As I approach four score and 10 years I continue to learn how complex are our medical problems, considering how unique are our individual bodies, as well as how differently we have chosen to use them.

Increasingly I am beginning to understand what is best for me may be quite different from what is best for others, including close family members.

Like half the population born in the early decades of the past century, I spent my early life on a farm — and never saw a doctor until I enlisted in the Navy in 1940. It seemed that grandmother always had a remedy for most physical ailments.

During the war I cruised through my flight physicals. I was involved in one aircraft crash, but was soon flying again — however, a quarter century later I would have frustrating consequences.

It seemed that I had jammed some neck vertebrae together and as time went on I was more vulnerable to sneezing if I was subjected to air conditioning or drafts on my head and shoulders. I learned that immediately taking an aspirin stopped my sneezing, and a masseuse could loosen up my neck, shoulder and back muscles.

My other major problem commenced some three decades ago. I began to experience difficulty hearing — which was frustrating to me as well as to anyone talking to me. Fortunately the VA provides hearing aids; however, over time they have become more complicated and frustrating, and cellphones are not compatible with my hearing aids.

I have always done a lot of walking and played tennis until my knees bothered me. I continue to do a lot of walking and have adopted a set of exercises that have helped me maintain my declining sense of balance. I make an effort to keep my head centered over my shoulders, stand erect (like a Marine), and step onto the ball of my foot — rather than the heel.

Lately my principle frustration is my occasional being out of breath, particularly in the morning. I am experimenting with methods to mitigate this condition.

Probably the smartest thing I did was to move relatively close to my daughter, who is a registered nurse. She helps me explain my symptoms to the doctor, as well as interpret his comments to me — everyone should do this.

I have determined that there are thee general categories of patients: some are minimalists who have great faith in natural remedies, some are anxious to try the newest remedies, while others like me try to understand what may be available — and hope to achieve what may be most beneficial at fewer risks.

It would appear that when it comes to deciding whether to pursue a certain treatment, the reasonable decision ought to be to consider as many relevant factors as possible — such as age, general health and medical history, along with potential expectations for a quality lifestyle.

Another factor is that we are beginning to understand that our brains have not evolved to analyze statistical information, such as one treatment or another, with positive certainty. It’s important to recognize that some proportion of people will get better by doing nothing. I have heard some people claim that their good health is the result of prayer or a special tea.

What have I learned as I approach maturity? It seems optimum medical decision-making depends upon one’s willingness to take risks and their threshold for putting up with inconveniences, and side effects of pain and discomfort.

As we get older it takes more time to recover; probably for people at my age it’s about six weeks. Therefore it would seem reasonable to consider when do you want to get the most pleasurable time. Just adding a few more weeks of incapacitated life may not make much sense.

Increasingly there is more public information about living a life and choosing when to die. Essentially this is intended to provide the individual with greater certainty as to when he chooses to expire.

At this time it difficult to imagine any reduction in health care costs — unless people and their families are willing to objectively confront death as a normal part of the human condition, and caring is emphasized as much as curing.

It appears to me that all of us should accept the finitude of life and the naturalness of death.

Good luck.

Dr. Lloyd V. Stover is an environmental scientist. He has been fortunate to enjoy his four score and 10 — and maybe just a bit more. He can be contacted via email at: