1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eighteen: Health

The difference between 1998 and 2018 as regards health is that in 1998 I never really gave thought about my health, and now I think about it a lot.

Why? Because I’m older and because (as noted earlier in this series) I weigh more than I used to, and because over 20 years I’ve had a series of thankfully minor reminders that my body is not invulnerable to damage, the most recent being a trip to the emergency room for a possible heart attack which turned out to be just indigestion. Which, to be clear, it’s great it was just indigestion, but 20 years ago I wouldn’t have even considered that it might be something else, much less called my physician’s office about it to have them say, “Yeaaaah, you should probably get to an emergency room right now,” because it sounded to them like a classic minor heart event. Things are different when you’re bumping up on 50 years of age. It’s better to be safe than possibly dead.

And generally there are other minor damages that have accrued through the years. I can no longer fully bend my right pinky due to a volleyball injury, which just goes to show that physical exercise is dangerous. When I was in Australia, I tore a leg muscle and had to hobble around Melbourne on crutches. I have a little bit of arthritis in my right hip ball joint. I can no longer do a forward handspring — the last time I did one, on my 35th birthday, my kneecaps tried to escape sideways and I said to myself, well, that’s enough of that.

For all that I have been lucky — I have had isolated incidents of injury, but what I don’t have, so far, knock on wood, are any chronic issues. I suppose the arthritis in the ball joint could be one, but I kind of have to go out of my way to aggravate it, mostly by contorting myself into a weird position, so I don’t really count it (yet). I have hay and cut grass allergies, which I didn’t have 20 years ago, but they’re not really doing anything to me but making me sneeze twenty times in a row, and Claritin knocks them into line. I’m healthy, mostly, on a day-to-day basis.

But as time goes on, that seems less likely to be the case, even if I do take care of myself generally. A large number of my friends have chronic health conditions now, not necessarily debilitating ones, but ones that require maintenance, and they’ve gotten them for a variety of reasons: some genetic, some environmental, some for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some for no reason that anyone can see other than, well, sometimes shit happens.

In my own family, as an example, we have a tendency toward cancers. My grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side were both taken out by them, although in both their cases there was a conscious decision not to fight them; my grandmother because she didn’t want to worry anyone, and therefore let it go until it metastasized, and my grandfather because, as I understand it, basically he was done with this planet and cancer seemed as good a way as any to leave it. My brother has had breast cancer — a reminder that men, too, can get it — and he’s fine now, but it’s a thing I need to be aware of, with regard to my own health. I’m going to have to be taking screenings very seriously. Another issue on my radar is mental health; there are members of my family who have various issues in this direction. I don’t, at least not to date, but it’s something I keep tabs on.

My point is, at 29 I didn’t worry about most of these things, because I didn’t worry about them being applicable yet. This was a belief mostly out of ignorance, but also because, as a late-twenty-something, my cohort of friends and colleagues (mostly) weren’t worrying about these things, either. As we’ve all gotten older we’ve started worrying about it more.

I’ve also gotten to the point in life where people my age dying, while still unexpected, is not actuarially unusual. By your mid-to-late 40s, you’re going to have close-to-age friends, coworkers and family pass away. Krissy and I have lost friends to cancer, to ALS, and to other diseases. Just prior to our 30th reunion, my high school class marked its first death, again to cancer. I don’t imagine we’ll make it to our 40th without a few more.

I’m fine with dying one day (well, not fine, but not losing too much sleep over it in an existential sense), but I’m not in a rush, either. More to the point, as much as I can control such things, I want this backslope of my years on this planet not to be burdensome, either to myself or to the people I love. This means paying attention to my health and doing all the little things required to be healthy. Which I kind of hate, because I’m lazy and all this maintenance means work. But better to do work now then not, and suffer for it later. Long-term planning. Sigh.

(But how can you say you’re paying attention to your health when you make those burritos you do, Scalzi? I hear you say. Explain that, you bum! Look, those burritos are sometimes food, okay? I don’t eat them, like, every day.)

The point is I want to be here, and still writing, 20 years from now. And if I want that, I better be paying attention to my health. 29-year-old me could get away with letting it slide. 49-year-old me? Not so much.

That said, I think I’ll go for a walk now.

21 Comments on “1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Eighteen: Health”

  1. Yeah, well. Getting old sucks, it does. But it mostly beats the alternative.

    I’m a bit over a decade ahead of you on the trajectory of life, and I am both a cancer survivor and the proud owner of multiple artificial joints. Neither was fun or enjoyable in the process, but the cancer was survivable because I knew I was at risk, went in for annual screening, and caught it very early. And the artificial joints have made a world of difference in my quality of life.

    So listen to your doc, get screened regularly, go to the ER when your doc or Krissy tell you to, and expect some bumps in the road over the next few decades. And thank you for taking good care of yourself, because I would really like for you to go on living and writing for a good long while more.

  2. Let me be one of the first to wish you a happy forthcoming ‘oscopy birthday, when that meter clicks to a zero digit again. Welcome to the club; thanks for the continued inspiration.

  3. “bumping up on 50 years of age”?! child, coming from a former fresno bee film critic, surely you’re teasing Betty Davis’ famous 1950 All About Eve straight-faced zinger:
    > Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

  4. Keep up the walking daily — one of the best ways to keep on this side of the grave as long as possible!

  5. Gotta be careful that what you do to fix one problem doesn’t create another. I took up running in my 50’s to battle the expanding middle section, and got to where I was competing in 5K races and doing up to 10K at a time on the treadmill. I felt great and most of my couch-potato-related ailments went away. But after four years of that, I got runner’s knee in both knees. Seems like us older folks should focus on low-impact exercise (now I use an elliptical machine for most of my cardio/fat-burn exercise).

