As I age (I have just turned 62), I find myself being astounded at the turn of events in my life. In the past, when I went to the doctor, it was a simple matter of going in and getting a clean bill of health; it was expected and I was not disappointed. Then when I turned 40, little things came up that let me know that I am entering a new phase of my life, one that is just as important as the other stages I have gone through, or perhaps even more important because of the time that I am now living in.

It was a bit of shock for me when I entered middle age, though not much of one, for I did not experience any obvious changes in my body, or for that matter in my inner life. Well nothing sudden causing a time of disorientation, or anything like that. When I was 43, I guess you can say I got my first serious illness and the painful lesson in how easy it was to get sick. I got cat-scratch-fever. I remember driving myself to the emergency room, with a 102 degree fever (yes I know it was stupid), which was 30 miles away; St Joseph’s hospital. On the way there I turned on the local rock and roll station and a song that I did not ever remember hearing, came on, its title being, “cat scratch fever”. I liked the song and wondered what it was about……I was too sick to be able to think very well but managed to get to St. Joseph’s OK. The doctors, when they saw how big my lymph node on my arm was, were nervous about dealing with me. They thought that I had some sort of exotic disease from some far away country. So they called the CDC and sent in a doctor. In the end, when he told me about my diagnosis I laughed and told him about the song as I drove in. He thought that was really funny and kind of spooky.

I was there for about ten days and was very sick. On the seventh day they took me off intravenous antibiotics and started me on pills. They wanted to send me home if they could. The second evening after the change in my medication I felt kind of funny. It was a feeling of being very heavy, like I was going to sink through the bed; it was a very strange feeling, but not all that unpleasant. So when the nurse came in with my night meds I asked her to take my temperature. At first she did not want to, she felt my forehead and told me that there was no fever. So I responded, “Please, I really feel strange and don’t know what is happening”. So she left in a bit of a huff and came back and took my temperature. She looked at the reading and ran out quickly and came back with something for me to take. She told me that my temperature was 104 degrees and rising. About an hour after the meds (mostly likely Ibuprofen) I broke out in a sweat that soaked my bed. The next day the doctor told me that if I had not talked to the nurse and had her take my temperature, there was a good chance that I would have been dead by midnight when it was the normal time for my vitals’ to be checked. He told me that while I had cat-scratch-fever, I also had much more than that and that alone would have killed me without a hospital stay. So I learned, again, how easy it was to get sick and yes die.

So now, twenty years later, every time I go to the VA to see my doctor they find something else. There was a time when I went to the VA just once a year. Now in the next three months I will have to go back for four procedures to see if a specific problem that has come up is serious or not and if serious, if it is life threatening. The good news is that only 10-27% of those afflicted actually die from it. So the odds are in my favor. Well unless they find something else next year. So getting old is an adventure and one I plan on enjoying in spite of the aches and pains that no doubt will be my lot just like the majority of people. I would not want to go back, being young is good when it happens, but I truly believe that each stage is just as important as the ones that have gone before. Also since they build on each other, well perhaps the latter stages are in reality the ones that have more meaning and importance to them.

In other words, death, even if I can’t imagine the world going on without me, is becoming more of a reality for me. My dad died at 83, so hopefully I will have 21 good years ahead of me. I have inherited some health issues from both my dad and mom, which is to be expected and all I can do is to try to take better care of myself and hopefully be able to live a productive life until the end. Though as a caregiver myself, I also know that slow decline, and how I react to that reality, is the most important aspect of all.

I still feel young inside and am at times surprised at who is looking back at me from the mirror. My beard is close to white now, my hair as well, though I have none on the top. Too bad, for if I had a full head of hair I would have ‘dread locks’. I love the look, but I have adapted, I just allow my hair to grow long, on the sides and back that is and I have a pony tail, so yes I look like many my age. Simpler to take care of and I love hair, long and lots of it. So I kind of like looking like an older man who could be Santa at Christmas if he wanted.

I have a strong faith and believe in something after death. Being a Christian we have labels that we use to try to get a handle on it all, but actually very little can be said about it at least by religion. I can’t imagine surviving my bodily death, for I can’t comprehend what that would be like. However, from my perspective, there being an afterlife is no more astounding that I exist in this world at this time. So hopefully my faith will deepen along with my doubts. For me, faith and doubt have always been together, friends, sitting across from each other having an amiable conversation about life and what it is about. One side believes and the other is more dark and gloomy, yet they talk and get along fine.

So the years speed by and from the rapidity with which the last 62 years have passed, well I will be on the brink of finding out about the after life before I know it. This knowledge on how fleeting life is has given me a deep desire to hang around as long as possible, for as a wise old man I was taking care said years ago: “Mark, we are here for such a short time, we should hang on as long as possible”.

