I’m sure that everyone has heard that the world’s most beloved old curmudgeon died last week, Andy Rooney.  It almost seems that Andy Rooney was born to be old. I’ve seen pictures of him as a young man, but it’s strange to see them because his public identity, his celebrity, was based entirely on his being old. And as old curmudgeons go, I think he was clever and cute.  But, my favorite master of acerbic wit will always be H.L.Mencken.  Mencken died in 1956, which was within my lifetime, but before my awareness. But, I became aware of him years later, and as crotchety, grouchy, old contrarians go, Mencken is still tops in my book.  He tackled subjects Andy Rooney wouldn’t touch.

But, Rooney lived long, to 92, which is pretty old. And he was quite a bit overweight, which doesn’t usually accompany great age. And, I’m sure he was a conventional eater, which is never very promising.  And he was, obviously, not a fitness buff. So, he was very lucky indeed to live so long.

But, it sounds like his luck ran out at the end.  He was old, but he didn’t have any terminal illness that we know of.  He did his last stint on television just a couple of weeks before he died, and he seemed fine. Yet, he soon died and unexpectedly after what was called a “minor surgery.”  So, what happened?

As I see it, there are essentially two ways to die, (not counting trauma): You can die suddenly and quickly of a catastrophic event, such as a heart attack or stroke, OR, you can die slowly and haltingly of a protracted illness, such as cancer or diabetes.  Clearly, Andy Rooney did not die the latter way because if he had, they would have said so.  In fact, they said the opposite, that he did not have any such dire problems. And if he had suddenly had a heart attack or stroke, I’m sure they also would have said so, as they often do.  So, what does that leave?

It leaves iatrogenic death.  They did say that there were “major complications” from the “minor surgery” that he underwent.  They aren’t providing any details.  But, what are the possibilities?

It could have been a drug reaction. I have to assume that he received general anesthesia, and that involves taking many drugs simultaneously and sequentially.  And they are, of course, drugs that affect not only consciousness, but also heart action, respiration, blood pressure, etc.  In a 92 year old man, that’s dicey. It’s always dicey.  A very popular anesthetic in use today is propofol- the drug that allegedly killed Michael Jackson.

I do not know what Andy Rooney’s problem was. But, what I do know is that he was nowhere near dying before that surgery, and now he’s dead.  I think the lesson is that if you are very old, you do not submit to general anesthesia unless you absolutely have to.

Another possible cause of his death was severe infection- either as a consequence of the surgery or just from being in the hospital.  Infection is always a major risk in the very elderly. And if he developed a severe infection and they gave him strong antibiotics, he could have died from that, as Christopher Reeves did.

Were blood thinners involved? I don’t know, but if for any reason he was taking blood thinners before the surgery, it could have had a catastrophic effect.

I could continue to speculate, but I think the point has been made: there is plenty that can go wrong from operating on the elderly.  And the doctors aren't talking; they’re not saying anything except that he had “major complications” which makes it even more eerie.  Is it a matter of family privacy or a matter of damage control for the doctors and the medical industry?  I certainly don’t know, but what I do know is that if I’m lucky enough to make it to my 90s, I am going to leave well enough alone. Hey, I’m in my 60s, and I already feel that way.