The Sunday Edition·Personal Essay

Seventy is not the new sixty. Just ask my body

If sixty is the new fifty, and forty the new thirty, then doesn't it follow that denial is the new acceptance? Despite our best efforts to pretend otherwise, time marches on. In his essay, David Martin explains his personal resolve to look it squarely in the eye.
Dave Martin waxes philosophical about turning 70 in this personal essay. Oh, and his car isn't getting any younger either. (Submitted by David Martin)

By David Martin

They say that 70 is the new 60, but from where I sit at age 69, 70 is the same old 70 it's always been.

I don't remember at age 60 mourning the gradual loss of my mobility, eyesight and urinary flow strength. Yet here I am on the cusp of my eighth decade bidding a fond farewell to many of my physical attributes and capabilities.

Don't get me wrong; I'm happy to reach 70 in reasonable health (for my age). And I'm thankful for the modern advancements in medicine that will allow me to likely live to see 80 and possibly even 90. What I'm not so good at accepting are the suppositions that come with those advancements.

Actuarial tables strongly suggested that I'd already be dead before eighty-three, likely at about seventy-nine or eighty- David Martin

Take prostate cancer, for example. I was diagnosed at age 63 and, after the initial shock, was glad to learn that I would not be facing surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Instead I would simply be regularly monitored in case there was any significant change.

Because my cancer was limited and non-aggressive and because my life expectancy was less than 20 years, I would likely succumb to any number of other diseases before the prostate cancer killed me.

When I first heard the particulars of this protocol from my urologist, I was shocked. My life expectancy at 63 was less than 20 years? How could that be?

Then I added up the numbers and realized, yes, actuarial tables strongly suggested that I'd already be dead before 83, likely at about 79 or 80. That was much harder to accept than the initial diagnosis of cancer.

This is not a one-time revelation either. Over the years, my hips have worn away from osteoarthritis to the point where I'm on a waiting list to get a new left hip.

Again, I wasn't that surprised by this. After all, I received my initial diagnosis at age 45 with a warning from my rheumatologist that it wasn't a question of if, but when, I would eventually get a new hip or two.

I visit one of my coterie of specialists and he or she finds some age-related ailment but assures me it's normal and not to worry.   - David Martin

What was far more troubling was the information provided by the young physiotherapist who assessed me for placement on the waiting list for surgery. She informed me that the artificial joint would last up to 20 years.

When I asked her what happens when the artificial hip starts to fail, she said it was no big deal since I'd then be in my late eighties and would already likely have very limited mobility. That was not a picture I wanted to have painted.

As I look back over the last few years, this seems to be an ongoing theme. I visit one of my coterie of specialists (I'm already scoring six on the "-ologist" scale) and he or she finds some age-related ailment but assures me it's normal and not to worry.   

My ophthalmologist says I can expect cataracts in the near future but that the removal treatment is straightforward and sure to leave me with adequate vision for whatever time I might have left.

My cardiologist tells me that scans of my arteries reveal plaque buildup but don't be concerned. "It's not that bad," he says. "In fact, it's normal for your age."

In other words, "You're old, you're dying, get used to it."- David Martin

That's a phrase I'm hearing more and more often these days. Whether it's my failing joints, eyesight or hearing, what once would have been of serious concern at age 30 or 40 is now "normal" for my age. In other words, "You're old, you're dying, get used to it."

Of course, no one likes to contemplate getting older and facing death. But maybe all these physician-related warnings can help me accommodate myself to the rapidly-approaching inevitable.

Rather than complain and obsess about my future non-existence, I am now able to view my position in more non-spiritual mechanical terms.

We have a ten-year-old car that we've faithfully maintained. But since its transmission failed and was replaced with a second-hand one, I'm beginning to treat that car differently.

It's clear that it's not going to last forever. If it needs new tires, I won't be buying top-of-the-line replacements. And no more annual rustproofing treatments. Since the car could die at any time, what's the point?

As with our aging car, from now on I'm not planning to invest a whole lot more in my chassis or my cardio-pulmonary engine. Instead, I'm just going to be thankful for every extra year and hope that I get to see my personal odometer trip the 1000-month mark.

For those of you wondering, that's almost 84 or about 14 in car or dog years. All things considered, whether you're a car, a dog or a human, that's not a bad run.

Click 'listen' above to hear the essay. 


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