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3 September 2021

Aging, slowing down, becoming a cyborg

Here’s a personal note. I’ve had to change quite a few of my plans, due to an unexpected medical issue.

(It’s nothing to do with Covid. The details are below, for readers with a stomach for indelicate topics.)

That issue completely disrupted my activities yesterday and the day before, and it is likely to cause further disruptions in the weeks and months ahead – depending on how my body responds to various treatments.

In any case, I’m going to have to slow down a bit. I may need to cancel some of my provisional travel plans, and spend less time in front of screens and keyboards.

Please accept my apologies in advance if you’re waiting to hear from me about something, and I seem to be unduly slow in responding.

I said my medical issue was “unexpected”, but that’s not the whole story.

I’ve known for some time that potential danger was building up in my body.

It’s an aspect of aging. Our bodies perform remarkably well while we’re in our youth, but over time, various sorts of damage and dysfunction start to build up.

In early years, that damage doesn’t matter much. The body is healthy enough to carry out repairs, and to produce workarounds to compensate for the decline in performance.

Eventually, however, the dysfunction becomes too severe, and results in greater amounts of harm, disease, frailty, and (in due course) death.

That’s why, for example, human mortality (along with the mortality of many other species) accelerates exponentially over time.

If you analyse the data from the UK’s National Life Tables for how many people at any particular age, you’ll find the following:

  • A ten year old has only one chance in around 10,000 of dying before their next birthday
  • A 35 year old has one chance in around 1,000 of dying before their next birthday
  • A 60 year old has one chance in around 100 of dying before their next birthday
  • An 85 year old has one chance in around 10 of dying before their next birthday.

(I did that particular analysis a few years ago. An analysis of the most recent life tables data may show slight differences.)

You’ll spot the pattern.

The pattern isn’t exact. (Otherwise no 110 year old would ever reach the age of 111. Which is what an extrapolation of the previous figures would suggest.)

But it holds to a first approximation. It was first stated in 1825 by London-based actuary and mathematician Benjamin Gompertz, and is sometimes expressed as follows: After the age of around 35, human mortality doubles every eight years.

And it’s plausible that what underlies this observed trend is a gradual increase in damage throughout the biological structures of the body – including damage in those aspects of our biology responsible for repair and regeneration.

That’s the general pattern. One specific example involves the prostate organ. Over time, in some men, the prostate grows and grows, to the extent that it constricts the urethra which passes through it. That constriction slows the flow of urine from the bladder to the outside world.

(As I said, this is an indelicate subject. But it can in some cases become a matter of life and death.)

And that’s what has happened to me.

I’ve known for some time that my prostate had grown large, and was interfering with my “plumbing”.

I now regret that I didn’t pay more attention to that growing risk. I was too easily reassured by observing that the problem seemed to wax and wane. I remember hearing that, for many people, the issue remains tolerable throughout their life. Indeed, the NHS webpage on the topic starts as follows (my emphasis):

Benign prostate enlargement (BPE) is the medical term to describe an enlarged prostate, a condition that can affect how you pee (urinate).

BPE is common in men aged over 50. It’s not a cancer and it’s not usually a serious threat to health.

I knew there were medicines that might help, such as Tamsulosin (brand name “Flomax Relief”) – but that they had side-effects.

So I gave the matter little attention.

But two days ago, my problems passing urine suddenly became a lot worse. I had a constant desire to “go”, but an inability to produce more than the tiniest trickle (after a lot of, err, stressing and straining).

To complicate matters, I was away from home. With my wife and two other couples, I was meant to be enjoying a three day golfing holiday in the picturesque Wiltshire countryside.

Yesterday morning, having failed to reach my own GPs online or by phone, I called the NHS 111 service. To cut to the chase, I was advised to get to a hospital as soon as possible. They made an appointment for me at a hospital in Bath, around 30 minutes car journey distant. And soon after that, I was being examined by an excellent team of NHS staff.

When someone’s bladder is full, it’s normally around 400 to 600 ml in volume. Ultrasound scans showed there was around 900 ml of urine in my bladder. No wonder I was feeling so uncomfortable.

I hadn’t expected to be in hospital that day, but thank goodness I was there.

I’ll skip over all the phases of analysis and treatment, and just mention that I am now slightly more of a cyborg than before. I’ve had a cleverly engineered piece of plastic inserted into my body, allowing me to drain my bladder at will, using a tap at the end of a tube which protrudes. It’s called an indwelling catheter.

It’s most likely only a temporary solution, until my response to Tamsulosin (the drug mentioned earlier) is assessed.

For the time being, my mobility is restricted, until I get used to this new attachment.

And my mind is, how to put it, rather shaken at the turn of events.

But things could have been a great deal worse. I’m deeply grateful for the rapid, painstaking response of the dozen or so members of the Royal United Hospital Bath who took such good care of me.

In moments of lucidity during these hours, I reflected on how much we all depend on each other. Rugged individualism only goes so far.

In the meantime, I’ll move forward with at least some of my projects, including the online London Futurists events already scheduled. They include one on (guess what?) aging, in two weeks time, and one on “Cryptocurrencies for profound good?” taking place tomorrow.

Opening image credit: Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay.

5 Comments »

  1. Sending get well soon wishes !

    Comment by jamesb692 — 3 September 2021 @ 8:53 pm

  2. So sorry to hear about your condition. Yes, ageing is a curse, and since – if Nietzsche is right – God is indeed dead, there is no reason to put up with a punishment handed out over 6000 years ago, when the world had just been created, and its two only human inhabitants didn’t quite know their way about. I send you my warmest regards for a speedy recovery. On the bright side, medical progress in ongoing, and allows for optimism. If H+ experts are right, therapies for a range of age-related conditions will improve markedly in the coming 3-5 years.

    Comment by cryonica2030 — 4 September 2021 @ 8:47 am

  3. I’m sorry to hear that and wish you a full and swift recovery!

    Comment by flowofsoma — 4 September 2021 @ 9:44 am

  4. All the best, David. A good reminder to us all not to ignore symptoms. Hope you are back on that golf course soon!

    Comment by Brian Hunter — 8 September 2021 @ 10:54 am

  5. It would be ideal if we could shed bits of prostate like stags shed all their antlers periodically, alas that is not so with our species. Check out Rezum treatment, surplus tissue that accrues as one gets older can be reduced with this out-patient treatment. The main advantage over other invasive procedures is that all the energy applied is contained within the prostate. It involves brief, precise ejections of steam to reduce excess tissue in BPH. Unfortunately, still not available on the NHS, possibly due to something to do with, “Sustainable development goals”.

    Comment by Peter1757 — 8 September 2021 @ 11:41 pm


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