If I'd known I Was Going to Live This Long I Would Have Taken Better Care of Myself
Eighty is either the new 60 these days--or the new 90.
I often wonder who I would be today if I’d never smoked, exercised regularly and kept my weight down. I probably would still have my own teeth and might be able to walk a mile unassisted instead of a block with a cane or walker. I might be healthy instead of having a string of deadly diseases. Or maybe not.
My mother was a heavy smoker although she gave it up at 40, as did I, but I’m the one who got the smoking-related diseases. It pisses me off that she was still running around like a teenager in her 80s while I’m not even 80, and I can’t get off the couch. She had arthritis in her hands. I have it everywhere. I got lung cancer, she didn’t. I got COPD, she didn’t. I don’t know who to blame for Type 2 diabetes, I’m the only one in my family to get it.
The one ailment I can’t blame myself for I blame her for—or at least her genes. We both got heart disease-- aortic stenosis—but she got it later, at 85. Me—75. I had the advantage of modern medicine however, so had an easy-peasy minimally invasive heart valve replacement while she had open heart surgery which was the beginning of the end for her.
She was a phenomenon in her early 80s, the liveliest and most active of all her friends. They all were in awe of her energy and expected her to outlive them. The grim reaper had other plans. Mom got Alzheimer’s at 85 and died at 87.
I feel the sword of Dementia hanging over me as well. No sign yet except for not remembering what I went into a room for, and forgetting words I always knew. Names are a total blank. But I was never good at names. The odds aren’t good. Thirty-two percent of people over 85 get dementia and I can’t believe I’m going to be in the 68% who don’t, considering my health history. The only comfort is that my making it to 85 at all is a long shot.
Eighty is either the new 60 these days. Or the new 90. Either you’re going to be a “super-ager” like my friend Jill who is my age—79—and has NOTHING wrong with her—or you’re going to be a cash cow for the medical profession, like me. Jill actually texted me a while back and asked what she should do about acid reflux. She was having heartburn for the first time in her life. I told her to take Tums. She’d never heard of them. But then Jill had no bad habits when young—or now--and is athletic by nature. She may wind up as one of those 95-year-olds who are still jogging.
That’s the thing about aging. We all start out on a level playing field, but at some point we diverge. At 30 we’re all in pretty good shape, even at 40 or 50. By 60 or 70 gaps appear. Some folks are still spry and others are becoming frail. Of course, that doesn’t account for the ones who died suddenly along the way of heart attacks, strokes or other killer events—including medical malfeasance, like Joan Rivers.
My friends look at me with awe because I refuse to die, despite my all my potentially fatal diseases. There’s no good explanation. You can’t chalk it up to a positive attitude since I’m the queen of doom and gloom, or to how much I meditate which is not at all. I eat whatever I want, which is admittedly not a whole lot anymore. I’m not living for my grandchildren or children or husband since I don’t have any. My most intimate relationships are with Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and Amazon Prime.
I chalk my longevity up to sheer orneriness and medical know how. I’m eking out more years with the help of modern medical science. I am very good at doctor dice. I know how to pick them.
We all fool ourselves that we have control over our own lives and our own deaths. We don’t. No one forgoes smoking or drinking or runs marathons at 30 because they want to live to 100. They do it because they have no interest in cigarettes or alcohol and they enjoy Pilates or running marathons or hot yoga or whatever. They eat in moderation because that’s all the food they want. There’s altogether too much judgement attached to being fit.
So, is there a moral here? Yes of course but not for the old. It’s already too late for us to have taken better care of ourselves. And young people won’t listen because they don’t think they’ll ever get old.
So don’t bother blaming yourself. You wouldn’t have done it any differently even if you knew you were going to live this long.