One of the privileges of my work is observing how people respond to getting older and entering a different season of life. It is, for instance, interesting to see how men respond to retirement. Some ease effortlessly into the slower, less stressful pace of life after work. Their days are filled with enriching activities like golfing, traveling, playing with grandchildren, volunteering, reading, and photography—to the point that some tell me they can’t comprehend how they ever had time to work. In contrast, for other men retirement presents an existential crisis. Their identity and purpose had been so tied to their work that they struggle to identity who they are and what they are living for.
Another challenge of aging is the physical changes and frailties it brings. Some people fatalistically declare that getting older means their body will fall apart. Others optimistically believe that with the right behavior, they can retain most of the capacities of their youth. Still others summon the gift of humor. In his new book, the comedian Billy Crystal provides some funny reflections on his own aging journey. I thought I’d share a few passages that made me laugh.
“During the past year I saw my dermatologist more than I saw my grandkids. Things started to grow on me where they shouldn’t. I don’t shower anymore; I’m sandblasted twice a week. I’m always at the dermatologist’s. He keeps picking at me; I’m like his own personal honey-baked ham.”
“I tell people I sleep like a baby; I’m up every 2 hours. And it’s so lonely when you can’t sleep and your spouse can. Sometimes when I wake up, I fake a nightmare, just so I have someone to talk to. ‘Don’t—no, no put the gun down, no!’ ‘Honey, you okay?’ ‘Yeah, I’m okay, it was just a bad dream. You want to play cards?’ “
“The drug companies make the commercials for their medicines look so beautiful. These people have real problems and in thirty seconds it’s all solved, there are butterflies and bike rides and people walking their puppies, whatever they have is cured, their prostates are shrinking, their bones aren’t brittle, their hairlines are back, and I’m filled with hope. Then right at the end of the commercial that voice comes on and quickly says. . . .May cause lack of appetite, dizziness, nervousness, psychotic episodes, blurred vision, stuttering, skipping and jumping, barking at the moon, bile backup , diarrhea, and impotence.”
So often patients tell me how young I look, but I marvel at how wrinkled and discolored my skin is compared to that of my two little boys. It reminds me that I too am aging and will someday experience the blessings and challenges of being old.