Since Ponce de Leon’s final ill fated journey to Florida, one after another of our lot has picked up his sword and continued the “eternally young” quest with predictably empty results. I refer to his final journey as ill fated because de Leon, then governor of Puerto Rico, was shot with a poison arrow from the bow of a Calusa brave and died in Havana at the young age of forty-seven. Stories of his search for the mysterious fountain didn’t turn up until after his death, and were relegated to legend rather than fact. Some historians say a tea from Bimini, supposedly with special healing powers, was the brew mistaken for his so-called search. (That reminds me of an old Danny Kaye movie… the flagon with the dragon has the pellet with the poison; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true …) |
Nevertheless we modern humans are bombarded daily about the latest wonder drug or some new miracle restorative procedure offered by some quack eager to profit from our fear of growing old and dying. Step right up! Fifty is the new thirty! Send in your money today, and you too can subtract twenty years from your age and have an instant blue-steel boner to boot. I wonder what middle-aged and senior ladies think about that—blessing or curse? Oh well; fellows, there’s always internet porn, a veritable cornucopia of smut and depravity, to relieve your chemically induced passion.
Ever since I can remember, I have pursued a healthy lifestyle, which includes: maintaining a proper diet; minimizing stress—which I do rather well if I do say so myself—and getting plenty of exercise. So far this week I’ve played tennis, spent every other day in the weight room, and triathlon trained (swim, bike, run) on alternate days. My hair has yet to turn gray, which I attribute to good genes from both sides of the family. I heard once on a television quiz show that hair retains color until one’s body stops producing copper. (I wonder if licking copper tubing helps.) Still, I am accused by a few contemporaries of coloring my locks.
Some people of my vintage ask me pointedly 1) just-what-the-hell-I-think-I’m-doing; and after adding a bigger sneer, 2) if I think I’ll add extra years to my life. I answer them this way: 1) my particular lifestyle is simply consistent with my inherent nature, which is without conscious effort and/or thought; and 2) I may or may not live longer, but that’s not the reason for my regimen. I do it for the way I feel in-the-moment, which is pretty much like when I was in my mid-twenties except recovery and healing takes longer. Also, I can’t tolerate alcohol as well as I once could, but morning wood still makes an appearance. (Schwing!) None—well almost none—of us know what kind of a time bomb is percolating away on our insides, nor do we know the expiration date programmed within us. We’re all one heartbeat away from the grave. Remember running advocate and guru Jim Fixx? He went down at 52.
My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when she was a year younger than I am now. It was like a ten-year funeral, and when she died looked twenty years younger than her actual age. She had not one gray hair and was free of wrinkles. What a living nightmare dementia must be, and it matters neither how healthy one lives nor how many “miracle” drugs are consumed. Sooner or later some kind of old age ailment reveals itself, and the guy with the scythe makes an appearance. (Heerree’s Johnny!)
The irony in my family, and maybe many families, was that my mother lived a relatively healthy lifestyle, but my father did not. Dad began smoking at 12-years of age, and enjoyed multiple daily martinis. He ate fried eggs every morning; piled gravy on slabs of red meat; consumed mass quantities of salt; combined gravy, noodles, and potatoes; and never held back. Yet his cholesterol and triglyceride counts were well within safe zones. His only forms of exercise were doing yard work, gardening, and golfing with Mom. His mind was alert and sound until the very end. The guy was robust, but I’m convinced he could have continued longer, and I think he would have liked that. He was always doing something; working on one project or another.
In the end, Dad was the victim of a biological chain reaction that claimed his life, a fate most of us will share; i.e., we’ll each have our own chain reaction. His countdown began in his sixties when they found a “small” (6 cm) aortic aneurysm, which stepped-to-the-plate in earnest when he was eighty-two as it grew to 9 cm. His physician explained that serious consideration should be given to having it repaired, which Dad quickly turned into an engineering problem, piping diagram and all. I got a kick out of him giving the doctor a tutorial on what was happening along with recommendations for remedial action. Because of Dad’s advanced age he was given a stress test to see if he could withstand surgery. He passed with flying colors. Surgery came with an ominous warning: viz., it will knock the daylights out of you, and you may never be quite the same again. Dad scoffed at that, but the prediction turned out to be true. Upon waking from a 30-day comatose period, his gait slowed and movement took more effort. After that the dominoes started to fall (with Dad’s comments): nuking stones in his bladder (it was fun to watch on a scope; like watching a duck shoot); male ream job (they told me I wouldn’t have to wear an adult diaper, the liars); mild heart attack (is there such a thing); gall bladder removal (first thing I want is a hamburger slathered with horseradish); and finally some kind of sepsis that caused his organs to fail. After his kidneys had shutdown the last thing he said to me was, “What’s wrong with me? Am I going to get better?”
For those last years, I advised him to take better care of his teeth. As Soupy Sales said, “Always be true to your teeth and they won’t be false to you.” It seems logical to surmise the last domino to fall was an infection from his teeth that created an irreversible septic condition in his body.
In a way Ponce de Leon succeeded. He never knew old age.
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