Thursday, November 16, 2023

Not Just One Thing, But Everything

Dying of "old age" isn't dying of one thing, it is dying of everything.

A friend's father just passed away at age 101.  As the oldest in the family, our friend is finally free of being under his Dad's thumb - at about age 70.  Gee, finally free!  Enjoy that last decade or so.  It isn't fair, it seems, but then again, it takes two to tango, and if you allow your life to be dominated by your parents, is it their fault or yours - or both?

But I digress.

People want to see reasons for things that happen in their lives.  After every mass-shooting, people clamor for reasons.  What was written in his "manifesto?"  Was he going through a messy divorce?  What motivated him to shoot all those people?  When we don't get neat, pat answers, we panic.  If he went nuts and shot up a schoolyard, what's to prevent other people from doing the same?  Or prevent even us?

The answer of course, isn't sexy, it is mundane - and politically volatile.  We have - and always have had - a lot of crazy people in the world. But in America, they have access to cheap and readily available firearms. Crazy+Guns=Mass Shooting. Simple equation - remove or reduce either of the first two components and you tamp down the third.  But we can't have that, can we?  We want our "Freedums" - freedom to be shot at, I guess.

But I digress, yet again.

With death, everyone wants to see a "reason" as most people secretly believe that life could go on forever, but for a "cause of death."   We understand causes like "motorcycle accident" or "stabbing" or "cancer" but we don't grasp "old age" or "natural causes."  Whaddya mean, "natural causes?"  Death ain't natchurl!

Oh, but yes it is, and you have one coming to you at some time in the not-too-distant future.  But no one wants to think about that.  As I noted before, death gives meaning to life - you don't have all the time in the world - procrastination is merely frittering away your life.  Enjoy every moment when you can, because it is all-too-short.

Living on Old People Island for the last 18 years and seeing many older friends shuffle off the mortal coil or "move back home" to be close to their kids (who are no doubt thrilled about changing Mom's adult diaper - hey, she did it for you, payback is a bitch!), we've seen how this end game plays out. And often what happens is akin to the "coffin corner" when flying an airplane near its limits.  You get into a situation where is you speed up, you exceed the maximum velocity the aircraft can handle and the wings fall off.  Slow down, and you stall the airplane and go into a deadly flat-spin.  Or something along those lines.

As the body ages, the regenerative capacities slow down or even stop.  Your skin looks old and wrinkled and "livers spots" appear on your hands.  A simple cut that would have healed in a day or two at age five, now takes a week to heal and leaves an ugly scar - joining the rest of the scars you've accumulated over the decades.  Your internal organs slow down and start giving you trouble.  Your digestive system is no longer as robust as it once was.  When you were 20, you could down a six-pack and a pizza.  At age 80, it would put you in the hospital.

When you start getting up to 90 years and above, the body has reached a fragile equilibrium, and any tiny thing can set off a chain of events that will eventually result in your demise.  One of those tiny things is a visit to a hospital.  Your bones get brittle as you age, and one fall can mean a broken leg or hip.  You go to the hospital where Francine, the nurse, doesn't wash her hands, or worse yet, relies on rubber gloves she never changes.  If you spend any time in the hospital, your risk of infection skyrockets.  As your immune system ain't what it used to be, such infections spread like wildfire.

You read stories about old-timers who make it to 100 years and above, and when asked what their "secret" was, they say, "Stay away from hospitals!  Full of sick people!"  And everyone laughs, not realizing he was being serious.  Particularly in this age of CoVid (yes, it is still around) a hospital is a good place to catch something, rather than get rid of it.

So one straw breaks the camel's back, upsets the teacart, or whatever metaphor you want to use.  Actually, it is more like a cascade of events, starting with something innocuous.  In the case of our friend's father, he was trying to unload a watermelon from the back of his car.  At age 101 he was still driving (!) and thought it would be nice to buy a watermelon and slice it up for the family.  He fell, broke a leg and ended up in the hospital, where infection took hold.  He went down quickly from there.

Mark's Dad died the same way - in his 80's - getting "sick" and going to a hospital, where infection finished him off.  This is not to say hospitals are death traps, only that when you reach a certain age, they might do more harm that good.  When you are 25 and injured in your motorcycle accident, they can cure you as your immune system is strong.   When you are 85, well, it is a different story, particularly in smaller, rural hospitals.  And lest you think I am picking on nurses, apparently doctors are the worst at not washing hands and touching patients one after the other.

There are other hospitals who are better at this sort of thing.   A friend of mine had a bone marrow transplant at Johns Hopkins and they destroyed her existing immune system with radiation before the transplant.  There was a brief time when she had no immune system and even a simple cold could have killed her.  The procedures we had to follow to visit her were pretty severe - and probably what hospitals should do all the time for all patients.   But that gets expensive.

Of course, you don't have to be 100 to end up in this "coffin corner."  Your health can deteriorate due to illness or disease to the point where you have achieved a fragile form of stability and balance.  This can go on for years and you can delude yourself you are "healthy" and "OK" when you are just once incident away from going down the water-slide of consequences which will cascade one after another.

For many people in this precarious situation, the triggering event was the CoVid pandemic.  And I am not sure that a vaccine or masks would have helped them at all.  If you are overweight, have heart problems and were a chronic smoker, well, it doesn't take much to tip you over the edge.  Enjoy that water-slide!  Wheeeee!

We all want to see reasons why people die.  And perhaps this is why so many conspiracy theories swirl around CoVid.  Your husband, who was overweight, had type-II diabetes, worked in a coal mine, and was on heart medication, dies of CoVid.  This can't be happening!  It must have been the doctors that killed him!  The masks!  The vaccine!  It had to be something, not this mysterious "virus!"

And maybe that is also why, after a famous celebrity dies young, people spread conspiracy theories that they are still alive.  "I saw Elvis at the grocery store!" they cry.  Because a millionaire pop idol would be doing his own grocery shopping, right?  It is comforting to believe that he ducked out on celebrity life and retired to a beach hut in Hawaii, swilling booze and pills and fried-peanutbutter-and-banana sandwiches.  Or maybe that is what killed him.