The Wrong Side of 70: How I Found Myself Surrounded by Specialists

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Ernest Hemingway famously wrote successful The Sun Also Rises that 1 goes bankrupt gradually, past suddenly.

Of course, Hemingway was referring not lone to however wealth is lost, but to the mode galore things enactment and however humans neglect to comprehend those things until they’re done deals.

Which brings maine to this burning question: How does a 74-year-old man, who conscionable 3 abbreviated years agone was faring rather good with the humble ministrations of a superior attraction doc and a dermatologist, find himself awash successful ’ologists?

In my case, a pulmonologist, urologist, cardiologist, ophthalmologist, neurologist, endocrinologist, and gastroenterologist, for openers. Toss successful an orthopedist, a neurosurgeon, a manus specialist, a podiatrist, an ENT specialist, an oral surgeon, and a parathyroid doctor. Two players abbreviated if you’re choosing up sides for softball.

I can’t assistance but wonderment however this came to walk for a comparatively steadfast big male, with nary underlying conditions, oregon immoderate conditions that support him from walking 4 miles astatine a clip without breaking a sweat. Aside from the symphony of snaps and crackles that provides the regular soundtrack for my greeting emergence retired of bed, I consciousness conscionable fine. Too good to beryllium spending fractional the remainder of my beingness trying unsuccessfully to necktie the backmost of a infirmary gown.

The Magic Number

It happens that way, noted my erstwhile neurologist, portion taking maine connected a guided circuit of my cervical spine MRI, which looked a batch similar Georgia O’Keeffe’s rendering of a cattle skull and was astir arsenic haunting.

Three people and 10 seems to beryllium the magic fig erstwhile it comes to his peculiar specialty. That’s erstwhile caller patients commencement showing up en masse with radiating sciatica, disk herniations, and past compression fractures, the effect of 7 decades of spinal deterioration and teardrop that goes unnoticed until abruptly flaring into soul-crushing pain. I saw it play retired successful the neurologist’s overcrowded waiting room, a wailing partition of change cockers.

“I’ve besides heard it called the ‘organ recital,’” says Charlie Paikert, an aged person who is astir to crook 70 and has added a half-dozen aesculapian specialists to his ain active-duty roster. “Seniors can’t assistance themselves from launching into a laundry database of their ailments.”

Supporting specified anecdotal accounts are reams of data. In 1980, astir 62% of seniors saw superior attraction doctors vs. specialists. By 2013, those numbers had flipped. Today, astir a 3rd of U.S. seniors spot astatine slightest five antithetic doctors each year. According to 1 survey done astatine the dawn of the caller millennium, among the non-elderly, astir 1 successful 3 patients each twelvemonth were referred to a specialist. Among seniors, it was two referrals per diligent per year. Still different survey places the mean elder successful the New York country successful a aesculapian mounting 25 days a twelvemonth – a travel to the doc each 2 weeks.

No Shortage of Specialists

The reasons are obvious. For example, seniors thin to person problems with balance, resulting successful much falls and tons of caller patients for orthopedists, neurologists, backmost specialists, manus specialists, and trauma attraction doctors. Likewise, spinal columns shrink arsenic cartilage grinds down, portion prostates enlarge with age. There is nary shortage of specialty doctoring to spell around.

“I deliberation the information volition mostly constituent to a magic property erstwhile seniors abruptly request circumstantial kinds of aesculapian care,” says James Brandman, a person and retired oncologist (thankfully, 1 of the fewer remaining ’ologists whose services I bash not require).

“But erstwhile you get into the details, it gets much complicated. Someone similar you, with bully wellness security and the wherewithal to [navigate] the ins and outs of the aesculapian world, is going to beryllium seeing acold much specialists than idiosyncratic with less fiscal and intelligence resources who lives determination wherever aesculapian options are limited.”

That is nary uncertainty true. The gathering analyzable connected the swanky North Shore of Long Island that houses galore of my doctors makes the Pentagon look similar a one-room schoolhouse.

There Are Notable Exceptions

All that being said, not each aged aesculapian diligent goes done the aforesaid rhythm of discovery. For immoderate older Americans, determination is nary gradually, lone suddenly.

The oracle successful these cases is not Hemingway, but alternatively Henny (as successful Youngman).

“Doc, it hurts erstwhile I spell similar this,” goes 1 of his classical one-liners.

“Then don’t spell similar that,” replies the doc.

My wife’s cousin, May, lived the archetypal 96 years of her beingness successful Henny’s joke. No doctors, nary medications prevention an occasional aspirin, nary important aesculapian issues.

Just 96 years of not going similar that.

That is, until May went bankrupt, gradually and past suddenly, and had to spell into a nursing home.

Within 48 hours of entering the facility, May was connected a twelve medicine medications: treatments for hypertension, precocious cholesterol, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and osteoporosis, with a Lasix kicker.

And, conscionable arsenic I expected, the prescribing nursing location doctor, nether questioning, cited seemingly valid reasons for putting the formerly med-less May connected a panoply of caller meds.

None of this mattered overmuch to Cousin May, arsenic her past 15 months connected world were filled with euphony and the institution of others.

When she did walk distant – softly and abruptly – having beaten the likelihood and the ’ologists, it was arsenic if she'd conscionable taken a last triumph lap.

Mark Mehler is the writer of He Probably Won’t Shoot You: Memoir of an Adult Protective Services Case Manager (McFarland Publishing, 2021).