It began on Thursday evening. I go to a one hour cardio exercise class expertly run by Steve Symonds. It runs for an hour, there’s generally 8 or 10 of us there and it’s good value. We chat a bit and inevitably we often talk about cardiac issues, heart attacks and blue light journeys to Addenbrooke’s.
I didn’t have a heart attack, hence no blue light journey, but one of my fellows at the class has had two and we talked about his experience last week. The first was over 10 years ago with the second more recently and both took place whilst he was rowing. He survived both but told me that he’s no real recollection of what happened. Fortunately medics were on hand to keep him alive and he clearly survived without long term damage. However he does have 7 stents which rather puts my single one to shame.
Given that you’ve got to go sometime having such a heart attack might seem the right way to go because there’s no long and debilitating aging process. But, we agreed, not yet.
The next day I was out with a community walking group and one in our number talked about an elderly relative who’s bedridden, receiving 24 hour care and barely able to relate to the world. We agreed that with such a quality of life, lack of, it would be best to go but when? At what point in your physical and mental decline do you decide it’s time to go? It might be just Catch 22 because by the time you’ve declined beyond such a threshold maybe you’re incapable of making the decision.
Then on Sunday in the Observer Joan Bakewell was the subject of its ‘This much I know’ feature. Joan is 89 and last year had a colon cancer diagnosis. She says:
‘Having had this medical shock, I’m now resigned to the situation I’m in, which is of a comfortably off, ageing woman with a lot of friends and good fortune, a lot of comfort, nice food to eat, music to play, books to read. That’s a good mood to be in’
I guess I can relate to that but she seems to miss out one criterion of what constitutes the elements of a life worth continuing. So here’s my complete set.
The ability to get around/being reasonably fit. I’m not talking athleticism here but being able to walk to the village and join an escorted holiday with its attendant walking. This is the one that Joan left out.
Continuing to enjoy good food and decent wine. I’ll take it as a given that you have to be able to eat and drink normally so let’s at least enjoy it.
Having access to and enjoying the company of others. I confess to being reasonably anti-social but I do enjoy the company of people whom I choose to be with.
Being able to read, to listen to the radio and watch TV. Even after sleeping, walking, eating and socially engaging there are hours of the day to fill so let’s fill them with activities of substance. Feed the brain as well as the body!
And finally and sadly because it makes older life so difficult for some people: Having enough money.
I’m very fortunate. I’m OK at present and as the photo shows I didn’t just walk 20km along the Petra valley but climbed 900 steps to the Monastery at the far end.