Conversations with my grandparents; A doctor seeks advice on senior health and life issues

As a physician, my job involves giving people advice - medical advice, and general advice on leading healthy lifestyles. Since I have many patients in their 80s and 90s, I occasionally consult two experts on senior health and life issues, who just happen to be my grandparents. For this column - written before the election, by the way - I pretended to be a journalist and conducted a phone interview with them.


JR: How old are you?

Agnes: I'll be 89 next August, but I feel about 80.

JR: What's the hardest part about being your age?

Agnes: Well, as far as my peers go, I only have one or two left. The rest are in the cemetery. My friend Rowena is older than I am. She still drives and goes to water aerobics everyday.

For me, the hardest part is losing your independence. I can't drive. I forget what I'm doing sometimes. I can't go out and take a hike. I can't walk too far. Things that were simple before, now can be so complicated. Sometimes I think some of my marbles are misplaced.

JR: What's the best thing about your age?

Agnes: We still live in the same house. We have an automatic lift - the stairway to heaven, we call it - that takes us upstairs and down to the basement. Papa has his "league of nations"; that's what they call it. Old guys from the neighborhood come over in their scooters when the weather is nice. They meet in our garage and visit.

Papa and I have been together for 64 years. It's unusual for people these days to stay together that long. Of course we didn't have a wedding anniversary for the first five years that we were married because he was overseas in the war. That's when I went back to teaching - to keep busy.

JR: What do you think is the biggest problem with the healthcare system?

Agnes: The cost of drugs. And it takes a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out the coordination of benefits. I have to do a lot of photocopying and telephoning. I end up just putting the drugs on the Discover card. We're lucky it goes through.

JR: Do you think the healthcare system is fixable?

Agnes: I don't think so. I think the drug companies have that all sewed up.

JR: What did you think of the Presidential debates?

Agnes: They weren't much of a debate. I thought they were staged.

JR: Are you planning on voting in November?

Agnes: Of course, who wants four more years of this?

* * * VINCE

JR: How old are you?

Vince: If I make it to my next birthday, I'll be 90.

JR: Do you expect to make it?

Vince: Sure.

JR: Are you satisfied with how things are at your age?

Vince: You better believe it. I feel good. I look good. It's important to not let yourself go. I don't shave every day, but it bothers me when I don't. I feel real good now. I had a bath, shaved with a razor, put on some aftershave, combed my hair and put a little bit of grease in it.

JR: Are you ever surprised that you're 89?

Vince: When Mama and I both got sick, and were in the hospital last winter, each of us was on a gurney, parked side-by-side. I could reach out and hold her hand. I thought we were both going to go together, but we didn't go. We're both still here.

JR: What do you think of the healthcare system today?

Vince: I don't know much about it. When I was growing up, there was no such thing as health care. If you got sick, your grandmother was as good as any doctor. One time I knocked my front tooth out and had to get a false tooth. It cost $45, and it took my family three years to pay for it.

JR: How many pills do you take a day?

Vince: Eighteen.

JR: What qualities do you look for in a doctor?

Vince: The best thing about a doctor is if he likes me - if he gives me a feeling of caring about me. That's necessary. Some have no bedside manner.

JR: Did you watch the presidential debates?

Vince: No. It gets me too excited. I washed my hands of that guy when he invaded Iraq. I like that CSI show.

JR: Do you have any advice for people in their 30s for leading a healthy life?

Vince: Don't drink. Don't smoke. Those are easy. This is the tough one: Don't worry. I spent most of my life worrying about where the next dollar was going to come from. Today, I don't know if we've got five dollars in the bank, but I've quit thinking about it. It's taken me 89 years to learn how to do it.[[In-content Ad]]