Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 9, 2013

Age brings challenge of staying physically and fiscally well in modern world

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

—  Days when doctors, store keepers, and local businesses kept tickets where customers could charge until pay day are usually long gone. Those who accepted eggs as payment or similar barter for items including furs, etc., are only a memory of the 1930s era or even earlier. Many in the Bluefield area can still recall when merchants would sell on time to coal miners who almost always settled bills on pay days and/or when strikes were concluded.

For example, long-time Bluefield businessmen including Alfred Land, Max Kammer, and several others became successful in part based on their willingness to extend helping hands to customers who were either friends to begin with or became so after their business dealings. On the Tazewell side, the late Sid Peery who founded the Acme and A-Mart chains was also well known for “seeing the customers through” when hard times came calling. The basic honesty on both side of the counter in Four Seasons Country proved to be a boon for everyone.

In the days of such customer-friendly business, many buyers often only purchased necessities — the “goodies” were frequently put on hold until special occasions including Christmas, birthdays, or sometimes anniversaries. A minority held checking accounts and usually a cash-and-carry mentality governed the bottom line. Such a practice worked very well in the days before credit cards when social tastes seemed to be much more simple.

Larger operations, including companies such as Sears, Roebuck & Co., and the major automobile manufacturers were among the leaders in establishing a new way of thinking. Advertising began to focus on making customers satisfied only for the short term. Styles ranging from clothing to the family sedan began to change more often with the hints in magazines, newspapers, and on radio making certain the buyers knew about the “outdated” items sitting in closets or in the driveways, among other locations. As America began to expand after World War II with the development of the interstate highway system, etc., the philosophy of merchandising changed accordingly.

Next, companies often required employees to make transitions as new locations were opened in cities across the nation. Many ex-military personnel were already used to moving. Suburbs exploded and so did the way we as a nation began to view ourselves. As prices increased and buying habits expanded the personal way of doing business began to shift along with increasing prices.

Old-time family doctors were among those who slowly faded out of more and more neighborhoods and house calls became memories of an earlier time. Fewer babies were born at home. Health insurance replaced the barter system to pay “Doc” for services rendered.

However, as enormous strides began to be made in medicine, patients enjoyed better care than ever before even if the costs were escalating at the same time. Polio, whooping cough, and tuberculosis were among the dreaded maladies largely conquered by medical advancements. From Tylenol to Tavist, wonder drugs helped to keep the common cold at bay even as heart by-pass surgery, liver transplants, and similar “miracle” medical marvels helped many to extend lives and maintain the quality at the same time.

A recent article by writer/researcher Steve Brill points out that all is not well — at least, not on the American balance sheet. Medicine is expensive and perhaps nowhere more than in the United States. According to Brill, one Nexium pill in the U.S. can cost as much as eight similar items in France . He reveals in a chart that since 1960, health spending in this country has grown five times faster than the Gross Domestic Production (GDP) of the nation. One frightening item in Brill’s research — some 62 percent of bankruptcies are now reportedly related to illness or medical bills. Ouch!

Finally, as our population ages, we can expect to depend ever more heavily on health care providers. With slightly less than 20 percent of Americans younger than 20 years of age and more than nearly two-thirds of the citizenry 60 or older, many of us are necessarily in that age group which routinely carries baggies of (legal) pill bottles back and forth from the drug stores. More than $280 billion will be spent on prescription drugs in 2013.

It is enough to make a fellow sick just thinking about how important it is to stay well!

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.