I’m troubled this week and I’d like to talk about it. Please comment below if you wish. I’d be interested in your thoughts.
It comes as no surprise that one day in the future there will be absolute proof of my mortality. That’s not a great worry, frankly. It’s an inevitability. And I’ve had a good life. Very good. There’s no point in fretting over it ending one day.
But there is a good reason to make an effort to remain healthy, active, vibrant, and functional for as long as I can. Especially so if I wish to continue flying into my golden years, which I do.
A bit of personal information. I’m on the cusp of 60 years old. I’m in reasonable health and don’t take any medications, but I’m overweight and have been for a couple decades. I quit smoking nearly a quarter century ago, and rarely drank alcohol for about that same period of time.
Concessions have to be made during the years of child-rearing. Or at least I believe that to be the case. Today I’m prone to an evening cigar and a whiskey on the porch. I enjoy both tremendously.
For most of those past couple decades I’ve had a great relationship with my primary care physician, visiting more than once a year. In recent years I’ve seen him every four months. My goal was to remain healthy by making lifestyle changes. Specifically, exercising often and learning to eat better. We were doing okay, too.
Then my primary physician died. That was a bit of a shock since he was significantly younger than I am. He was a good guy. I miss him.
After a lot of thought and some casual vetting I chose a new primary care physician. He’s a good guy too. During our first appointment he expressed concern over my cholesterol numbers. They’re not outrageous, but they’re inching above 200, which is the point when doctors seem to feel the need to do something.
He suggested medication, and I countered with a desire to stay away from prescriptions in favor of lifestyle changes. He relented, suggesting that if I lost eight pounds in the coming three months, we’d be good.
I took that suggestion seriously. It was time. I’ve been fat for long enough. So I changed the way I eat. Mostly in terms of what I eat and smaller portion sizes. I also snacked less. It worked too. By the time my next appointment rolled around I’d lost 10 pounds.
My doctor congratulated me on losing weight. I’d beat the goal we set out. Then he recommended I begin taking cholesterol lowering medicine. The exact thing I was trying to avoid by losing weight.
By his estimation my risk of a heart event in the coming decade is slightly less than 10%. To me that sounds pretty reasonable. As I age that percentage of likelihood will rise. Eventually, it will be very near 100%. That’s life. Or more accurately, that’s the circle of life. It ends. I get it. I’m okay with that.
What I’m not understanding is the push to take medication. Medical appointments now feel more like a sales pitch than a health screening. The particular product my doctor suggested is likely to lower my cholesterol, which is apparently an important outcome. At least it is to my doctor. The drug does not come risk free, however. The side effects are not insignificant.
My reticence to jump into the pharmaceutical pool is that during testing of the drug there wasn’t a significant reduction in the number of heart related events for those taking it. In fact, the difference was 1%. Out of 100 patients taking the drug for an extended period of time, and 100 patients taking a placebo, the difference in the two groups was one heart attack. One.
My doctor tells me 10% to 15% of patients taking this drug will experience side effects, including the possibility of muscle damage, liver damage, diabetes, and/or neurological issues.
This leaves me in a conundrum. The math suggests the most likely outcome of taking the pill will be a lower cholesterol level, but with no significant reduction in my risk of heart attack. I’d have a 10% to 15% likelihood of experiencing side effects that could be serious. The least likely outcome, at a mere 1%, is that I’d actually be helped by the drug, benefiting from a slightly lowered risk of heart attack.
Time is not on my side in this. If I take the drug, my risk will continue to rise as I age. If I don’t take the drug my risk will continue to rise as I age. One way or another, my body will give out. That’s what happened to my dad, and his dad, and his dad. I can recognize and accept the trend.
This brings us to a series of interesting questions. What is the meaning of life? What is the value of life? Should we change the values of our life in an attempt to extend it? Or not?
I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. Not in a universal, all-encompassing, one-size-fits-all sort of way, anyhow.
But I think I know the answers as they pertain to me. I think I’m comfortable with the idea of aging and degrading at nature’s pace. I’ve spent the bulk of my life doing things that matter to me. Things that scare the crap out of the average man on the street. Or they at least make him uncomfortably nervous.
When it comes to being conventional, I’m not much interested in that. And I don’t think I’m going to join in on the modern convention of taking a pill to ward off the one thing that can’t be avoided.
Maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?