I had a visit this week from my friend, Mr. S..
I first met Mr. S. three years ago, when he was 85 years old. So, he is now 88. Like clockwork, he comes to see me every six months, as close to the exact date as possible. He gets signed onto my schedule as a patient, comes to my office and sits in the chair, and hands me his glucometer to show me his blood sugar readings–which are always normal. That is about as far as I can fairly say his patient status extends. For the rest of our encounter, he serves in the role of my inspiration.
Mr. S. is a lifetime military man who served in three wars. Yes, three wars. He was born before the Great Depression. He has had colon cancer, some heart irregularities, and a touch of diabetes. He has a handful of doctors he sees religiously. He is by all usual accounting, old. But, when I go out to the waiting room to call him, he is always sitting there in a nicely pressed, often comical T-shirt, stylin’ sneakers and with his MP3 headphones in his ears. He is muscular and fit and he truly looks like a kid. He still works part-time, walks most everywhere, and has a profoundly full and secure memory bank.
Six months ago, when I last saw him, his appointment was on a day we had a really big snowstorm. Instead of driving to work, I took the commuter bus. I had to trudge, in Dr. Zhivago-like fashion, down streets that plows and shovels could not yet tend to and that cars and buses could not negotiate. I came in the back door of the building, frosted with ice and quite bedraggled. As I turned on my computer, I realized Mr. S. was there waiting for me. Apologetically, and still dripping and bothered, I went to receive him. There he was–serene and bone dry, as if he had come in from an alternate climate and mindset zone–like Key West.
Though he is the consummate gentleman, and will not let me hold the door for him, he hails me by my last name, as if we are old war buddies. Each visit plays out essentially the same. He bemoans the physical impairment he witnesses around him due to collective ill-health, he is shocked by the corpulence of young people and he is disturbed by how poorly most are eating. He always asks me if I know who invented those little motorized scooters that assist those who are mobility impaired. He considers them a serious hindrance to most who rely on them. I reply that I don’t know.
He maintains that most folk hear, but they refuse to listen. Whereas, I tend to see the current health crisis as being due to a combination of societal failures, he is mainly about personal responsibility. He god blesses me frequently, confounded that I have the patience to do what I do–repeatedly trying to knock sense into people, as he says. He is a philosopher and a sage, and though I do infer that he has a few skeletons in his own closet, he awakes each day committed to being the best that he can be.
He buys good old regular food, he cooks it and he enjoys it. We chat about what he has recently prepared. Beans and veggies are usually in the mix and he loves fresh, local tomatoes. I have on three different occasions had Mr. S. accompany me to little talks I have given, as my daily quest is to try to inspire health. When I introduce him, I ask the audience to guess how old he is. The oldest guess so far has been 71. When we reveal his true age, the crowd goes crazy.
Now, it could be said that Mr. S. has just been blessed by a good set of genes or that he is just lucky. He has had not only one, but three big opportunities to have been blown to pieces and yet, here he is, still intact both mentally and physically. He obviously has some good collection of the factors that we seem to understand as longevity promoting.
However, before our sessions come to an end, he always reminds me of one more thing. Mr. S. has a Mrs. S.. She is frail with some dementia. Above all else, he says, it is his job to be healthy in order that he may take care of her. If he wasn’t able to be there for her, who would?
Although I have heard it before, I am always a sucker for this part of the story. It seems that we are not wired fully for self-preservation as self-destructive behaviors are too easily inclined. This is especially true for men who don’t seem to take as good care of themselves as women do. What Mr. S. understands is that love is a necessary ingredient in the big gestalt of health.
He is also not too far off in his perception that my work entails a high degree of trying to knock sense into people. However, rather than using a sledge-hammer approach, I too try to offer and prescribe as high a dose of Vitamin L(ove) as I can. Perhaps, it is really all we need.
Do you have a Mr. S. who inspires your life?
In health, Elyn
Food is medicine
Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests
Eat Pray, Eat Pray, Eat