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Finding a doctor today with tomorrow in mind

"Let's face it. A physician will care more about saving someone whom they recall as having been vibrant, charming and young." Credit: iStock

My theory about dentists and doctors is that they ought to be young enough that they will likely outlast me.

When an otolaryngologist (a head and neck doctor) I visited recently entered the consulting room, I said with relief, "Oh, good, you're so young you're sure to live longer than I will."

Never having met me before and not knowing my sense of humor, he seemed a bit taken aback.

But I am not completely kidding.

When I selected a dentist, I called his office and sidled up to the question as tactfully as I could. "Just how old was he?" I asked the receptionist. She estimated he was scarcely more than 40 and was likely to stay in business a good while.

Two dentists later, I asked questions until I determined that although he was about my age, his son was in dental school and stood a good chance of taking over the practice.

My dermatologist must have graduated med school at an incredibly young age, since he looks to be not much more than 18. (Or is that because he stays out of the sun? Or maybe it is because I am older now, and everyone else looks younger?)

My concern may seem comical, but it is based on experience. Years ago, I volunteered as a weekly visitor to Myra, an elderly woman who suffered from depression, profound hearing loss and Parkinson's. I saw that most of her physicians and other health professionals had died or retired. The replacement caregivers could not remember Myra as she had been in younger days, her heyday, and they had little patience to spare. Parkinson's slowed and slurred her speech, making her difficult to understand. These health care professionals had not known Myra in her prime and treated her like a stranger.

This should not have happened to the proud woman who asked me for a compact so she could powder her nose in the waiting room before one of her medical appointments. She was intelligent as well as vain; she had her pride. They did not know her as a person -- only as an "old" person.

Later, my mother, suffering from Parkinson's and other medical conditions, became an old person to doctors who had not known her when she was a young, strong farmer. They did not see the part of her that had made hay, sawed wood, driven tractors.

Let's face it. A physician will care more about saving someone whom they recall as having been vibrant, charming and young.

I swore that what happened to Myra and my mother would not happen to me. I began to search for doctors old enough to have had some experience, but not so old that they would close up shop before I was ready for them to.

It has gotten easier to choose youngish health professionals in these days of the Internet. Few reveal their ages, but many do post photos of themselves on their websites, and it is possible to make a fair estimate. Is this a kind and honest face? A young face?

I have extrapolated this theory to cover some other life situations. Younger pets are good, though they still are unlikely to outlast me, since their lives are short compared to humans.

The other day, scuttling beneath the bed to retrieve a cat that had refused a morsel of food that contained a concealed antibiotic, I reflected on this anew. My theory may need some revision when it comes to cats, since Garland, the part-Maine Coon in question, is young, strong and wily. He cunningly catapults from my arms when approached with medication. The ailment for which the pill was prescribed has not slowed him down much.

For the most part, though, I try to regard such under-bed excursions as part of my unorthodox exercise program. Exercise is just what doctors of all ages order for their patients of all ages.

My exercise regimen includes lifting boxes of books instead of weights, stretching for goods stored on high shelves instead of getting a stepladder or a chair and what I call "sports cooking," the kind of kitchen calisthenics in which I bake hundreds of cookies, knead huge bowls of dough and stir endless risotto. Planting fall bulbs counts as exercise, too, in my book.

The other day, my husband and I met a man who was putting away the kite we had seen him flying that afternoon beside a lake. We stopped to exchange greetings, and he told us he had retired from IBM to fly kites, and now he did it almost daily so long as the weather and his aches and pains cooperated. He invited us to fly with him someday, and assured us that he always brings extra kites.

Now, that's exercise. That fellow, as we say in the countryside where I grew up, was no spring chicken. But he just might outlive his youthful doctors.

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