So, What’s Next?

“Getting old is not for sissies!” That is something we often hear from old-timers as they groan and nurse their aches and pains. I tend to agree with them, but when I think about the alternative to getting older, I decide to make the best of it.

We are living longer. Statistics tell us that the average life expectancy has risen substantially since the nineteenth century. Babies born in this country today can expect to live until the age of 79, whereas the average life expectancy of those born in 1900 was only 47 years. That is a 32-year gain in the last 100 years. If that rate of gain continues, we might expect to live to the very ripe old age of 111 in the next 100 years. (In that case, perhaps it might be wise for you youngsters to invest in long-term health care insurance).

That reminds me of a story my son, Van, a doctor, told me about a visit with one of his elderly patients. The fellow had just turned 90, and Van, after checking him over, told him, “You are in great shape for your age. If you continue to take care of yourself, you may live to 900 plus years like that man, Methuselah, in the Bible.” (969 years — Genesis 5:27). The patient shook his head and, envisioning a very long stay in a nursing home, said, “Oooooweee, I bet those last 700 years were a booger.”

On a personal note, I am sometimes asked how old I am, and one of my favorite answers to the question is, “I am so old, I do not buy green bananas.” I recently met a fellow who did not “buy” that smartaleck answer and pressed for my real age. So, I told him, “I am almost 96 years old.” He took a step back and asked, “What is your secret?” That is a nice way of saying, “How in the world did you manage to live so long?”

For a moment, I thought about saying, “Just good clean living,” but thought better of it when I remembered some of the unsanitary and unsafe things we children did. My friends and I drank water from a garden hose and even from a creek — hopefully upstream from where we were swimming. And, I thought about the days when we rode standing on the car’s running board, or in the rumble seat. That was long before seatbelts. We enjoyed jumping on the back of the ice wagon to eat the scraps of ice on the wagon’s floor. Not knowing the dangers, we played with mercury, and, with our teeth, clamped lead sinkers to our fishing lines. The list of our unsafe and unsanitary practices could go on and on, but most of us lived a normal life.

No, I cannot claim my longevity is due to clean living or to luck, as some claim. And, a recent study concluded that inheriting a “longevity gene” is not nearly as important as once thought, so let’s see what the experts have to say about how long we might expect to live.

In addition to the obvious things such as a better diet and a vastly-improved health care system, to what do we owe this tremendous increase in longevity?

As you know, medical science has, with discoveries of new drugs and advanced treatment methods, made great strides. Diseases which were once lethal have been brought to their knees. For example, a smallpox epidemic in 1902 killed hundreds in the U.S. A few years later, a vaccine brought that disease under control. Mumps, measles and whooping cough, once rampant here, have all but been wiped out. Before a measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, five million cases per year were reported in this country. In comparison, only 15 cases were reported from 1999 to 2001.

Other diseases have met similar fates. Polio once affected many, even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, before the Salk vaccine was declared safe in 1955. Tuberculosis once had people moving west to a drier climate, but medication has helped control that ailment.

Medical science has convinced many to lengthen their lives by quitting smoking. Recent government reports tell us that cigarette smoking among adult Americans continues to decline sharply. The bad news is that many may have quit too late, because 40 percent of all cancer diagnoses are now linked to tobacco use.

Growing up in Frisco, from the early 1900s, I have seen the town go from having five doctors at one time to being served by only one physician at a time for several years. One of the first who served alone was Dr. Saye, who, by the way, delivered me at home in 1921, and in 1943, delivered our first child at home (there were no hospitals in Frisco at that time). In 1954, Dr. Pink came and practiced alone until 1985, when he was joined by Dr. Vickie Davis. Those doctors did an admirable job serving not only the town of Frisco, but a large farming community extending five or more miles in all directions from the town. The earliest doctors made house calls in all kinds of weather on horseback or in buggies, on dirt and sometimes muddy roads. Records show that the fee for those early house calls was as little as $2.

As Frisco grew, more physicians and other health facilities came. Baylor Medical Center opened the town’s first hospital in 2002. Since that time, we have been blessed with the addition of other hospitals, urgent care units, nursing homes and all kinds of senior living facilities.

Today, with a population nearing 160,000 people, Frisco boasts of physicians of practically all specialties and medical facilities second-to-none, with even more on the way. Most of our medical needs can now be met without having to leave Frisco’s city limits. Yes, we have come a long way since those early days, and much has been done to help our citizens live longer, more productive lives.

I want to end this with a true story recently related to me by my friend, a Frisco resident, Howard Matson. He said, “My mom was one year older than my dad. I guess that embarrassed her, because all her life she lied about her age.” Mr. Matson went on to say that when he was young, he overheard a conversation between his parents that made him doubt his mother was telling her true age, so he always wondered how old she really was. When she died, and was buried near her home in Colo., her tombstone said she was 99 years old,    but when Mr. Matson and his sister found her birth certificate, they saw that she was 100! Years later, when his sister died and was buried beside their mother, Mr. Matson asked the cemetery officials to correct the date on his mom’s tombstone. His request was denied. He said, “After a while, I got a brainstorm. I asked the officials if I could put anything I wanted on my sister’s grave marker. They said, ‘Sure.’ So, you can see, in the picture, the results in glossy white paint.” The stone reads, “Mom lied about her age. She was 100.”

Thanks, Mr. Matson. I would say the moral to that story is to be proud of your age. Do not lie about it. You have heard the expression, “Be sure your sins will find you out.” I will add, based on this story, that if you lie about your age, be sure your sons will find you out.