Leaving Preservation Hall

Had an experience today that everyone should have from time to time, and even though it wasn’t really fun or exciting, it made me think.

I took a family member in for a medical procedure and ended up waiting for them at the gastroenterology center.  People are there to have their innards checked out, and it is generally not just for the hell of it.  It usually means you’ve had or are currently worried about having some rather severe problems.

To pass the time, I was watching the little “canned” CNN Health channel that was playing on the TV there.  Dr. Sanjay Gupta was covering all the latest medical breakthroughs with the occasional human interest story – pretty light fare as usual from the mass media.

One of the stories that they had was about the growing number of centenarians we are seeing.  They featured a 101 year old man who didn’t look a day over 75, spry, standing up straight, and an expert woodcarver, which he credited with keeping him going.  He had all his energy and was truly inspirational.

I guess he was featured to show us how great it is going to be when all this medical technology extends our lifespan.  But then I looked around the waiting room and was jarred back to reality.

The fact is most of us aren’t going to see 100.  This guy’s peculiar genetics ( he had a family history of living a long time) are not the norm.  The people around me are.  No matter how much you exercise and do all the other things Dr. Sanjay wants us to do, you are probably not going to be much in control of how long you are around.  And to see folks at the center who’s lives now are mainly devoted to shuttling between medical treatments isn’t exactly the “golden years” nirvana promised by Big Pharm.

I’m over the hill enough to realize that I’m not going to be around forever.  Not sure I want to be.  But it is worth saying hello to the Grim Reaper every so often just to remind yourself that he’s sitting there, probably watching Dr. Sanjay Gupta as well.   You’ll be shaking his hand someday, like it or not.

The thought that struck me was – what are we saving ourselves for?  When you think of how much of life we try to hoard away and how we try to preserve some illusion of security, when you roll the clock forward 20 or 30 years you don’t have to be a philosopher to see that you should leave it all on the field, so to speak.  In the end there’s nothing, so make sure you arrive with a smile on your face and empty hands.

Quit that crappy job.  Buy that motorcycle.  Ask that person out for a drink.  Someday you’re not going to be able to, and how stupid are  you gonna feel then?

My patient was just there for a follow-up.  We went through the scary stuff 3 years ago, so all is good now.  But even if you aren’t sick, you should visit one of these facilities about once a year.  Sit there and get a good feel for what the end game looks like.  Then go out and do all the things you keep talking yourself out of.


2 thoughts on “Leaving Preservation Hall

  1. I’ve just had the tonic experience of which you speak however mine was seeing my partner lying motionless on the road here on Hornby Island where we’ve just moved. He had a bike fall and was knocked out for only about a minute but was still in great distress. Three ambulances (and two ferry rides) to the hospital and a lot of fear, scare and worry on my part for the last few days. Thankfully, he will be ok.

    But, it got me thinking about my next 30 years (or however long) and was a good reminder that as Doctor Godbole said in A Passage to India “ah yes, but either way, the outcome is the same.” We will all be dead and yet we’re sitting worry about bullshit and protecting our future (or so we think).

    My partners aunt died last year of lung cancer. She spent years carefully managing her money and worrying about it. She died with two million dollars in the bank. (she left it to her husband who remarried quickly, died a couple of months ago and left all of it to his new wife, but that’s another story).

    As the old song goes, “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink.”

    • Glad to hear he’ll be OK, John! With that kind of haul to the hospital I’m thinking a helicopter purchase may be in your future! The story about your partner’s aunt is certainly a precautionary tale. Some people take that whole Grasshopper and Ant fable too seriously!

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