Replacement parts can't fix everything

At my book club the other night, the subject of new knees arose and before you knew it we were all hiking up jeans and showing off our scars.

It was not a pretty sight. Beyond the telltale scar that runs from above the knee to below, we got to compare legs that were luminescent from lack of sun and lumpy with celluloid.

But, who cares how they look anymore — they are legs we can walk upright upon. Many of us who are younger (65-70) sport our scars by wearing shorts all summer, reminding friends who still have to order their new knees to ask us about the experience. (We'll tell you in detail.)

In my art group we are comparing new hips. Two of us are going in this month for that job. We don't demand to see the scars from this procedure for fear of exposing parts of our anatomy that should remain hidden in polite society, but we are happy that our friends can toss away their canes and walkers and stride along freely.

Then there are shoulders. When you can no longer raise your arm in this brave new world of replacement parts, you get to order new rotator cuffs. I have a friend who has two new knees and two new rotator cuffs. Her hips are in good shape yet and she's 80 already. Amazing!

Finally, there are the internal organs. Are you slowing down? Out of breath after walking a block? You may need open-heart surgery. This is a nasty procedure, we hear, whereby they saw open your breastbone and do something to re-energize the tired valves of your heart. I have a friend at the bridge club who had it done and she says "next time let me die instead." Still, once you've had a valve job, along with replacement joints, you could live to 125 except for the one thing they haven't yet figured out how to replace: the brain.

I saw an alarming statistic yesterday, estimating that 10 million Baby Boomers are expected to get Alzheimers. Think of it! The earliest boomers are already retired, so in a mere decade or two, look for 10 million of them to be sitting on their wits.

Of course, medical researchers are busy at work trying to avert this tragedy and I predict within a short few years they'll come up with an instrument that will bore into your brain, something like a RotoRooter, suck out the gunk, and maybe even squirt in a solution of clean new memory cells. When you wake up from this procedure you will remember where you dropped your keys five years ago. I don't doubt it a minute.

It's true, my generation of seniors is an ambulatory Fort Knox of government investment in replacement parts. On the one hand, the talking heads are warning about Medicare pushing us off a "fiscal cliff," but on the other, that political ad showing somebody actually pushing an old lady in a wheelchair off a cliff took aim at the heart of Americans.

It does give one pause, however, when one thinks that average life expectancy in the U.S. keeps rising. With all the new med-tech and the emphasis on health, it will continue to shoot up. Lots of us will reach 100 and more.

But, you ask, what about the millions of Baby Boomers with dementia?

I suggest it's up to us old-timers to stop signing permission slips at the hospital before we've lost the wits to say we don't want to spend our last 10 years in dementia.

Better to go for inner peace: accepting the decline while grateful for people who love us and for the beauty of this valley.

And in the meantime, we might inform al-Qaida of the above statistics. Maybe they'll stop trying to kill us when they realize how many of us can't even remember our way to the bathroom.

Dorothy Vogel lives in Talent. She is the author of a new mystery that takes place in southern Oregon, "The Timber Mill Action," available on Send inner peace articles to

Share This Story