How choosing the right healthcare providers for you as you age, if you have the choice, can ensure a vibrant aging process
Dr. Plummer, who is well over six feet, massively muscled and a serious athlete, showed me his right ankle. Not long ago he had broken it. Now healed, he was already back to doing hoops, and he was humble-bragging that he was leaping higher than ever.
The doc is 48. An age where a great many Americans are complaining about how old they feel and what they can't do any more in their dotage.
I leapt off the table, not to be outdone, straightened my legs (one foot was in a big boot to protect my busted toe) and showed off how, after I had broken my back in 2017 in a horse accident in Kazakhstan, I could bend over and press my face into my knees with my legs straight.
I'm 67. An age where a great many Americans have long thrown in the towel, decided that life is over with already, and I'm too old for this sh*t.
And there we were trading badass injury recovery stories.
If this sounds familiar, this is a scene straight out of Lethal Weapon III, where our two protagonists are comparing battle scars.
No really. We did this. Okay well, sort of. Since Doc's married and his daughter works out front, this wasn't about flirting.
It was about establishing what we think about health, fitness, our bodies, and what it takes to have that coiled energy that is an undercurrent in those who age vibrantly.
I'd just met Dr. P, who is my new chiropractor. A power lifter. He's an unabashed jock.
My kind of doc.
I took some time to track him down here in Eugene. This is my new city, and unless a fire takes out my new house (which damned near just happened a few weeks ago) I'm sticking around for a while. That means making strategic choices about whom I plan to surround myself with for body care.
Doc P believes, as I do, that we inhabit a vehicle. What we communicate to it, our intentions, has a great deal more to do with our aging and health process than any miracle pill or protein powder or magic exercise machine. Our bodies contain billions of tiny entities, cobbled together in that miracle of engineering we call a body. Please see this book by Ed Yong.
A body, which if given the kind of care and feeding it deserves, will in most cases give us a full and happy life.
There are of course exceptions, but kindly, I am dealing with overall fitness, which the majority of us might like. The kind of functional fitness which will usher us into our later years with verve, energy and enthusiasm.
The kind of functional fitness that gives you and me options.
When I left Denver in July for Eugene, Oregon, I left behind a community of caregivers both inside and outside the VA. In addition to the nurse who was my Primary Caregiver, who was an endurance runner to boot, I had a sports chiro who was a young jock himself and who specialized in endurance athletes. I had an acupuncturist who was also a scientist, and a Thai masseuse.
My urologist was another woman, who was, like me, an adventure traveler. My neurologist was a Physician's Assistant, and another jock.
I was unhappy to leave behind such a talented, focused group of superb caregivers who not only spoke the language of sports, but who also shared with me my commitment for minimal meds, proactive health care and wellness management.
I invest in chiro, acupuncture and massage to manage pain. I've got a fair bit of it from all my injuries. From skydiving to being thrown from a horse, twenty-two concussions and a whole lot more, I need to manage my body. I could pill myself to death, and many folks do, but that's not an option.
Pills are easier. Pills are poison. And no, Tylenol is NOT safe, used too much and for too long or at too high a dose.
From the article:
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), between 1998-2003, acetaminophen was the leading cause of acute liver failure in the U.S., and almost half of liver failure cases during this period were a result of accidental overdose.
I'm in a lot of pain a lot of the time. Since I don't plan to pop pills the rest of my life it behooves me to manage my body better than most folks my age.
Given the shape too many of us are in, when we expect a doctor to "fix" us, or give us some magic pill we saw on TV to do all our work with none of the effort, PLEASE. We make them responsible for work only we can do, then all too often blame them when things go wrong.
Our bodies, our jobs, our responsibilities. The docs are hired help. We live in our skin suit. They don't.
Choosing wisely pays off long-term
You and I want, or at least I suspect we want, long healthy lives. That starts with a commitment on our part to do the work. Then we find caregivers with an equal commitment to support US in doing the work, with the fewest pills, procedures, and problems possible.
