re not better than we are, are they? I don’t think I’m better than they are. Equality is all I ask, one citizen to another.. Fair’s fair. I’m not greedy.
     And until they’re willing to give us that, or a reasonable equivalent, I’d like to have them all just shut up.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bad Stuff

     Getting older, unfortunately, can be more than just a series of aches and pains, skim blotches and gray hair. Sometimes major Bad Stuff happens.
     Prostate cancer, for example. I had my encounter with the Big C when I was still in my sixties. I went in for my annual checkup – something everyone needs to do, no exceptions -- and the doc said there appeared to be a spike in my PSA (prostate specific antigen) reading. A subsequent biopsy confirmed that I had a cancerous tumor in my prostate gland. Not the sort of news you want to hear.
     If I’d had that diagnosis later – this year, for example, when I’m 75 – and the cancer appeared to be slow-growing, I probably wouldn’t do anything about it. The medics figure that something else would probably kill me first, before the prostate cancer had a chance. But my diagnosis came earlier, the cancer was fast-growing, and something had to be done. So I checked my options.
     The good news is that there are a number of options. The bad news is that there are a number of options. There’s not one clear favorite, and all can have unpleasant side effects, most commonly incontinence and impotence. In this instance, the I’s definitely don’t have it.
      One option is implanting radioactive seeds in the prostate. Another is bombarding the tumor with highly-targeted beams of radiation, guided by a different type of implants. There’s also surgical removal of the prostate, and the tumor with it.
I chose the latter, with the operation performed by a top surgeon who specializes in keeping connected as many of the nerves around the prostate as possible.
     Major surgery never is fun, but mine worked. For the past 12 years, my tests have come back cancer free. No more doctors need to put on that rubber glove. I don’t need to wear adult diapers. I’ll never be a father again (no prostate, no sperm), but I wasn’t planning to be. And all my important other equipment still works, although it occasionally takes a nudge from Levitra. Never thought I’d be paying for sex, pill by pill, but it’s worth it.
     My major take-away from this is the importance of those yearly checkups, no matter your gender. I’ve heard people say, “Oh, they scare me. I don’t want to hear any bad news.” Believe me, the scarier news would be to hear, “Yes, you have cancer but it’s too late to fix. If only we’d caught it earlier.”
     Cancer isn’t a death sentence if discovered in time. Take the Bad Stuff seriously.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Skin Game II

     I don't want you to think that I'm hung up on skin in this Preview of Coming Distractions, but hey, skin is the largest organ in the human body. Here in California, we show a lot of it, not that there's anything wrong with that. But that means you'll need to take into account two things: sunscreen and hats.
     I didn't use sunscreen when I was younger. There wasn't sunscreen, except the white zinc oxide used only by lifeguards. As a result, the sun -- that big, bright, beautiful ball of radiation -- did a number on my skin that I'm now seeing in my later years. Small, reddish spots appear on my hide, or rough patches. My dermatologist tells me that these are keratoses: -- sun damage that, if left untreated, could turn into something more serious, like cancer. So twice a year she zaps my fair Teutonic skin with what looks like the kind of blowtorch that chefs use to brown creme brulee. Actually, the blowtorch contains liquid nitrogen. It freezes my keratoses off. Not all that pleasant while it's happening, but necessary.
     And now I wear sunscreen, of course. So should you -- at least SPF 40 or above, I'm told. It should prevent any further damage to your tender epidermis. Doesn't do a thing for the damage already done, unfortunately. It's cumulative. The keratoses will continue to appear, like reminders of good times gone bad.
     Sometimes,  the spots turn out to be basal cell carcinoma. That's actual cancer. It requires surgery to remove, but dermatologists and plastic surgeons today are very good at that. I show no scars,  nor should you.
     The worst kind of skin cancer is melanoma. Hope you never get it. Use that sunscreen. Have all suspicious spots looked at by a pro.
     And hats. You may be noticing that the hair on your head isn't as thick as it once was. If it's there at all. Wearing hats outdoors will keep the sun off that pate of yours. Wide-brimmed hats keep the sun off your ears, too, which are often overlooked targets for sun damage (as are the backs of your hands). Wearing baseball-style caps the right way keeps the sun off your face, at least. Wearing them backwards does nothing except make you look somewhat dim.
     And I mentioned in a previous post that I wished I'd invested 10 years ago in a company that would make body lotion for men's dry skin. Missed that window of opportunity. But today I'd like to suggest someone invent a leave-in hair conditioner that has a 40 SPF. Rub it on your head, it makes your hair behave and keeps your scalp safe from the sun without a hat. I'd invest in that. Let's get rich together.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 75, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 65. 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.

Such as:

DRY SKIN: You're probably noticing that yours isn't as baby-soft as it was when, well, you were a baby. I started seeing this when I was 65. Actually, my dermatologist saw it first. "Man, you're really dry," she told me. "Start using a lotion. Please!" She was looking at my shins at the time, seeing the pile of dry skin flakes around my ankles that had fallen when I took off my socks. Embarrassing. Women typically take better care of their skin, using all sorts of oils, lotions and unguents that advertisers bombard them about. Men, not so much. But we need just as much help. I thought at the time it would be smart for me to buy stock in a cosmetic company that would offer dry-skin lotion for men. Get in early, get a big hunk of market share by the time the baby boomers came along. But I didn't, and I'm still kicking myself (in my now, not-so-dry shins). Some companies now have started selling men's lotions, and I could have had a part of that. Darn. I use a body lotion all over, every day, right after my shower. One called Cetaphil works for me. It has no scent, so I don't end up smelling like a fragile flower. Maybe it would work for you, but there are a lot of choices. The big thing is: Use the lotion. Make your dermatologist happy. Make yourself happy by not being so itchy in strange places (like the aforementioned shins). And then maybe your spouse won't enter you in a flower show exhibit as a dried arrangement.