THE ELDERLY BLOKE IN THE bed next to mine didn’t say much and he didn’t move a lot. But when he did move he was actually quite mobile, as he shuffled his way to the bathroom, steering his mobile drip contraption alongside him.
His name was John, and I never did find out the exact cause of his hospitalisation. But he’d had his share of treatments over the last few years – the most recent being heart bypass surgery, from which he’d recovered rather well.
Rather well for a 92-year-old, that is.
No, not a misprint. Full on, restorative heart surgery at 92. Turns out his 87-year-old wife had dementia, and he was her caregiver.
Someone in the health system must have been doing some mental math, and figured that the tens of thousands of dollars required to fix John’s heart was a good investment, once all the pros and cons of caring for John’s wife had been factored in.
It was the third time in recent years that I had been hospitalised in the company of geezers who were many years older than me. And, on every occasion, the time with these jokers was eye-opening.
John’s rough and ready wit was beautifully timed, and he treated us daily to humorous verbal sparring with Phil in the bed opposite. Phil was a severe diabetic, and was not only a fairly obese 79-year-old, but he was also missing one leg, and had developed gangrene in a toe on his remaining foot.
Ungainly, and clearly in discomfort, Phil lay on his side mostly, breathing with difficulty. And yet, each morning, after a bit of good-natured banter with John and me, he’d direct his gaze through the window blinds to the sky and would say something along the lines of what a beautiful day it was outside and how lucky we all were to be alive to enjoy it.
Something happened to some old geezers while I wasn’t paying attention. The generation that (in my experience anyway) once had an overabundance of grizzlers, was being replaced by fellows who had clearly decided to have a sunnier outlook on life than their dads.
In simple terms, less-grumpy old buggers.
Rather than entering God’s waiting room and in some cases secretly pining for an early release, these ‘new’ old jokers now have in their ranks some men (and doubtless some women too) of a happier disposition. To some extent, it’s probably a result of overall longer life-spans, and the ability of our health system to make the last quarter of an individual’s life a bearable and relatively healthy time.
My own dad received two miraculous little devices called stents in his aorta at age 70, which corrected aneurysms that would likely have blown out and ended his life well shy of eight decades. The surgeon had breezily told him, “There you are sir: you’ve just been given another 20 years!”
Dad duly turned 90 in April of this year and is fitter than me – although given the fact that I’m recovering, as I write, from liver transplant surgery, that’s a pretty easy contest.
In my own case, to have received a new liver at just on 62 years-of-age is likewise (to me anyway!) an amazing vote of confidence in my prospective longevity. Someone’s clearly decided that the massive expense involved in my transplant is a reasonable investment. Not to mention the incredible gift of life from a donor whose name I will never know.
I now count myself a most fortunate junior geezer.
ROB HARLEY IS ONE OF NEW ZEALAND’S TOP DOCUMENTARY MAKERS, AN AUTHOR, AND A HIGHLY INSPIRATIONAL SPEAKER. HE’S A WORLD RENOWNED STORY-TELLER, A SOMETIMES HARLEY-DAVIDSON RIDER AND A GREAT KIWI BLOKE.