Friday, October 7, 2011


 The Secret of Aging Well

Today I saw one of my favorite patients.  She’s 97 years old, spry, smart and funny.  It got me thinking about all of my nonagenarians lately. 
Once you get to be in your 90’s,  you can say ANYTHING you want. You lose the filter for political correctness and everyone thinks it’s cute!  My nonagenarians say the most outrageous things, often in a stage whisper.  They fart and laugh about it without embarrassment. 
I’ve been thinking about it because I want to be a nonagenarian like the one I saw today.   How did she get there?  What is the secret to her longevity?

Often, my very elderly patients are lovely, dotty, and hilarious.  They have absolutely no reverence for ANYTHING.  Sometimes though, they’re mean as a way to get the things they need to survive.  Often, everyone around them has died and they need help.  So, instead of honey, they use vinegar. 

I knew one lady who was always well dressed in high heel pumps.  The problem was, she kept falling.  Nothing I could say would get her to wear flat shoes, much less sneakers.  One day she said to me, “What type of shoe should I wear?”  Thinking I was FINALLY getting somewhere, I blurted out, “Well, something like mine!” 
Her response was a sneer and a contorted face and the words, “Those-are- UG-ly!” with the accent on “ug”!  I never did get her to wear flats. In fact, after that encounter, she bought a new pair of black two inch pumps!

One day, I thought I finally was going to hear the “secret” of getting old. 
Picture this, a petite, chubby, 95 year old with perfectly coiffed hair with erect  posture and no assistive devices for walking.   She sauntered into the office cracking jokes and laughing.  She sat down next to me at the desk and started regaling me with stories.  Absolutely nothing medical was going on. 

(Aside, sometimes with 95 year olds who are well, I do a lot of nothing.  First do no harm is the most important rule of medicine.  I figure if they’ve gotten this far without me, who am I to tell them what to do and cause side effects with medications? I make sure they’re okay and leave well enough alone.)

Now you must understand, this woman had a whiskey tenor voice from decades of smoking.  Her stories were punctuated by cackles of laughter.  She wore black plastic glasses with yellow lenses.  I never figured out why. 

Finally, she stopped talking.  She put on a serious expression, but had a twinkle in her eye.  She leaned forward as though to tell me a great secret. 
“Do you know WHY I made it this far without a cane or walker or lots of medications like all these ‘old’ people around here?”  (we were in a retirement home where I see patients).
I was afraid to ask and told her so. 

“Peanut butter, Scotch, and Cigarettes!”  was her response, and she cracked herself up laughing. 

She always wanted a late morning or early afternoon appointment because her habit was to sleep until 11 in the morning, get up and then to have coffee cake or a donut with her cigarettes.  Around 3 in the afternoon, she would have a tablespoon of peanut butter as a snack and cigarettes.  For dinner she had ice cream and a scotch. 

NOW do you see why I want to live to 95?  NO RULES!

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