Health Blitz

RBG – Workout Diva! Illustration by Patrick Welsh at Behance

Note: TMI for some!

I turned 55 this year. Yep, that means I am now a young senior! I hadn’t seen a doctor in a while; no reason. I decided I would catch up, and get some things checked out.

I have a family doctor. The system is needs-based: if I have a problem, I book an appointment. There are no fees. My doctor may order tests, but only to diagnose symptoms that I report. Annual top-to-toe physicals don’t exist; people at risk of, or having, chronic conditions are monitored regularly.

For women, mammograms are recommended every 2 years from age 50 to 70, and Pap tests every 3 years if you’ve had no prior abnormal tests.

So, I have a bit of a history. Six years ago, I went for a mammogram that showed something. I was called back for a second mammo and a needle biopsy. Thankfully, it was diagnosed as a benign cyst. After that, I had to have a follow-up mammogram every 6 months for 2 years. The cyst went away in the first 6 months and never reappeared. After having 6 mammograms in 2 years, I decided I would wait 5 years before going back. This may or may not have been wise on my part.

When I turned 55, I decided to go back. Sure enough, I was called in for a follow-up. They took 4 more images and concluded there was nothing of concern. Apparently 50% of women have either dense breast tissue or fibrocystic breasts, both of which make the images hard to read. So now I am supposed to resume the two-year schedule.

Mammograms use low dose x-rays. I also have bite-wing x-rays at the dentist’s once a year. I had one previous x-ray when I was in my 20s when I sprained a foot! I have no noteworthy lifetime build-up of radiation, other than the normal cosmic kind, so I’m unconcerned.

I will say that the staff at the Breast Screening Program are excellent and so are the staff at Women’s Health at the regional hospital. They communicate clearly, they keep my doctor promptly informed, and results are returned quickly. If I ever did have breast cancer, I would trust them.

I decided that if my breasts were OK, I would treat myself to some new bras, so I bought a couple in the Boxing Day sales!

Meanwhile, the same year, I started having pre-menopausal irregular periods, so I decided to use an IUD for contraception. It was good for 5 years, and since I went through menopause during those years, I never had a period again. In fact, about a year ago, I stopped having hot flashes at night, so I am truly out the other side! I made an appointment to have the IUD removed. The doctor ran a hormone blood test (FSH) which is a marker for menopause. During the same appointment I had the IUD taken out, I had a Pap test (why make two appointments to get in stirrups?)

The nurse practitioner told me that IUDs are now the most common method of contraception and are the top recommendation for everybody.

At the same time I had the FSH test, my iron and B12 levels were also checked and they were good. Which makes me very happy because I’m a vegetarian and I don’t take any supplements, so I’m glad my diet is taking care of me.

The next age-related check-up I had was a hearing test. I had one when I was in my 40s – you can read about why here. Since that time, both of my parents (who are in their late 70s) have experienced significant hearing loss and they both have hearing aids. This was no surprise for my dad who worked as an air frame technician in the Armed Forces for 5 years with no hearing protection provided – he has since been compensated for that! But it seems pretty random for my stay-at-home mom who never had much noise exposure.

I didn’t feel that my hearing was “bad,” but I work with a lot of much younger staff (in their 20s) and I could tell their hearing was sharper than mine. The audiologist said the hearing standard for all adults is the same – a 25 year old and a 55 year old’s hearing are measured on the same scale, which is not adjusted for age. “How can I say this?” she mused. “The difference between you and your colleagues is that, with age, it takes us more time to process what we hear.” OK then! When I had the actual hearing test, it was 100%.

I paid $55 for the test. I don’t understand why hearing tests and hearing aids are not covered by provincial health plans. How can it not be considered a medical issue? But vision tests, glasses, and dental care are not covered either for my age group (basic dental care is covered up to age 14 in my province, and eye exams for kids under 10 or adults over 65). I can submit the audiologist receipt to my employer supplemental health insurance provider and I should get 80% back.

So the other embarrassing thing I had checked out was my feet. Actually, my feet are fine. The podiatrist said they were perfectly good feet 😊 He fixed up a nail that was causing problems. He said I had lost some flexibility in my toe joints. Was I supposed to have been doing toe workouts all these years?

