Put the lid on the pill bottle & cut the organ recitals

50+plus

BARBARA BALLINGER AND MARGARET CRANE, LIFELESSONSAT50PLUS.COM , LIFELESSONSAT50PLUS.COM

Margaret (Meg) Crane lived most of her life in St. Louis, was associate editor of the Jewish Light in the early 70s and from 2001-2012, was senior writer for Jewish Federation. Two years ago, she moved to New York City to be closer to family living there. Barbara Ballinger, originally from New York, lived in St. Louis for 23 years and worked at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. She now lives in upstate New York. Follow their blog here.


Ailment mania has taken over our conversations.

Yes, we’re over 50, but does every conversation and get-together have to start with or become an organ recital? Cataracts, knee, and hip replacements. Sleep machines and cholesterol meds. Surgery for herniated discs, lap bands, and gastric by-passes for pounds that couldn’t be shed from every diet tried–Scarsdale, Atkins, Paleo, and Cabbage Soup.

So many of us are obsessed with staying healthy and fit at this age, and why not if we’re determined to live a long time? However, in the process, we’re often sharing the details of every medical appointment, test result, and diagnosis we’ve had or are having, or describing someone else’s treatment and prognosis, and every doctor and hospital rating. In some cases, being fixated on our health leads us to check out numerous online medical sites and journals and come up with armchair diagnoses.

If truth be told, why would anyone think others would be eager to hear about someone else’s hemorrhoids, acid reflux syndrome, or the wisdom of opting for generic drugs or going for pricier brands? And let’s not forget all the side effects that almost every drug presents as a clue 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, eye, neck, and facelifts 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.

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In our new improved sharing lifestyle, sharing or hearing details of a colonoscopy over a Cobb salad (with a low-calorie dressing, of course) can become really tasteless…and boring.

But, Be Prepared

It’s likely to occur more as we age. One caveat: Know that we’re compassionate and not referring to serious illnesses when the person is unwell or has a sick family member and doesn’t want to talk with a group about what’s going on. Such health chats generally aren’t part of the conversation at most social gatherings but are shared in private.

In the meantime, here’s our prescription for those endless exchanges about the more mundane maladies connected with aging. These may make your eyes roll, your stomach churn and cause you to nod off when listening to banter about 50 shades of surgery, the best pills to take for urinary incontinence, or a discourse on the merits of the new women’s Viagra. Try to avoid initiating or participating by following our eight healthy-minded suggestions and be prepared to use some of these the next time you ask, “How are you? Are you OK?”

Find positive topics to discuss.

Once the discussion turns to certain body functions that cause your eyebrows to rise higher than the East/West Gateway Arch, it’s time to shift gears. Said one friend, “It’s good to share certain information with friends like creams and lotions. But when the conversation is about bowel issues that become too graphic, I start talking real fast about the latest book I’m reading.” The weather is also safe and quite interesting, given all the changes in climate conditions worldwide.

Talk about the future

Reveal your plan to climb a mountain when Covid-19 disappears, how you’re getting into shape or a recent movie getting rave or even terrible reviews. It’s pointless to talk about what can’t be changed such as plastic surgeries gone wrong or a failed knee replacement that leaves the recipient limping for life. Every time Margaret got together with a certain friend, the conversation turned to her hip replacement gone haywire. Friends decided to do their own replacement and shifted the conversation from hips to trips – the friend’s exciting upcoming vacation in Italy. And Barbara learned never to engage one friend when she started in on how bad her case of flu was or how she had the worst sleep deprivation EVER—worse than anyone’s. She also found it wise to turn any of these conversations that couldn’t be stopped around to the friend’s children and grandchildren, who, of course, were the absolute best in the world.

Turn serious ailment-based conversations into humor

Doing so adds levity. If you’re discussing the latest gynecological exam, tell a funny story like the time Margaret was scheduled for one and her usual doctor was unavailable because he was delivering a baby. Another doctor substituted. There she was legs in the stirrups, the doctor walked in, sat down to take a look and said blithely, “Are you Nolan’s wife?” She turned 50 shades of red.

Play fair and allow equal time for each speaker

Show the love but don’t let them blather on for an hour. If someone starts, explain that you’re initiating a two- or 10-minute rule to spill all…. and go around the table. Develop a way to monitor the time. Use a stopwatch app on your phone and one that crows: “Time’s up.” On the other hand, respect each person’s point of view by not interrupting or disagreeing during their spiel. Just sweetly say, “Next.”

Suggest anyone who keeps doing so share their ailments on social media rather than with you and others over a meal.

Tell them to tweet, post on Facebook, Pinterest, vines, Tumblr, Instagram, or YouTube, where they can carry on a monologue and even post photos or internet-friendly videos of themselves in their hospital gown. They have carte blanche.

Don’t prolong the discussion by disagreeing

If you think their course of treatment is wrong, don’t argue. You might email later or even call to explain that you heard about a different procedure. Keep in mind that many physicians and other medical personnel disagree about diagnoses, pills, treatments, other doctors, hospitals, and more. Let them handle this discourse and you take charge of your knowledge-based topics. A woman we know was telling a group of friends her age that she uses a cream once a week to keep her complexion clear, rhapsodizing about how well it works. Hearing this, someone chimed in, “Isn’t that dangerous?” It almost caused another world war as the two tangled over whether it was prudent to take the medication.

Don’t ask too many questions or any

Here, too, doing so may prolong the conversation. You or someone else might want to ask a few to be polite, but at some point, gently steer away the conversation and say something to the effect, “I guess we’ve learned all we can; maybe we should go for our medical degree if it’s not too late.” Adding this kind of statement without sarcasm takes the sting out of your reproach.

Establish a penalty

Those who don’t comply with time limits should know in advance that they’ll be penalized by having to pick up the check, leaving the tip at a restaurant or doing some of the dishes when the gathering’s in a home. Adding an extra penalty if they keep going on and on about the tortures of passing a kidney stone or recovery from bunion surgery is a good way to up the ante. First, alert them of the consequences. Politely say, “Please stop. That’s really enough or we’ll be terrified if this ever happens to any of us.” They may be a tad embarrassed but will probably understand what’s occurring.

Like removing a Band-Aid, ripping—or ending–a conversation swiftly yet gently and letting fresh air and conversation into the room can be just what the doctor ordered.


Barbara and  Meg have written two books: Suddenly Single after 50: The Girlfriends’ Guide to Navigating Loss, Restoring Hope, and Rebuilding Your Life(2016), and Not Dead Yet: Rebooting Your Life after 50 (2021).