Bottle the Conversations that Focus on Organ Recitals, or At Least Ramp Them Down

Now that the Presidential election has been decided, many of the conversations we age-defiers focus on revolve around our aches, pains and upcoming or recent medical procedures. In our forthcoming book, Not Dead Yet: Rebooting Your Life after 50, we devote a chapter to this topic with good takeaways.  

Talking about our ills and pills is hauntingly similar to our parents’ and even our grandparents’ conversations. We acknowledge that we’re past 50, maybe even 60, 70 or–gasp--80, but does all of our schmoozing and get-togethers have to begin and sometimes end with what someone we heard refer to as an “organ recital”? And we’re not talking music but rather our insides that keep us chugging along.

The specific ailments and operations we each have, may vary, from cataracts and knee and hip replacements and rotator cuff surgery to what type of sleep machine works best for sleep apnea, and which cholesterol and sex-enhancing meds do the trick? There’s talk also of private parts that we would prefer to stay private or other procedures such as surgery for herniated discs, lap bands and gastric by-passes that we could live without hearing about.

And then there is the pill pontificating—what to take for migraines and acid reflux disease syndrome or the best vitamins for bone density. Throw in foot treatments for bunions from all those years of wearing very high-heeled shoes, and whether we still need another colonoscopy, mammogram and Pap smear at our advanced years. Our guy friends are busy debating prostate tests and which kind.

Being a bit obsessed with staying healthy at this age is good. Why not, if we want to live a joyful long time? In fact, some of us are aiming to reach 100 and more, which doesn’t seem to be an outrageous goal given that there already are 573,000 centenarians worldwide. However, even if you limit sugar and eat shredded wheat or oatmeal each morning, don’t think it’s easy; the number represents less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. And after the pandemic, life expectancy in the U.S. fell for 2020, declining by an average of 1.5 years.

In some cases, being fixated on our health can be unhealthy. It may lead us to check out numerous online medical sites and journals, and oftentimes to come up with armchair diagnoses for ourselves and others.

In reality, ask yourselves why would anyone think others would be eager to hear about someone else’s hemorrhoids, recent doctor visits, or the wisdom of opting for generic drugs or going for the pricier brands? Let’s not forget all the side effects that almost every drug presents as a possibility to launch another discussion, and a very long-winded one, too.

In addition, there are all the vanity treatments for non-threatening but key decisions to make about Botox, and eye, neck and face lifts as we sag and wrinkle, as well as the wisdom of having plastic surgeries done locally or far from home to hide the procedures and temporary results. Some come out and admit, “I did it.” Others are a bit sneakier and deny, even when you compliment them on how well they look because of their tight necks and bagless eyes.

As we age, these discussions are likely to occur more often. One caveat: Know that we’re compassionate and not referring to serious illnesses when the person who is unwell or a family member typically doesn’t want to talk about what’s going on with a group and would prefer to share in private.

In the meantime, here are a few tips for those endless exchanges about the more routine maladies connected with aging. Try to avoid initiating or participating by following our seven healthy-minded suggestions and be prepared to use some of these the next time you ask, “How are you? Are you okay? Really okay?”

  1. Redirect to cheerful topics. Once the discussion turns to certain body functions, it’s time to shift gears and fast. It’s fine to share ideas about the right vitamins to take in the morning, but when the conversation shifts to graphic bowel issues, it’s time to do some fast talking to shut it down. Talk about the latest series you’re watching on Netflix or the weather that is more interesting today than ever because of climate change worldwide. Remodelings are a good topic as and have become so prevalent due to isolation at home; everyone wants to know about good projects, competent contractors, and sustainable, durable materials. Talk of planting a garden will yield huge smiles and a long conversation, maybe, even recipes for all those juicy tomatoes.
  2. Focus on what to look forward to in the future. Reveal your plan to climb a mountain and how you’re getting into shape to do so. Don’t dwell on the hip replacement surgery that went haywire. Hey, give it time and lots of physical therapy. Instead, do your own replacement and shift the conversation from hips to upcoming trips.
  3. Use laughter, the best medicine. If you’re discussing your experience delivering your children, tell a funny story like when Margaret was delivering her daughter and there was a problem. Her husband turned white and almost fainted in the operating room. Of course, the entire staff turned to help him while Margaret was flailing on the operating table.
  4. Make it an equal opportunity discussion. Like we did on Zoom chats, cut off the conversation after a set amount of time. Initiate a 10-minute ruleAppoint someone to be the stopwatch cop. Then sweetly say, “Time’s up.” On the other hand, respect each person’s point of view by not interrupting or disagreeing.
  5. Express your appetite for the meal rather than trying to stomach unpalatable discussions by suggesting sharing ailments on social media. Social media is where they can carry on a monologue and post photos or internet friendly videos of themselves in their hospital gown or whatever—just make sure the photos are in good taste.
  6. Cut them off at the pass and don’t prolong the conversation if you don’t agree with what they’re saying, or even if you do. If you think their course of treatment is wrong, keep a lid on it. Later, you might email or call and suggest a different procedure. Medical personnel disagree about diagnoses, pills, treatments, other doctors, hospitals and more.
  7. Set a time and if they go over, establish a penalty or if they stick to the clock, reward them. Those who don’t comply with time limits should know in advance that they’ll be penalized by having to pick up the check or leaving the tip at a restaurant or doing some of the dishes when the gathering’s in a home. On the other hand, add a reward for short dialogues. Maybe give that person an extra dessert.

These conversations may be just what the doctor ordered—it’s healthy to vent with friends and family, but there are limits. More techniques to manage these “organ recitals” and freshen the conversation are addressed in our forthcoming book: Not Dead Yet: Rebooting your Life after 50 (Rowman & Littlefield).  

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