Workin’ It!

I was thinking of asking my doctor for a baseline bone density test. But a few weeks ago, I slipped on ice (which rarely ever happens – I am an ace ice walker!) I fell astonishingly hard onto my wrist and it did not break or give me any problems in the following days. I am guessing that although I don’t do strength training, my regular workouts and swimming are keeping my bones pretty strong. Nevertheless, all indications are that older women should do strength training, so I plan to take it up in 2019. If the Notorious RBG can do it at 85, so can I!

I am very fortunate that nothing has caught up with me and I am healthy and drug-free going into my senior years. I don’t judge anyone who has health conditions or medications because everyone has their own path, no prevention techniques work in all cases (we can still be struck with random stuff) and there is no cure-all substance. I know I benefit from the social determinants of health: access to free health care, education, income, social supports, genetics and so on. The personal mix that works for me is a blend of behaviours (nutrition, exercise, sleep) and Western medicine.

  • How do you rate your health?
  • Do you have any health conditions you need to manage?
  • Have you had any check-ups or any medical follow-ups lately?

30 comments

  1. Glad you checked out all ok and didn’t break anything when you fell! Yes to what works and to the randomness of illness and genetics. My 1 of my prescriptions resulted from the long term effects of a viral heart infection and the other 2 from surgeries resulting apparently from the genetic roll of the dice (a grandmother had the same problem). We do what we can to control what we can and hopefully Western medicine helps what we can’t control.

  2. Jo

    My work provided health insurance means I now (at just over 55) get an annual360 degree health check – which included the usual raft of blood , urine and stool tests as well as mammogram, lung function, mobility and stress tests.

    The NHS now seems to do standard bowel cancer screening for the over 55s (got my invite for an endoscopy on 7 Feb)!

    Due to an on going knee issue my GP has had recent blood tests, a knee Xray, and major vein/artery ultrasounds done (nothing seems amiss other than slight wear and tear on the knee joint). I’ve got a further knee ultrasound on 25 Jan and a rheumatology appt on 25 Feb (in case there’s an underlying issue). Hoever the problem seems to be either muscle or ligament so I’ve got an appointment tomorrow where I hope to get her to write a referral for an MRI which my work insurance policy should cover. Then maybe I can get a diagnosis and work on fixing it. Especially since I had a few days between Xmas and New Year and then 2 days last week where I could barely walk – felt like something was ripping on the inner knee – Dr Google leads me to believe I may have torn my MCL!

    So yep I do all the health checks when offered!

    The one I do have to sort out is an eye test – again work provide eye test vouchers for us so we don;t have to pay – as stare at computer screens all day. If the opthamologist decides glasses are needed work will either pay full cost or a percentage of some fairly plain glasses too. I also have emergency dental cover through work as well and I should schedule a check up before too long.

    • Hi Jo, I hope you get a diagnosis and treatment plan for your knee. It does not sound pleasant in the meanwhile! My work plan pays $200 toward eye exams or glasses every two years – I take full advantage to help pay for my progressive lenses.

  3. NicolaB

    I’m pretty healthy and don’t have any long term health issues (although I am currently wondering if I have asthma, which I had as a child but grew out of, as I seem to get very wheezy when I have a cold- currently recording my peak flow twice a day so I can show the doctor the graph when I make an appointment).
    My BMI is too high- though when I joined the gym recently, the body scanner thing said that my visceral fat levels were only a little out of the normal range (11, should be 10 max apparently). It’s my understanding that it’s visceral fat that carries most of the health risks associated with excess body fat, so I’m not going to worry too much about it!
    I would like to reduce my mindless work snacking on cakes and sweet stuff, however, as I feel like those are mindless calories I don’t actually enjoy. More mindful eating all round would be good.
    I changed jobs in the summer and am now much more desk bound- although my walk to work is longer, which compensated a bit! As I mentioned above, I’ve joined the gym- I had a sore achilllies, and decided weight training would help. Classes are included in the membership, so I’ve been to a few yoga classes too.

    I think the main thing I do that benefits my health is running- which sadly I have not been able to do for a while in the autumn due to the achillies issue, and then over Christmas I’ve had a cold/chest infection. I did manage to run my first ever half marathon in October though. Aside from the physical benefits, spending as much time as possible walking/running outside is great for keeping me calm I think!