  6. At the optometrist today, he started with, “You don’t need cataract surgery…yet.” Yet?!! This is not how you start the conversation, buddy. (We’re the same age and often joke about our deteriorating vision.)

    I know he’ll retire before I’m through with him and that’s pretty much how I’m marking “medical time”. The oral surgeon who did my brother’s wisdom teeth many years ago, and mine 10 yrs ago, retired a week before I scheduled my daughter’s surgery. The new surgeon looks 12 as does my new dentist. I figure I’m 2 gynecologist’s away from death. Fingers crossed.

  7. Please be around writing for many years to come. I am old enough to have given birth to someone like you when I was seventeen. I look at you as an adopted son. I hope to be around to see you and Krissy celebrate your Golden anniversary. You had better be there too!
    (I had a reverse total shoulder replacement on May 5 this year. The surgeon said hips are easier to recover from)

  8. Your biggest health problem is living in the US, where a vast industry works to extract as much profit from you while you are reasonably healthy and then refuse you treatment when you actually need it. Now *that* is “death panels “.

  9. Worrying about the big C is a bitch. I don’t have that problem, but I did have a heart attack in my 40s. Also, people my age (70s) are dying and have medical issues, which is really depressing. So hang in there and I hope you stay healthy.

  10. Re: Laziness and the work needed to maintain health:

    To combat some encroaching health problems I actually got off my butt and started exercising seriously in my late 40s. I didn’t want to die and leave Mrs Dalliard alone. I started on a combination of Pilates for strength and flexibility with regular long walks for cardio and eventually added some interval training when I finally got fit enough to do that kind of thing without falling down embarrassingly in the first few minutes.

    That was 4 years ago.

    I am 25kg lighter now. Running for the train doesn’t hurt. Neither does lifting heavy objects. Now that I am fitter the range of activities that cause discomfort has been greatly reduced. It is easier to be lazy because activities that used to wear me out no longer do. Walking 2.5km to the really good bakery? Piece of cake! Picking up wine or beer by the case? Easy! It’s an enlightened approach to laziness that I plan to stick with.

  11. As they say, staying on top of the daisies beats pushing them up. Even if my new doctor is the one my wife refers to as “the 12 year old”. At least she should be in practice many more years. Not sure I approve of calling what Doctor’s do as practice but that is for another day.
    Keep healthy and keep writing, please sir.

  12. Do take care of yourself. I was extraordinarily wreckless with my body in nearly every way during most of my younger years and have been paying for it since I hit my 50s (I’m 62 now). I was lucky enough to retire when I was 57 but 6 months later, feeling tired and short-winded all the time, I discovered I had a broken mitral valve. Fortunately, with the technology we have today, it was repaired with minimally invasive surgery (no sternum scar – just a 2-inch scar on my upper-right chest) and my lower back hurts pretty much all the time. All penance for my youthful overindulgences I’m afraid.

  13. You are, I think, someone who respects religion despite being agnostic, yet you illustrate a post about your health with what seems to be a picture of the Sacred Heart? I think you could have chosen a better image.

  14. I recently had an ER visit for a heart attack that turned out to be unchecked heartburn, too. Not fun.

  15. Achieving and maintaining fitness is HARD. It’s a never-ending trek, taken a day at a time. I tell people that it’s a day-to-day struggle, and that while the days can add up to years and decades tomorrow’s another day.

    I certainly don’t mean to be discouraging; I’m a gym rat, and enjoy exercising hard. One benefit that’s worth noting–as a retired guy in my mid-60s, when I look at my peers and how unhealthy they are the daily hour of physical work becomes much easier to handle. Yes, I’m usually a bit stiff and sore when I grit out of bed every morning. But that passes, and the ability to fully participate in my life the rest of the day is a great reward. There are a multitude of health issues being fit has absolutely nothing to do with, but then again there are many that it does.

  16. Male breast cancer is one of the indications for genetic testing for high risk, so hopefully your brother has been tested for the BRCA genes (and if he was positive, or won’t get tested, then you should consider testing as well).

    I know at least one guy who gets grief for showing up for the breast cancer walks, even though he is himself a breast cancer survivor.

  17. Yeah, better to be over the hill than under it. I got better at exercise when I realized that I don’t have to do it “the rest of my life”, just today. And tomorrow also, just today. Keep the time frame doable, and I’ll do it, but those huge time commitments let me postpone it indefinitely, because it all becomes just too much, so *today* I’ll eat chocolate and read books. It’s all in how you think of things.

  18. I started paying a lot more attention to my health when I got close to 40. My father (who was quite healthy if a bit high strung) died unexpectedly of a heart attack at 46, so for me it looms very large as I get ever so much closer to that age (which is now only 3 years off). Diabetes also runs in the family, so that also is something I would like very much to avoid.

    I’m now at a much healthier weight, exercise regularly and eat much better. I’m hoping this will be sufficient to keep things from going south soon although I know that only a portion of health is based in what is controllable on our end (still it’s a large enough portion that I have to make an effort).

    I think I’m personally less scared of dying than I am of chronic severe illnesses that might ruin the good years I have left.

  19. When her doctor diagnosed a minor but new medical problem she had in her early 50s, my wife commented, “The warranty on our bodies runs out at 50, and we all know what happens when the warranty runs out…”. Happily, at 67, she is still with me and still in good health. We just have to take are of yourselves, John, so keep up the exercise and diet regimen and get those checkups and minor procedures.

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