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Last Windrow: Shifting priorities Illustration

It's a bad sign when your Medicare card is the first thing you see in your billfold.

I had a phone visit with my cousin, Bob, last week. Bob and I enjoyed each other's company growing up among the hills of western Iowa. We are not that far apart in age, and over the years we hunted pheasants, ducks and raccoons together, and we fished from the banks of the Big Sioux River and any other pond that held finny creatures eager to bite.

You could say that we were close and shared each other's woes and accomplishments through our younger years.

Bob recently had back surgery. He explained to me his hospital visit, surgery and his recovery to date. Where once he chased turkeys through the Black Hills and hunted elk in the Mount Rushmore area of South Dakota, now he was lying on a couch trying to recover.

Our conversation revolved around our maladies. Instead of his usual fishing excursions to the Oahe Dam, now he wasn't even able to use the new boat he purchased this spring. Maybe later in the year, he said.

I related my experience of a hip replacement that I had done three years ago and how I just haven't quite recovered my former strides. Although the pain of a worn out hip is now gone, the muscle tone is still working to get better. I told Bob that I would go through the whole ordeal again, just to get rid of the hip pain, and I would. If you haven't experienced worn out hip joints or knee joints, consider yourself lucky.

We both laughed at the fact that when we used to have these phone or in-person visits, we would talk about fast cars, good looking women and where the best dance halls were located. Our talk was full of excitement and of future ventures. We made plans to hunt pheasants on Uncle Jim's farm or to load up the hounds and run coyotes and fox through the picked cornfields. There were many weddings and birthdays among our large extended family. These were joyous occasions, and little pain was to be had.

In our conversation of last week we talked about splints, surgeries, stints and braces. We talked about our medical insurance and how we would both be broke if not for Medicare and other health plans. If not for those programs, Bob and I would both be lying on our backs staring at the ceiling and penny-less.

I thought then about the pain my farm parents must have lived through when there was little more that one could do besides take an aspirin. I remember my granddad walking across our farmyard in his mid-80s. He would stop every 50 yards or so and sit down on a step or a bucket and rest. Now I recognize that he must have been suffering from a bad hip like mine.

I trucked my dad to numerous chiropractor appointments to soothe his back problems. I literally had to carry him into the office at times. Those back problems are the reason I'm writing this column from northern Minnesota, because he finally couldn't farm any longer and sold the farm to purchase a resort up here in the pines.

My grandmother suffered from congestive heart failure in her later years, and Dr. Myers would travel out to our farm once every two weeks to check on her. There was no real solution to her problems at the time and thus she became an invalid.

We paid Doc Myers at times with a half a hog and maybe a quarter of beef. We might even toss in a chicken or two to help cover the costs of his visits. Today's medical advances may have spared my grandmother some of what she suffered with.

So when I grabbed my billfold to pay for my morning coffee last week and stared down at my Medicare card tucked in front of my driver's license, debit card and credit card and pictures of my wife and daughter, I thought about my conversation with cousin Bob.

Our priorities have changed.

See you next time. Okay?