    • Hi Nicola, Congrats on your half-marathon! – and your new job. It’s great you can still walk to work. I changed jobs last February and have to drive now – it’s 9 km each way. I really miss the walk to work. Even though I try to walk either at lunch time or after work, some part of me knows it’s optional! Mindful eating would be a good goal for me, too. Good luck recovering that achilles.

  4. Hello Dar On the age scale I’m really senior to most of your readers but still like to consider myself one of the young ones
    I’m in my 77th year (76 last birthday) and I feel I’m faring ‘not too bad’ considering the aches and pains and ailments most of my ‘friends’ are coping with.

    Yes there are the daily meds to keep BP, Thryroid and Cholesterol problems under control, these were picked up years ago but were also family problems in years gone by.

    The lumbar stenosis (narrowing of the spine caused by osteoarthritic degenerative changes) can be a nuisance when it flares up and I have a lovely chiropractor who sorts that out for me but when I think about it most of my mother’s family suffered from arthritis in one shape or form and they just had to get on with it.

    Most peoples ears and eyes deteriorate with age – or so the audiologist and the optometrist tell me – don’t let any one scare you off ‘new ears’ and ‘new eyes – brand new ones for cataract renewal’ if they are necessary. Vanity is a dreadful sin 🙂

    Yes, the adult onset asthma was a surprise to me when a chest infection and cough followed a cold – there again I now have a ‘management plan’ and it hasn’t reared it’s nasty little head for a long time. Just have to be aware of others coughs and colds and not put myself in harms way. Washing hands keeps so many germs at bay

    Yoga, pool work, body pump and other gm work, walking (even a little jogging – but my big bosoms bouncing around put me off that), Tai Chi, you name it Catherine is doing or has done it over her lifetime. I take some vitamins and supplements – gave up on fish oil and glucosamine about three years ago in favour of Green Lippe Mussel and definitely noticed a difference in my hands and fingers (I can knit the days away without them being swollen and painful 🙂

    You might look at all that and think I’m definitely not fit and healthy – I know I feel fit and healthy and at the moment that’s all that matters – to me anyway!

    • I look at “all that” and think you are very aware, sensible and healthy. My hearing comprehension does have an effect and I have to compensate for it by listening intentionally. Not so easy when one has a chatterbox in the house 🙂 Maybe tuning people out is a learned behaviour from home that has unfortunately carried over into work! I got progressive lenses as soon as I needed them. A lot of people I work with, who are over 45, are needing glasses for the first time and many of them do refuse out of vanity. It has a real impact on their work. My mom just had cataract surgery for both eyes and I certainly will when my time comes (no signs yet). It is interesting that previous generations just had to “get on with it” when they had arthritis and no treatment. I think many didn’t as well – they spent their later years in a rocking chair or in front of the TV – I am glad we have at least some treatment options now, although there is always room for improvement.

  5. Australians over 60 get a present from the govt: a stool sample test! From 50 woman get a mammogram every two years. Pap smears were every 2 years, but I think I recently heard they have moved to 5 years if you’ve had no abnormal tests. Shall check with my GP on Thursday, what those details are. But we never use stirrups when we get them – as you get it done at a normal doctor. So at 33, never been in stirrups!

    Eye tests are paid for by the govt, but the costs for glasses are only subsidised by those with private health insurance I believe. Dental is sadly poorly covered, so its often that the poor have bad teeth. In the state I grew up in did have a dental hospital between the two schools, and I believe that was govt funded and therefore free, certainly for youth.

    I have two chronic conditions, or three, depending on how I count! So I have quarterly blood tests (free) and then GP appointments. I LOVE that my GP is back from maternity leave and the practice she is at ‘recalls’ me, via a phone call, when those results are in. It’s a simple service, but other GPs I tried this year, didn’t do it. I also get a quarterly B12 injection, take daily iron, and take a tablet a day for my chronic condition – being related to my thyroid. None of my appointments with the GP cost me – but many people I know pay for their GP, who charge a ‘gap’, which means, more than the govt subsidises. As such, many GPs seem to work at two clinics, once where you pay a gap, the other where you don’t. As a rule, I refuse to pay. Meanie? Perhaps.

