Here's a big question: When does old age begin? Will 30 years do it? Is being 50 and the holder of an AARP card with senior discounts enough? Both would be wrong guesses. Until recently, I hadn't thought much about it. Yet, I got the answer to this eminent question without asking.
A while ago, I saw my physician for a semi-annual examination and health review. Near the end of our meeting, the doctor declared for the record that I had arrived at old age. Crash the cymbals and blare the trumpets! Wrinkles or not, I am a qualified old person.
On May 4, 2012, I unceremoniously turned 65 without the slightest notion of such a venerable accomplishment. It was a typical birthday, like so many before: some chocolate cake (my favorite), a few dozen candles to blow out and a birthday wish.
Now, personally, if I make to my 100th birthday, I would consider a pledge to the old folks' fraternity. According to the good doctor, though, 65 human years on Earth is an important milestone. Perhaps even epic.
Until the "elderly" moniker was assigned to me, things were going along fine. I've worked steadily to maintain the doctor's target numbers for good health, generated by a healthy diet, regular exercise and a focused attitude. I made a commitment a couple of years ago to simply improve the quality of my life. I wanted to feel the best that I could.
The doctor was very pleased. She said, "Mr. Hughes, you made my day." I felt like a schoolkid who just got straight A's on his report card. She went on to explain how frustrating it can be for her so often. So many patients, for one reason or another, do not follow a doctor's common-sense advice. I was determined not to be in that dubious group.
The process has been challenging and sometimes difficult, but the results have been satisfying. I feel good. I've lost weight, which my waistline appreciates, and I love my rebooted energy. I'm simply a man who still pursues his passions, keeps his imagination kindled, and loves family life. It's a reinvention I hope to enjoy for a long time to come.
At the height of this dreamy euphoria, though, without a warning signal, the physician brought it crashing down. She said I had to get a couple of vaccinations, a flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine. I knew about the flu shot and planned to get one, as I do every year. But — a required pneumonia vaccination? I was taken by surprise. This one was never injected in my arm or anywhere else. And believe me, I've received my share of vaccinations, particularly while in the military, including protection from yellow fever and typhus!
"Why do I need a pneumonia shot?" I said. There was silence in the room, except for the tick of the wall clock. Then, the healing physician announced my new demographic status like a TV program interruption. It was an oral medical bulletin. With a homeopathic face and calming voice, the esteemed doctor removed her stethoscope from around her neck and answered: "Because ... you are old." The clock continued its rhythmic tick-tock. I was speechless. What could I say?
So there you have it. Dr. Elena, M.D., said it loud and quite clearly. At 65, I am officially a codger. I'm just a specter of my youth. Middle age is in my rearview mirror and fading into the past. My bumper-to-bumper warranty is almost, ahem, expired. Wave good bye to tanning salons, sweet tea, hair and charmed flirtations. It's time to anchor in safe harbor, tune in to Retirement Living TV, and trade in my libido for a Buick.
When I saw the doctor some time later, she asked if I had Googled for the old age information she talked to me about. "No," I responded. She grinned and said, "Oh, you really should look it up. I found all the old-age stuff on Wikipedia." She turned, walked away, and disappeared into one of her examination rooms.
The esteemed doctor was right — it's all there. When does old age begin? Look it up!
Joseph R. Hughes lives in Abingdon. His email is email@example.com.