Monday, February 20, 2006

Growing old

Yesterday I was visiting Michael in hospital. He is 88, and I have known him since I was 19. He has severe heart and lung problems, and suffers from blackouts and falls and sundry other afflictions. He is shrunk and bent with age and very frail, but has been struggling to look after himself living alone. He is courageous and uncomplaining, and stubborn with it. It has been difficult to persuade him to accept help from friends and family. But a crisis occurred which could not be dealt with at home.

I am struggling with the reality of this. I am ten years younger than he is, but I have never been as robust physically as he has been for most of his life. How long before it is me in that hospital bed? How will I deal with it? How will I deal, if I have to, with being incontinent in public, and being too weak and short of breath to get myself to a private place and put myself to rights?

And how do I deal with the pain of seeing this old and valued friend in such a state of disintegration? Maybe I can learn something which will help me if and when it is me who is falling apart? I look at him now and try to see him in my mind as he was all those years ago, the young man walking towards me down the platform of his local railway station, on the occasions when I used to visit him by train: the swing of the shoulders, the jaunty step and the insouciant air, in a rather disreputable mac with a long knitted scarf dangling almost down to his knees. That man must still be there inside this insubstantial one in the bed before me.

Today when I visit I am taking him this photograph of the two of us at a dinner dance when we were young. I hope he will be able to keep it on his locker, so that everyone can see who it really is in that bed, and treat him accordingly. And I think I will start now to put together a collage of my favourite pictures of myself, so that if and when I arrive at the same state, I can look at them and know that I am something more than a geriatric statistic!

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