ON APPROACHING ONE’S SELL BY DATE

The thing is, I don’t play golf.

Apart from that incident involving a lemon, a stained glass window and the irate members of the parochial church council, I haven’t picked up a golf club in anger for many years. Whilst it is true that I was soundly beaten over 18 holes last summer by my octogenarian father-in-law, it should be remembered that that was just a friendly encounter without any competitive element whatsoever. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And no you don’t want to know the score. In my defence, though he was 81 at the time, he was, and indeed remains, remarkably good for his age! And what he didn’t tell me, when I agreed to the match, was that, not only had the cataract in his one good eye been dealt with but also the artificial limb fitting he’d been waiting months for had been brought forward and he was now able to stand upright without the support of a walking aid.

Unbelievable!

But the reason why my lack of proficiency at golf has been on my mind lately is that, like my dog, who though formerly always eager for his early morning walk now looks at me as if I am mad if I so much as even hint that we might start the day with more than a single circuit of our local field, I too am getting older. As for Barney, we were thinking of sending him to ‘The Repair Shop’, that wonderful place where things of great personal value are restored to their former glory. Our hope was that ‘The Bear Ladies’ would be able to work their magic and thereby be able to blacken his nose, re-fur his balding back leg and tail, and freshen up his breath. But sadly of course, none of that is possible. The fact that he is ageing has to be accepted and so, just as Emily loved a saggy old cloth cat, one who was a bit loose at the seams, so we too love a dog who has long been dear to us and will always remain so despite even his sometimes pungent aroma.

I’m not sure if it was ever really a thing, but the idea of a GP finding time for a round of golf between morning and evening surgeries has long gone, these days we’re lucky if we’re able to squeeze in a cup of tea and a trip to the tiniest room in the practice building. But though playing golf seems to be something that a good number of retired folk enjoy spending their latter years doing, I can’t see myself following their example.

The other reason that retirement has recently been on my mind is that a few weekends ago I went to a reunion of the eight partners who worked in the practice when I joined it almost 25 years ago. Only two of us are still working and in five months time that will be reduced to one when I become the longest serving doctor in the practice.

As we dodged the showers in the garden where we gathered, it was good to reminisce about the good times we had shared together and to be reminded also of how fortunate I was all those years ago to land myself a partnership with such a lovely bunch of people. And to realise too how my good fortune has continued as, with each successive retirement, a replacement partner has been found who has been just as much a joy to work with as those who have left. It seems odd to think that the partner we are now seeking is likely to be the last who will join the practice before the search begins for someone to replace me.

And when that time comes, as it surely will, a replacement will most certainly be found. Because for every Andy Murray whose best years are in the past, there is an Emma Raducanu starting out with a bright future laid out before them. This is not to imply that my racket skills are any better than my prowess with a driving iron, only that, like a certain dour Scotsman, I too have passed my best before date.

Which got me thinking as to how I might approach my next appraisal. Rather than striving to set targets by which I might pretend to seek to ever improve, perhaps now is the time to get real and instead identify goals by which I might manage my inevitable decline.

This is not to suggest that we cease being useful once we retire, on the contrary, there is of course much that we can contribute as we get older but it is nonetheless true that what we can offer others does, in time, inevitably reduce. But before anyone thinks this is simply me being all maudlin and questioning what worth we have as our capacity to be useful begins to diminish, let me tell you about somebody I once met who was also past his best. Visiting the nursing home which had been his home for some 15 years, I was ushered into a room to see a frail elderly man, not quite yet 90 years of age. Not being my patient I’d not met him before but as I looked at him sitting uncomfortably and uncommunicatively in his chair, his mouth hanging open and his eyes tightly shut, it was clear that his life was drawing to a close. It was tempting to dismiss him as a demented old man whose apparent imminent death would surely be of little significance.

My attention was then drawn to a TEP form which seemed to be out of date suggesting as it did that hospital admission should be considered. And so I spoke to those who knew him best. Firstly to the senior nurse manager who had been acquainted with him throughout his time at the home and who cared enough about him to express that she would be sad if he were to die in hospital. And then to his only relative, a younger brother who, after saying that he felt sure that hospital was best avoided, added words which I will not easily forget. Barely able to control his voice, I could just about make out what he said: ‘He is my hero. As a boy, he looked after me when there was no one else to’.

I found the words intensely moving. Not ‘He WAS my hero’, but rather ‘He IS my hero’. Four words that whispered something that needs to be heard loud and clear.

The fact that a ‘demented old man’ remains somebody else’s hero is worth pondering. Or at least it is for me. Because it is all too easy for me to sometimes self importantly, mistakenly imagine that I am more significant than others and foolishly dismiss as of no value those I casually deem to have no practical use. Furthermore we all need to recognise that we too will all one day pass our best before date. Even as we do though, our worth will remain, just so long as someone, somewhere cares enough to remember who we are, who we once were and who, despite our palpable defeat, we might yet one day become.

The truth is that, even as we mentally and physically decline, when we don’t know one end of a golf club from the other and are unable to walk five metres in a day let alone in the four seconds required if we are not be considered frail, our worth nonetheless remains.

Because even though our best before day might have long since passed, our value extends well beyond our sell by date.

Even if we do then perhaps smell a little off!


Related blogs

To read ‘Vaccinating to remain susceptible’, click here

To read ‘Shot of Love’, click here

To read ‘The Repair Shop’, click here

To read ‘Three Times a Patient’, click here

To read ‘A Not So Shaggy Dog Story’, click here

To read ‘Book Review – The Book About Getting Older’, click here

To read ‘Old Hands’, click here

To read ‘Room Enough’, click here

To read ‘I knew a man’, click here

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