MIDDLE-AGED MAN POSSESSED BY SPIRIT OF 83-YEAR-OLD
I strive to be a good son and phone my mum and dad once a week. Sometimes I fail in this modest quest but if not, the first twenty minutes of the call are usually taken up with a health questionnaire, as we exchange news of how we’re all doing physically.
I used to despair of older people who seemed to revel in discussing their health issues whenever they were in a social setting. Did folk who had reached a certain age simple run out of interesting topics of conversation, so had to resort to listing their various illnesses and the medications they were using to treat them?
Now I understand. When your body stops running exactly as you would wish those health problems can soon come to dominate your life. So we get that part of the chat out of the way off the bat. That way, we know from what kind of playing field we are operating.
As I write, my mum is 86 and my dad is 82. Obviously at their age, they have various health problems but considering they’re both in the eighties, they’re not doing too badly. They’re both starting to feel it, though. They’ve both been pretty active up to now but are starting to struggle. They regularly go back to bed not long after breakfast and perhaps have another nap in the afternoon.
My dad often complains about the fatigue he feels. ‘Yes, it’s so frustrating, isn’t it,’ he tells me. ‘When you’re used to doing stuff but you can’t do that much anymore.’
‘Yes, Dad, very.’
‘You have a list of jobs you want to do around the house and you just can’t do them.’
I try to sympathise with his frustrations but my mind keeps coming back to a single thought:
DAD, YES, I’M SURE IT’S FRUSTRATING FOR YOU THAT IN THE LAST YEAR OR TWO YOU’VE STARTED TO REALLY STRUGGLE TO KEEP UP WITH THE GARDEN AND YOUR DIY BUT YOU’RE IN YOUR EIGHTIES. I’M SORRY, I KNOW IT’S NOT NICE BUT IT’S TO BE EXPECTED. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, YOU’RE IN PRETTY GOOD NICK. I ON THE OTHER HAND AM ONLY IN MY EARLY FIFTIES. WHEN I COMPARE WHAT I’M CAPABLE OF DOING WITH YOUR PHYSICAL CAPABILITIES I REALISE THAT I BASICALLY HAVE THE BODY OF AN 82-YEAR-OLD. ESSENTIALLY WE HAVE THE SAME MUSCLE STRENGTH BUT MY LIMBS ARE THIRTY YEARS YOUNGER THAN YOURS. WE MIGHT BE THE SAME BUT IT’S NOT THE SAME.
‘So, how are you doing?’ he asks me. ‘Are you sleeping better? Have you any more energy this week?’
‘Same old…’ is how I usually reply. I may have slept better a couple of days; or my insomnia, fuelled by MS-related leg twitching, may have known no bounds. The MS will almost certainly be the same as seven days ago. It’s only when I think back to twelve or twenty-four months in the past that I realise I’ve descended the greasy pole of disability significantly more. The process was just so slow as to not be particularly noticeable as it was happening. And besides, I can’t really be bothered to answer in detail. There’s nothing family or friends can do and there’s only so much sympathy that can be given or taken. After twenty years of living with MS, all parties start to run out of things to say. In my experience anyway.
I don’t say much else. We talk about other family news. My brother-in-law had a hip replacement recently. He’s still struggling. For years he’s had difficulty walking and even putting on his shoes. The single hip replacement hasn’t helped that much. I try to focus on his problems. He’s probably more disabled than me at the moment. But he’s having his second hip replaced next month. All being well, he’ll be like a new man. Not quite the man he was in this twenties, but much more able. Certainly more able than me and he’s four years older.
So of the three men in our family with serious walking difficulties, one is 82, so it’s to be expected, one is 57 – he’s had a long ordeal but will soon hopefully be cured to a great extent – and the other one… well he’s 53 and there’s nothing good on the horizon. His walking difficulties are only likely to get worse. At what pace, we don’t know.
Balls to it, what ya gonna do, shit happens. When I’m 82, if I get there, I hope I can still remember the days when I could do jobs around the house. I hope that time in my life hasn’t faded into a dim and distant past.
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