    • Canada has so far avoided having a two tier system or any co-pays, but of course it is controversial. Oddly, private MRI and ultrasound clinics exist and have never been shut down.

      Yeah, at age 50, we get the stool sample kits in the mail, too.

      I had low iron for many years but it seems to have resolved itself.

      My GP’s office also calls when results come in so I don’t have to track them down. If everything is OK and I don’t need any follow-up, they say so on the phone. If follow-up is needed, they leave a message and ask me to book an appointment. Of course I dread those calls but I am happy they are diligent.

  6. Here in the UK we have various tests on the NHS as you approach certain ages. I only see the doctor for my Thyroxin check and a consultant once a year who monitors the Thyroid cancer (incidentally most likely cause of this was radiation) and hopefully it is still clear now.
    I use homeopathy rather than western medicine if I needed to take anything as there are no side effects – I know it is contraversial but it does work for me even if science is stumbling at trying to prove it – but I have no illnesses at present and don’t suffer from colds or flu and never have the offered vaccines as they contain aluminium and other nasties which I am dubious about so will take my chances!
    I do have some little niggles to iron out this year – lose a few pounds and exercise more.
    I think the NHS should be going down the route of prevention – levels of obesity in this country are becoming scary and what will happen to all these overweight people in the future as they age and their mobility is limited. The NHS now spending a lot of money on type 2 diabetes, £15 billion a year, and it is a very preventable condition through diet. If the NHS don’t take control soon it will all collapse. Our TV chanels are running a lot of diet programs at the moment educating people in cooking good food – it amazes me how a person can get to 40 years old and not recognise a Swede (as seen on TV!).
    Heres to good health in 2019.

    • I have never had cancer, and I sometimes wonder – if I did, would it change my attitude toward health and medicine? I do get vaccines but I don’t like that they contain thimerosal or formaldehyde. There does not seem to be much attempt to test and use less toxic preservatives. Definitely room for improvement.

      At the library, I once hosted a guest speaker who presented on diabetes. She made a point of saying how much money diabetics cost the health system. While it may be true, it was not helpful to the diabetics in the room who were there to educate themselves. I felt bad.

      It is alarming that most adults of all ages don’t cook from scratch or recognize whole foods or know what to do with them. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a campaign that could teach people to make 5 weekday meals from real foods in 20 or 30 minutes each?

      • I think your last idea is something they are trying to address on our TV at the moment by working with a few families and showing them how to cook. Sometimes the people that need to watch these programs don’t!
        I know quite a few people now with this type 2 diabetes and they are not open to changing their diet at all in fact I think they truly believe diet has nothing to do with it. Other than removing all take away and ready meals to generally improve health choices or making people pay for their diabetic treatment if they do not change their diet (not type 1 of course) I do not know what can be done. It reminds me of smokers who know the consequences but still carry on regardless. As they say you can lead a horse to water but cannot make them drink. Often they have done reality programs here on TV and used shock tactics and that does seem to leave an impression!
        I agree the speaker could have been a little more helpful if they were there to learn.
        Some vaccines contain monkey glands – not very vegetarian for me!

  7. Fiona

    I’m sorry about your fall. I always feel so sorry to hear about falls because of the shock people feel (magnified by embarrassment sometimes) as well as the severe physical injuries that can happen as people age really concerns me. One of my health goals this year is to work on my balance and proprioception. I am doing strange things like balancing on each foot with my eyes closed each day! Ice walking would be a great way to maintain balance!

    • I have a cavalier attitude toward falls because I’ve never been hurt. Over the course of 55 snowy, icy winters, I have fallen any number of times – I guess you learn how to fall. And also what to watch for, like black ice. And how to make yourself wear sensible boots instead of fashion boots. Maybe walking on ice is like running barefoot; it’s something you can train yourself to do! (not that I would ever run barefoot except on a sandy beach!) I wonder who has more fall injuries – fit people because they take more risks, or less fit people when they do ordinary things? I am a very staid fit person who takes no risks, haha!

  8. I am quite surprised that your healthcare also doesn’t cover dental as a routine matter as well – I’ve never understood why we separate out dental health when it can have SUCH an impact on our medical health.

