A couple of weeks ago I received a call from my neighbor Judy, who lives across the street.
She asked if I could do her a favor and drive her to a foot and ankle specialist to look at her swollen lower leg. I was more than happy to be of service as she could not drive.
It wasn’t the first time I had helped her.
About a month ago, she asked me to drive a mile to CVS to pick up prescriptions for an inflammation in her foot, which later was diagnosed as gout.
I was more than happy to be of service as I work from home and the distraction pulls me away from the computer.
So last week, I found myself driving her 1990-era Chrysler with Judy riding shotgun.
She rarely has visitors and I know she has no children. On our way to the doctor, I asked her about her family.
It turns out she has only one brother, but he and his two children live in North Carolina and never visit, she said. Her parents are deceased, and she mentioned a friend or two living in the area. Hers isn’t a particularly robust support system.
We’ve been living across from Judy for 14 years. As younger couples move into the neighborhood, Judy is drifting further and further to the right on the bell curve.
I dropped a couple of hints: Did she have any plans to move into a smaller place? (No.) Did she want to set up a buddy system with friends? (Well, they’re not around often.) How about her brother? (We’re not on speaking terms after falling out over family photos.)
Objection after objection, I thought to myself.
She explained how sorry she was to bother me and impose herself on my day. She was grateful for my help. She insisted all she needed was to get better and she would no longer be a burden.
Burden? I said. Not at all.
Then I thought, well at least not at the moment.
A couple more days and it would be all over, she said. Things would be back to normal once her medication kicked in.
As I waited for her, I thought of how Judy, who once worked as a corporate secretary and retains her former employer’s generous benefits, hasn’t really grasped that time is moving against her.
Was Judy deluding herself in thinking that her medical issues would go away? Were these not warning signs of bigger medical challenges knocking at her door?
I’ve seen this pattern with my mother-in-law. Nearly three years ago, she had a squamous cell tumor removed from her big toe, which left her recovering in a wheelchair for a couple of months.
Knocking around our house during her weeks of rehabilitation, I overheard her telling friends that all she needed was to heal physically and that she just wanted her life back. Within three months, she had healed and she regained her physical life.
But overcoming the trauma of toe surgery, she quickly ran into more obstacles: visits to psychiatrists (with a vacation or two in between), appointments with psychologists and schedules with specialists. Most recently, she’s been referred to a gastroenterologist for might be intestinal polyps.
Overcoming the hump isn’t the issue; managing the journey of aging is. If that truth is beginning to dawn on my mother-in-law, it certainly has not struck Judy.
Remember that we’re not talking about Olympic athletes with Adonis-like physiques or millionaires who can afford top-flight services. We're not talking about insurance professionals drilled in the ins and outs of long-term care, and the correlation between age and claim frequency or severity.
We’re talking about the people you run into on the subway, the families you chat with in line at Disney, the commuter talking on a cellphone while sitting in downtown traffic.
In previous millennia we died much younger, victims of illness, plague or war. Longevity was cut short.
But in our present era, with life expectancy extending further into the future, aging friends, relatives and neighbors yearn for the day they hope to overcome their medical “humps.” But eventually they find that the day they put those obstacles behind them is the day that never comes.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].
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