Hank hates prunes. At least in liquid form. At the dining table, when a caregiver/server pushes a glass of prune juice in front of him, his nose wrinkles, his nostrils spread, the lines on his forehead squeeze together, his eye’s external apparatus – lids, lashes, and brows – squish down – as though he were constipated. Ironic, because that’s the majeure raison for the prune juice in the first place -to ameliorate constipation.

Hank turns to me with a wondering smile, raises his shoulders, spreads out his arms, palms open – as if to say, Ech! What did I do to deserve this?

He didn’t do anything. It’s his G.I. system that’s misbehaving. From all outward appearances, Hank seems to be continuing smoothly – but haltingly – towards his ninety-sixth year, without the wear and tear common to most of us. I believe he can blow hard enough to extinguish the birthday candles.

When Hank exhibits his facial contortions and denies access to the prune juice, the server tells him his doctor ordered it. Thus, the command comes from on high – the abstract, but omniscient – voice of the MD.

Which brings us to the modern perplexity for doctors of geriatrics or gerontology: to abstain or to take. “It’s bad for you,” or “I want it.” (Whether it’s nobler in the mind, to suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous colon, or to take prune juice to oppose it, and obtain regularity?)

The issue can be the dichotomy between a nonagenarian wanting two scoops of ice cream before bed and the doctor warning that it’s bad for his health and longevity. Really? At 96! Come on!

Dick Weinman is an AARP Oregon volunteer, and our Assisted Living Guru!