    I’ve been dealing with chronic pain since I was a young teen, and chronic fatigue entered the picture about ten years ago, so it’s been a good 20+ years of not being anywhere near the kind of baseline health that would have been nice in one’s 20s and 30s. But I’ve made a lot of changes to my diet in the past year and while it’s rather tough to maintain, it is getting some results so for the first time in a very long while, I might have a touch of hope that things could get better. I won’t let myself go too far in that direction though, I have before and been terribly let down. I don’t like disappointment!

    We are lucky in that we finally have a great primary care doctor who is quite responsive and trusts me as a patient so I can discuss anything that’s wrong quickly by email and get answers back by email without always having to trek into the clinic. It’s great.

    • It must be isolating to have chronic conditions early in life when your peers are in a “boundless energy” time of their lives and can’t get inside your experience. With age, everyone catches up with you, to a great extent – by your 60s I bet everyone you know will “have something,” whether it is a bad back or bad knees, diabetes, heart disease, fatigue or inactivity. With the rise in anxiety and depression, I fear the next generation will be worse off than mine. I wonder of part of it is that in the past, people expected to have shorter and less active lives, and didn’t compare themselves with the healthiest and most lively people on the planet. Not that I’m saying that’s a good thing.

      I know you are mindful of your health and practice good self-care.

      It would be fabulous to have a doctor who communicated by email!

  9. I’m a bit ahead of you in years (63 now), and having been relatively healthy (and I still am) found that once I hit 60 various things needed seeing to. But I saw this as a blessing not a curse – how fortunate I am to have hearing aids free on the NHS; to have had surgery to lift my eyelids that were impairing my sight free on the NHS; and now to have regular treatment for my chronic lymphoedema free on the NHS. Of course I paid into the NHS through taxes all my working life from 16-59, and I would happily have paid higher taxes to support the NHS.
    I was concerned about developing osteoporosis like my mum and several of her siblings, hence running and lifting weights at various times in my life. When I had two falls last year with no bone breaks it seemed to confirm for me that I was doing the right things and don’t have thin bones, and I plan to carry on lifting weights and I hope go back to running this year.
    I think it’s great to exercise what control we can over our health, to improve our own lives and also those close to us. Plus it saves services money and time. Win-win indeed.
    Am enjoying your posts. All good wishes to you for 2019. Strange times indeed…. xxxx

    • Hi Deborah, I’m glad you take care of yourself and you have the NHS to take care of you too! When I lived in the US I was always so sad about the unequal access to medical services. I am happy to pay my taxes toward everyone’s health care.

  10. Even though I don’t know you, glad to know you are in good health! You did put a grin on my face when I read “….so I’m glad my diet is taking care of me.” Most people say it’s the other way around! Stay healthy!

  11. We often make road trips and maybe it’s superstition, but we always thank the car after bringing us back home safely.

    It’s definitely interesting to read about the differences in heal healthcare and health insurances from the reactions on your post. My doctors (In Amsterdam, The Netherlands) does communicate by email for example, but I feel we need to know what’s wrong when we are sick, so we can point out GP in the right direction and say “I think it’s this, or I need this test”, otherwise they’ll just send you home with some antibiotics. Health insurance is obligatory here and dental care is not included.

    • Same here – it’s best to go in and give the doctor a good description of symptoms and maybe even my own diagnosis, haha! My doctor hates to give out antibiotics because so many people ask for them for viruses.

  12. My fitness has deteriorated over the last couple of years and I have put on weight. And my cholesterol has gone up. I am planning on doing weights this year.

    What’s ice walking and where do you do it? Do you wear special shoes?

    • I was just referring to having to walk on icy roads and sidewalks every winter. The city tries and fails to keep up with road clearing. Over time you get used to it and become quite agile. Some people buy light-duty crampons for their boots.

      • Ahhh. I thought it was one of those unique Canadian activities. I had visions of you walking up frozen rivers and across lakes. But of course, now I think: if the water was frozen, people would skate. Pardon my heat addled brain.

  13. I am so sorry to hear that you fell, that’s always the worst regardless of age. Im wondering if you have ever heard of Arbonne, I think you might like their products?!

  14. Pingback: January Sum-Up | An Exacting Life

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