Pimples, blackheads, restlessness, listlessness are associated with youth, mainly with younger people, teenagers chiefly. A slow gait, gray hair, shaky hands, forgetfulness, deafness, for instance, are associated with older people, mostly those over fifty.
Doctors are not immune to these misconceptions or generalizations. When a physician sees you, he sees a person, a human being. When he discovers your age, he treats you differently, as an old person, which is very dangerous and detrimental to the patient.
Years ago, I had, suddenly, a ringing in my right ear that was very annoying as that is the only ear I have in good listening order. In early childhood I lost most of my hearing in my left ear due to otitis media. The doctor I visited, an older female, after hearing what I had to say and before checking my ear said: “That’s due to age!” I quickly informed her that my parents, both approaching their nineties, did not have any ringing in their ears; then I stood and left, banging the door. (I have an unfortunate short temper). Apparently there was water in my ear from having been swimming in the pool. The water in my ear evaporated finally, and the ringing along with it.
The other day, my daughter was telling me that her husband, aged 44, had visited a doctor because he had been having trouble passing water. The physician quickly told him that his prostate problem was due to age. My reaction was that he may have prostate problems, of course, but certainly not due to age, at 44, because at mine –I am over 70- I have no prostate problems at all. Perhaps I should be going from toilet to toilet when I am out of my home, but so far I am not. This may be strange, perhaps, but not unusual, except to doctors.
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Recently I was walking along merrily and, somehow, I tripped and took a bad fall. I quickly got back on my feet but my hip hurt. After a few days I decided to go to my family doctor because I was sure I had broken something. Bones at my age are supposed to be brittle. He informed me that if I had broken something I would have been unable to stand up and would have ended in a hospital right after falling.
As far as most doctors are concerned, once over fifty, or even before that age, people are doomed, and they can blame all your possible ailments and maladies to “age.” After all, fifty is half a century, no less.
Nature has its own way and does not know about calendars, age, or years, but perhaps it is more in sync with wear and tear. Some of us wear out sooner, others later and it is up to us to take good care of our bodies as best we can. But I feel it is simplistic to blame illness on old age. Perhaps sometimes, but certainly not always. People have physical problems at any age, haplessly.
I have been clearing my throat, hacking in fact, all my life. I must clear my throat because I feel there is something tickling it. I do not produce any type of phlegm, or spit out anything, colorless or colorful… I simply clear my throat. But when I do that on a bus, on the street, when speaking on the radio, people stare at me in a funny way, as if I were about to die. It is very irritating. Two days ago my friend James Parr, from the University of California, leaned over to me during lunch and said: “What you are constantly doing, clearing your throat, is due to the Ohio River Valley Syndrome. It affects most of us who have lived there. I do it too. I have the silent manifestation of it with no ill effects, only a slight cough and clearing of the throat. Annoying, but harmless.”
What a relief. Now, finally, I can tell those who stare when I clear my throat, that I have the Ohio River Valley Syndrome, not old age. It affects many people and it is not all that bad because I have had it for as long as I can remember, and it seems that 62 percent of those living in the Ohio River valley have it.
My secret certainty –correct me if you believe otherwise- is that when a physician does not know what ails us, and if we are over fifty or so, she pulls out from her hat “old age” as the cause and lets it go at that. And we accept this diagnosis meekly, with oriental fatalism.
Let us not, from now on.