Facing the light


Had an appointment this afternoon at a hospital to get my leg checked on. It was a small private hospital further out from where I live. I sat in the waiting room watching the comings and goings around me. Maybe it was the suburb, or maybe it’s because more old people get sick than young people, but it was hard not to notice that everyone waiting to be called to the doctor were to some degree old. There was certainly no-one younger than me. The next oldest might have been 15 years my senior.

I’ve never liked hospitals. They’ve always depressed me. It’s the clinical nature of them, the scent of disinfectant, nurses bustling around to serve people not in the best of health. I’ve always walked into hospital and felt my spirits dim just a little. Unfortunately as you get older there’s no reason it should improve, just the opposite. There’s all of that still, but as I get older myself something I never considered before begins to loom larger in front of me. Is this where, or how, I might end up? It puts the fear of god into me.

I watched as patients shuffled and hobbled and wheezed and gasped and got wheeled around seeming half dead. The best of them listlessly read magazines in the waiting room, or tended to the dear other half in much worse health than themselves. You have to expect some decline – I know I won’t always be as sprightly or healthy as I am today. Nor as handsome. I’m sure I’ll come to terms with most of that. I have to anticipate that there will be the odd health concern. That’s life, and I think I can manage that too.

What really scares me is the thought of chronic illness. One thing to another, never quite well, on a steady, but inevitable decline.

I think I’m as determined a man as there walks the earth. I hate losing, and have a perverse streak a mile wide running through me. For many years I refused to countenance the possibility that I might be mortal. I’m made to fight, and too often relish the contest. In theory I’m the guy who will rage against the light with every breath in my body. But then I look about me in hospital waiting rooms like today. I feel a creeping dread. I ask myself, is that how I want to be? Am I happy to ‘live’ like that?

I seriously wonder. I want to live on my feet, and go out that way. That may be an overly romanticised and unrealistic attitude. I’m fit and healthy now – my mind may change as my health does. Fair enough if it does. Yet I wonder what is the point of living a life diminished? I’ve done so much, had so many adventures, I’ve lived big. I don’t need that always. Hell, I couldn’t manage it always. I’m happy to settle into a sedate, pleasurable lifestyle. Fine, but what happens when I lose the capacity to enjoy that life?

I feel almost embarrassed to admit that there are circumstances I think when I will give way. I want to live my way, and go out the same. Maybe that means I let it happen rather than fighting it.

Of course it’s all academic if I turn out to be immortal after all. I still haven’t given up on that altogether.