The absolute joy of finding competent care you don't have to go to battle for in America
Sarah leaned back and chuckled. "You're a beast, we got it," she laughed. I laughed with her. I didn't need her to say that, however it's nice to be acknowledged as someone whose relationship to health is a full-on commitment. I had fired a previous Cranky Old White Man podiatrist who refused to listen, was rude and condescending. Sarah's calendar was booked out three months when I was looking for a podiatrist many months ago, and I needed immediate care.
Sarah's in the market for a health partner. She's got one. I fire any doctor who can't deal with a smart older woman who has done her research, done the field work to test out orthotics and shoes (or whatever) and expects a treatment plan, a program of care, what the ups and downs are, the parameters of the risks and every other consideration in order to make competent health decisions.
Over the last four or five years as the injuries have added up, I've fired a lot of specialists. My patience has worn thin with arrogance and the inability to listen. So when I find a really good doc, I do backflips.
Sarah's a pistol. My kind of doctor. Funny and smart and no-nonsense.
By this point I had done all the things I needed to do, I had all my data, and our conversation was swift and easy. She took x-rays. I knew what she was seeing. While we need an MRI to confirm, the injuries are past the point of conservative care. Now only one was left: Surgery.
DAMN IT. More recovery and more PT. OY.
However, like the two shoulder surgeries and all that I've been juggling these past three years, it's fine-tuning. I am damned rough on this body. When a 2500-lb horse repeatedly plants his pie pans on my punkin feet without warning, something has to give. They did.
Now those bones have to be fused if I am going to keep running, hiking, biking, climbing and riding. It's just that simple. Figure three months down, and yes my left hand will also be down in a cast. It's going to be hugely entertaining for a few months.
This is what it's going to take for me to keep playing at a high level. My personal Beast Mode is of course changing, but if I plan to keep hard charging at the level I love, while also learning to accommodate a body that has been injured repeatedly, then that means I take the time to fix, mend and heal. I've been doing a lot of that lately.
After twelve years of very hard adventuring, none of this is a surprise. I manage my health very directly sometimes in spite of morons who see a number and talk to me like I'm their great grandmother rather than getting ready to climb another very big mountain.
But this isn't just about me. This is about all of us.
Over the years I've written for Medium, many men and women past a Certain Age have shared a horror story about how someone has treated them. This is going to get a lot worse, not just because there are going to be a lot more of us....
but also because of greed. The medical/pharmaceutical industrial complex has been making money hand over fist, at the cost of our collective health and welfare:
With some 42% of us in medical debt and costs continuing to rise, more and more of us may end up in the welfare end of the medical system as we age. There, as some friends of mine have found, the care is even more execrable, given that the best of the best tend to charge the most, usually at the other end of town.
So it's not just that it feels wonderful to have a really positive exchange with a caregiver who recognizes who we are without making genuinely irritating assumptions about our capacity or our ability. That's a breath of fresh air. But it's also earned.
Except for the occasional jerk, my providers appreciate working with someone who cares about their health. That's true for all of us, and it's just one of many reasons I pound this drum so much and so often. I am lucky, because I have care in the first place from the VA, which has its own issues, but it's still care.
You and I can only be in Beast Mode for our entire lives if two things happen: first, we mind our health in ways that most Americans don't. Too many lean heavily into health care as though doctors can fix them with a pill and avoid all personal responsibility, which simply causes more illness and dependency. That's on us.
Second, we need enough good docs who are either gerontologists or who can deal appropriately with those of us of an age who don't fit the stereotypes. Plenty of you Saga Readers are in that category, and you know who you are.
America's beleaguered doctors and nurses need a safe workplace, but we also need a competent care system. We have neither.
There are things that help.
I've done my level best to be fun to work with. Do my homework. Know basic terms. Show up healthy and happy to do the hard labor to get back in shape. Have a sense of humor about the aging body. That doesn't always work. When it doesn't, that doctor isn't a good partner. In the previous podiatrist's case, he comes across as old, bitter and needing to retire. Sarah likes spicy patients she doesn't have to cajole, mother or bark at in order to get them to take better care of themselves.
She likes Beasts, which means we'll get along just fine. I like a doctor who likes Beasts. They end up being terrific health partners, as long as they don't try to tell the doctor their business. Understanding the line is part of partnership.
When you and I respect their expertise and our doctors respect our own knowledge of our bodies, and we also respect the inherent limitations in each others' points of view and the opportunities to learn from each other, then it gets fun.
I will say it again: IT GETS FUN.
I release my caregivers from the expectation they are god incarnate and they release me from the expectation I'm an idiot about my body.
Now we can work and play together and find a path to success. And that can indeed be fun.
What's your Beast Mode? You don't have to run marathons, except you already are. It's called longevity. It's the longest race we will ever run.
However we do this, for those of us who have to run the obstacle course of health care either as a doctor or nurse or on the other side as patient, the best way forward that I see is to make friends first.
If you cannot see a way to laugh with your doc, walk out. Why?
First, because what scares us, owns us. A healthy relationship with the body allows you and me to laugh at what shrivels, goes gray and falls out or rolls under the desk to grow beards, then skulk away into the closet to peer out at the next generation.
Second, because you are both flawed and failed human beings, as are we all, and both capable of miracles.
The true miracle of healthcare happens when the two of us come together in partnership.
To that, a quick lesson in Latin.
Doctore means to teach.
Discere means to learn, and is the root word for discern as well as discipline, something that more than a few of you are also intimately familiar with when it comes to our health.
We, the captains of our own skin suits, have to teach the doctors what we know about our bodies, and reveal what we don't. They, the wielders of available potential cures, have to teach us what we need to do, the steps we need to take, and how to help them make miracles in the remarkable magic of our physiology.
Given the embarrassingly limited knowledge of nutrition in the medical community, it is our job to get educated on what works for our own unique physiology when it comes to food. That means do the research, find a nutritionist who is a trusted partner, experiment and attend what happens. This becomes considerably more important as we age, and our bodies need more work, better food and more attention.
Good health isn't a miracle. It's our birthright and the body's natural setpoint. That setpoint allows me to recover when my body needs shop work, and that setpoint allows all of us to enjoy, not dread, longevity.
That's worth fighting for, in my book. When we do, we make ourselves fun allies and great health partners. We establish a safe space for our providers. That gives them plenty of motivation to be our enthusiastic advocates for shining good health in a system designed to profit off our sickness.
We are designed to be healthy our entire lives. As we age that takes more work, and better partners. It always and forever begins with us.
Dear Walkabout Saga Reader:
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