Being a ‘Baby Boomer” and one of the older ones, I can see what a problem we will be in the near future. There will be so many of us that I am not sure we will be afforded care that will go on for years. I think it is time for people to understand that billions of dollars can no longer be spent to keep people of my generation alive for as long as possible no matter the cost. I am against euthanasia, but to allow nature to take its course and to be kept pain free as far as possible is not immoral at all, but fast becoming a necessity. I don’t think this is something morbid or gloomy, but a subject that I wish would be taken up by society as a whole. Baby Boomers have had one of the best rides (at least in the USA) of any generation in history, but we need to learn when it is time to allow nature to take its course and make an exit that is filled with dignity and grace. For years I have helped the elderly live out their last years, most of them did it with style and those who did not, well it was still an honor to serve them. Soon, in the blink of an eye it will be my turn, I wonder how I will take it. I don’t worry, for that is useless, I just try to deepen my faith and keep my doubts before my eyes, for it is that inner dialogue that I think keeps my mind young and my soul hopeful.

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Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.

9 Comments
  1. Frank Povah

    How well you have said it, Mark. Seems that as one ages, every time one visits the doctor he either wants to take something out or put something in. Medical schools must now be teaching their students that mortality is a mistake and that we are in reality immortal.

    When will they teach that our immortality is in our children, or our siblings’ children – no-one’s genes vanish from the pool.

    1. Mark Dohle

      Thanks Frank, I think the simple weight of my generation will change that soon in the future.

      Peace
      mark

  2. LOVE the article, and REALLY love the first reply !

  3. My dear Mother said, “Getting old isn’t for sissies.” My experience, since my heart transplant 14 years ago, is that when they fix something they break something else. I take four medications to prevent rejection and fifteen others to counter the effects of those and others to counteract the effects of the ones that I take to counteract the effect of the ones to counteract the effects of those. The grand total is 56 pills per day. It has only gotten more complicated since my kidney transplant a year ago. The medications that I take to protect my heart from rejection trashed my kidneys.

    In spite of all that I find life to be a marvelous adventure that is filled with challenges that keep me from boredom. One day I plan to slide into heaven, battered and utterly worn out shouting, “Whoopee, what a ride.”

    1. Mark Dohle

      Yeah, it is a gave of checkers young, then it becomes a chess match, but well worth it…..
      life is so short.

      Peace
      mark

  4. I wonder if it is different for women. We’ve gotten used to the unpleasant annual visits to the gyn and the post-40 mammograms, and every woman I know has had a lower GI checkup for colon cancer. The men I know, on the other hand, absolutely do not want to get the colonoscopy or prostate exam and wait until symptoms send them to the doctor where the news usually involves lipitor and/or a bypass (husband being a case in point). At this time of life, I’m just so glad to have energy and thought processes intact!
    By the way, Mark, you don’t have to be Christian to have the same dialogue as you are having with yourself. Personally, I am hoping that the truth lies with the wonderful Albert Brooks movie, “Defending Your Life.” It is my favorite depiction of the afterlife.

  5. Mark Dohle

    Yeah, I thought I was going to get out of a colonosocopy, but the GI doctor told me that I ‘will’ get one ;-). Yikes I hate that kind of thing. I am slowly getting used to the ‘new’ me, the one who is also having a growing pile of meds to take.

    My writing flow from my christian faith, I don’t think by any means that is the only way to deal with life or having a relationship with God. It is j ust my language.

    Peace
    Mark

  6. Jack deJarnette

    Huh, sickness and doctors and pills and Christian faith are the only reasons that I am here. I’ve had it all cancer, heart failure, kidney failure, gastrointestinal stuff requiring 13 inches of colon to be removed, and gall bladder disease. Thankfully my liver is still strong and can handle the small bit of alcohol I treat it with. I now take 55 pills a day so anything I eat adds weight, so I forgo a meal each day. I have tasted death three times and experienced the afterward twice and believe me, that makes my faith in God real. I have seen both sides and I am sorry for those who die without belief in the God of the hereafter.

    Here is a thought; suppose that what I believe is right, then when I die I will experience an ecstasy beyond measure. Suppose I am wrong. I won’t know it, I’ll simply cease to be, so what’s to loose?

    As to the billions of dollars spent to keep us alive, it is nonsense, but I simply can’t find the will to stop my medication refills, especially when my wife, children and grandchildren want me to keep going. It is easy to say, “I’ll be satisfied to live to be 100 until you are 100.”

    Mark, right on Brother. Frank, keep the faith. Gita, I’ll pray for you.

  7. Mark Dohle

    You are amazing my friend, such faith. I am not against living as long as possible, for in spite of all the *##^%+$ that goes on, it is still a wonderous journey. It is just there are so many baby boomers out there and I fear we are a tad spoiled, well a great many of us if not all; best not to generalize to much ;-).

    peace
    mark

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