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Larry displaying a plate with 'Darwin' spelled out in letter-shaped pancakes

So far, this is the oldest I've been.
            - George Carlin

I posted a blog entry when I turned 70, 71, and 72. But by the time I turned 73, and then 74, I had stopped blogging regularly. However, it seems I ought to have something to say about reaching the three-quarter century mark.

In my last birthday blog entry, 72, I noted, "As my 72nd birthday draws inexorably closer, we've received the news that baby Darwin, my granddaughter, has learned to crawl!" The picture to the left shows me, about six months ago, making letter-shaped pancakes for Darwin, who will be four years old on February 27. Note 1

Darwin has helped to keep me young over the past three years. I don't get to make name pancakes for my daughters anymore.

I recall sometime during my childhood wondering about whether I would still be alive to see the arrival of the twenty-first century. I had somehow gotten the impression at the time that the average human lifespan was 60 years. I was born in 1942, so I'd be 60 in 2002. I figured maybe I'd make it, maybe not. Now, 60 sounds pretty young to me.

In my blog entry 70, I wrote about my blog, which was only two years old at that point. In my blog entry 71, I wrote about travel and my retirement, which would hit the 10-year mark later that year. My entry 72 was a bit of a mish-mosh, but I was starting to think about dropping my every-week blogging schedule. Eventually I did so, hence the missing entries on birthdays number 73 and 74.

As I thought about what to write about turning 75, what came to mind was that preoccupation of old-age, medical issues. I'm lucky enough to be quite healthy, actually. But I'm at an age where many medical tests seem to come up with incidental problems that have nothing to do with the original purpose of the test. (Parenthetical note: if the incidental problem proves to be a tumor, doctors call it an "incidentaloma".)

For instance, a number of years ago, I had a problem with plantar fasciitis. This is a condition in which an irritation of ligaments on the bottom of the foot (the "plantar fascia") cause you to feel as if you have a permanent rock in the center of your shoe. It took a long time to resolve. I went through stretching exercises, night splints (that stretch out the ligaments that run down the back of the leg), and cortisone shots. The problem was ultimately resolved by orthotics that I wear in my shoes.

But along the way, I had a simple flat x-ray done of my foot. It revealed nothing unexpected about the plantar fasciitis, but the podiatrist noted that the density of my heel bone seemed as if it might be a bit low. This sent me off for a bone-density test, which revealed that I had osteopenia (a fancy name for low bone density that doesn't sink to the level of osteoporosis). I started to see an endocrinologist regularly, and I see him every other year to this day. Adding calcium to my diet didn't help much, but adding vitamin D in addition to the calcium did, and I'm now maintaining a decent bone density. Note 2

In another episode, I had an abdominal ultrasound for some reason. Whatever was being looked at was not a problem, but it was noted that a portion of a cyst on one of my kidneys was visible off to the side of the area being studied. This led to a follow-up MRI, which showed a couple of so-called renal cysts. These are usually benign, but we followed up with another MRI about 10 years later to see if there had been any change. There had not been, and so far they haven't bothered me at all.

Then recently, I lost a tooth, and chose to replace it with a dental implant. Note 3  As part of the process of doing the implant, a specialized dental CAT scan was done of my jaw. This is nowhere near as elaborate as a full-body CAT scan, nor does it involve nearly as much radiation. Reading the results, the periodontist noted that my maxillary sinuses are completely filled (they are supposed to contain only air). That was not an enormous surprise, as I have allergic rhinitis, and have required a polypectomy in the past. I discussed this finding with my internist, and we decided to take no action.

I'm starting to think that any time I have a test done, some incidental finding is going to turn up.

Of course, none of my incidental test findings are quite as spectacular as the one Margie experienced, when the biopsy of a lump in her breast turned up not breast cancer, but rather a parasite. It had also gone to her brain, putting her through a lengthy course of treatment with lots of nasty side effects. The story of that saga is told in my blog entry What's eating us? (scroll down about half-way for the parasite story).

But all these minor deviations from the ideal really aren't causing me any problems. At 75, I can't complain.

I'll close by repeating some earlier comments from a blog entry of mine written over two and a half years ago, specifically about age 75. It's called Doctor's office (bis), and it contained the following:

  In his book, The Sensuous Dirty Old Man, Isaac Asimov, writing as "Dr. A", wrote:

Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great Supreme Court Justice, in his last years (he lived to be ninety-four), was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue with a friend, when a pretty girl passed. As all dirty old men must, especially when the dignity of the Supreme Court is at stake, Holmes turned to look after her. Having done so, he sighed and said to his friend, "Ah, George, what wouldn't I give to be seventy-five again?"

I never thought there were any medical advantages to getting old. But at my last physical, my internist noted that as I approach 75 (only three more years to go), I've "aged out" of some medical problems. For example, having survived to this age without getting colon cancer, I pretty much don't have to worry about it anymore. Colon cancer is so slow growing that if a tumor started at my age, it wouldn't be a health threat. The same may be true about prostate cancer. She noted that having reached 75, one has a decent chance of living into one's 90s.

Finally, some good news about aging!

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© 2017 Lawrence J. Krakauer   Click here to send me e-mail.
Originally posted January 11, 2017

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Footnotes (click [return to text] to go back to the footnote link)

Note 1:   We don't pour maple syrup over Darwin's pancakes. Rather, we put it in a small bowl alongside her plate. Darwin tears off pieces of pancake, and dips them into the bowl.

Darwin recognizes two different kinds of "dip". For pancakes, her dip is maple syrup. For broccoli, her dip is soy sauce. A bit of soy sauce is also poured over her rice - it's hard to dip rice. She's a big fan of rice.  [return to text]

Note 2:   For many years I took calcium supplements. But not long ago, my endocrinologist advised me that heart problems can be caused by excessive amounts of calcium (although this research is tentative). He likes me to try to maintain my calcium intake at about 1,200 milligrams per day, from a combination of food and supplementation. I've created a form that I use to approximately track my daily intake of calcium. At the end of the day, I may take a Viactiv calcium chew, or half of one, or none at all, depending on how much calcium I need to bring me up to the desired level.  [return to text]

Note 3:   The tooth that I lost had a long, long history. I have a genetic defect that I inherited from my father, which caused my canines to not be in the proper position. Rather, they were embedded in my upper palate, facing backwards. Thus, when my adult teeth came in, the canines were missing, so nothing replaced the baby teeth which had preceded them.

When this was diagnosed, the canines were brought down surgically. After being swung into position in my upper palate (briefly giving me two rows of teeth, like a shark), they were gradually pushed forward by orthodontic appliances (I had to wear a bite block during the period in which they crossed from behind the lower teeth to in front).

This rather large amount of motion proved to be too much for the right canine, however. Apparently its blood supply was compromised, and it died. As a result, when I was around 12 years of age, a root canal was performed on it. And this was the tooth that finally cracked and had to be removed, at age 74. I think that over sixty years is well beyond the typical life of a root canal, particularly on a rather thin tooth like a canine.   [return to text]

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