Talk Is Cheap and We Get What We Pay For

Like the weather or football, when health’s the topic, we always have something to talk about. Especially as we mature. One stereotype of aging is that people talk more and more about their health, and not in a good or positive way. Apparently, we drone on to the point of boring our listeners. Why? Two possibilities: health preoccupies our time and our thoughts to a greater degree, or because we have fewer other interests.

Decades ago, after suffering through regular rounds of extreme boredom at family gatherings during which senior relatives delivered lectures about symptoms and treatments, I and my friends took oaths decades never to prattle on and on about our ills. In our smug superiority, this was our promise, yet our practice nowadays is to rush into a room with a litany of languishes. This doesn’t improve our conditions, it certainly fails the test of conversational interests, yet each of us can’t wait for the other to yield the floor so we can launch into our personal spiel. I know one woman who complains frequently about older friends that discuss health to exclusion of nearly every subject. When done with this, she promptly indulges in a recitation of every ache and each therapy she’s undergone in the past several months.

Why do we do this? None of us are doctors, so we can’t diagnose or relieve or provide a service, although we’re never prevented from expressing our opinions. In fact, we usually wind up trotting out every particle of information or opinion we’ve stumbled over related to a health condition. These may be contradictory, erroneous, or pea-brained. Makes no difference. Still fascinating. To us if not you.

Perhaps in this manner we enhance our friendships. Or air our secret fears. Or simply pass the time in a more appealing fashion than discussing the climate. However there should be limits. When someone complains of indigestion, surely no more than five or ten theories as to cause and effect are reasonable to explore in casual conversation. Apparently not. Gluten, wheat sensitivity, irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, appendicitis, acid reflux, lack of probiotics, food poisoning, various cancers, autoimmunity offer some of the possibilities. Every person we know has experienced one of these at some point. Even if not currently suffering from some ill, the equally interesting aspect of what we’ve done that’s led to our status.

Many suggestions (dare I say too many?) about what to do, what’s good, what’s a cure-all eat up as much chatter as complaints themselves. I’ve known supporters for a particular diet, say macrobiotic trot out an entire grocery list and menu plan, then threaten me with disaster if I don’t comply with their belief. Because health connects to all aspects of life, debates quickly expand to incorporate economics, government, art, and psychology, even death, because everyone dies from something.

My primary quarrel with heath as a topic of conversation lies in its tedium. People simply won’t turn off their repetitive, monotonous, self-centered spiels. I want to yell, “Someone turn on Wheel of Fortune!” I’m nearly ready to plead for politics as a replacement. Equally boring, but at least people get angry, hot under the collar, so the energy flows, and we just might be exposed to a new idea.

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