In order to do that, we would be wise to do our level best to select caregivers who not only don't tolerate our weak excuses for not taking care of ourselves, they are also wise enough to know that the only expert on our body is us. All they can do is ask, poke, prod, ask again, test, and prod and test some more. Ultimately, you and I are in charge.
The older I get the more intimately I feel the need to be fairly aggressive in my healthcare. Women, older women in particular and worse of all, older women of color are all too often treated with a combination of disdain and condescension. We are too often seen as a group rather than an individual, with all the mistakes and miscues that this kind of blind stupidity by otherwise trained professionals can deliver.
And it can kill you and me. If not kill us off, cripple us badly.
It has most assuredly happened to me, more times than I can count. So the older I get, the more directive I get about my health, and the more carefully I pick, as best I can, people who get what I am committed to doing.
Sometimes with the VA that can be an uphill slog, for an extreme adventure athlete, a woman of 67, is something of an anomaly in a system more accustomed to aging men with drug abuse and prostate problems. It's vastly easier to be seen as 67 yo white female and get lumped in with every single other assumption that those words mean.
As in, well, you're over 65, therefore you're probably taking about fifteen prescriptions a year. That assumption is by no means limited to the VA Healthcare system.
Honestly? REALLY? Not in this house. Not in this life.
In other words, you and I can be invisible after sixty. Again, add gender and color, and it's even harder. Add to this the declining quality of health care in America, most especially for seniors when we need it the most, you can see where I'm going.
Some studies say that twelve million medical errors happen every year, leading to anywhere from 250,000-400,000 deaths. I can't speak for you, but I don't plan to be one of those errors. That means managing my care, and part of that is managing who manages that care.
Where you and I have that opportunity, then, it's essential to pick people who get who we are, what we're trying to accomplish. That care team will not tolerate our bullshit excuses, or our reasons for why we can't do the PT, or our chasing after questionable miracle cures when simple basics will make our lives better without costing us our retirement nut.
Whatever you are: couch potato, jock, something in-between, if it is available to you to select who oversees your self care, then please give this the thought and research it deserves.
That YOU deserve. The very best docs and caregivers partner with us to take the best care of ourselves. You and I must be brutal about incompetence, condescension and ineptitude. The second any caregiver calls you hysterical when you have legitimate pain, pooh-poohs a very real symptom, or tells you your pain is "all in your head..."
Hit the road, Jack.
I've had all that happen and much, much, much worse. I've fired more than eleven doctors these past three years, mostly old White men with a God complex who cannot countenance an educated, assertive older woman who is a damned good researcher and who doesn't tolerate stupidity. Stupidity almost got me killed. Repeatedly. I am done with that.
Because this body is all we got. You and I can't afford to tolerate some second-rate, lazy garage mechanic bones who made Ds in medical school, but who can't be bothered, and is too interested in getting cozy with the pill pusher-folks.
Doctor is an academic title that originates from the Latin word of the same spelling and meaning. The word is originally an agentive noun of the Latin verb docēre [dɔˈkeːrɛ] 'to teach'.
The very, very best doctors I ever had would take the time to sketch out the body part that was in trouble, explain in detail what was going on with it, and fully expect me to share in the wonder and respect that they had for the miracle that is the human physical engine. The worst attacked me for taking a lively interest, challenging them on their prescriptions or recommendations.
The very worst?
One threatened me for calling him on the carpet for endangering my life when he ordered prescriptions which not only are listed on my Medicalert bracelet to never, ever use but which were listed carefully in the records I filled out upon arriving at his offices. This is how we die at the hands of arrogance and hubris. And why we have to choose carefully or expire before our time, or be crippled for life due to incompetence.
I want partners who continue to teach and partner with me to be my best. That's earned- on both sides. Good caregivers abound. But like a good life partner, and your medical team ranks up there with choosing a love partner for life, the right caregivers take time to vet and set in place in your life. They are worth it.
Find those folks who reflect your best self. Demand of them to demand the best of you. Having superb health partners makes body care fun. For when you succeed, they do too.
Their hero buttons are your years and years of active, happy aging.