Thursday, January 22, 2015

Crisis? What Crisis?

My book sales are slowly dwindling. I need to put some more stock on sale, but every other day I either have to drive my mother or older son to an appointment somewhere. Today, I accompanied my mother to the local hospital for a heart examination.

The receptionist of the cardiology department was morbidly obese - at least 35 stone (500lbs or 225kg), which seemed at odds with the posters advocating cardiovascular health. I wonder if she picked the job because it had an on-site crash team.

My mother was seen quite quickly and within an hour it was all over. Apparently her heart wasn't firing on all cylinders, but given that it's been beating non-stop since 1929, is it any surprise? I tried to sound shocked but, frankly, she's much healthier than most people of her age.

While we waited for a taxi, I went to get a cup of tea for my mother. The only place I could find was a Costa Coffee. The queue consisted of working-class pensioners who were completely baffled by the bewildering selection of flat whites, mochaccinos and cortados. "I just want a cuppa tea dear", one lady said plaintively, to a nonplussed Latvian barista.

Hospitals used to have small cafeterias serving weak tea and the sort of coffee that vaguely resembled washing-up water, but I suppose it's more lucrative to lease the franchise to a chain staffed by minimum-wage migrants.

People tend to say two things about the National Health Service. The first is that it is wonderful. The second is that it is in crisis. On my (admittedly anecdotal) experience of many visits to several different hospitals, I'd say that, for a free healthcare system, the NHS is surprisingly good, if not wonderful. And it isn't in crisis. At least, not yet.

The crisis will happen. When the welfare state was conceived, the average working man could be expected to retire at 65, tend his allotment for four to five years before doing the decent thing and expiring.

 
Today, thanks to antibotics, statins and anticoagulants, that same man will live for an additional ten years (at least) but often with a number of chronic health problems that require regular supervision and medication. As for his wife, she can expect to spend around a quarter of a century in retirement, consuming more drugs than Keith Richards, albeit prescription ones.

As the medication improves it will only get worse (or better, if you're an 80 year old who wants to live forever).

But by the time I am 80, I expect the problem will have solved itself, when civil order collapses and I am either beaten to death by an angry mob or eaten by my neighbours. Before I end my days, as I dig up a shrivelled, mutated turnip from the radioactive soil of my garden, I will look back longingly at the days when we thought that a crisis meant having to wait six months for a hip operation.

25 comments:

Chris said...

The good news is that you may be somewhat overestimating the increase in life expectancy at age 60. Looking back all the way to 1850, life expectancy for white males at age 60 has only increased about 6 years (those are US figures). Life expectancy at birth, on the other hand, has doubled over the same period.

There's always the Russian solution — lots of vodka to bring that life expectancy figure down again!

Canadian Chickadee said...

A very depressing post, which sadly matches my mood of the past few days. I feel as if I am under siege. For the past 4-5 years, the Catholic Church about a hundred yards up the street has been expanding like a kuzu vine, and has now posted a reader board with further expansion plans. The short little street on which I live has been inundated with builders and lumber trucks and cement trucks while an additional five houses are being built on space where there used to be two houses and a very small garage. This brings the total of new builds in the last two years to seven. I've tried to protest to the city, but to no avail. Money talks and I don't have any, but the Catholic Church does. So I will have to do some attitude adjustment and suck it up, or sell up and move. And I don't particularly want to move, so here I stay. Oh well, enough bad news for the day. Dealing with an aging and unwell parent is much more stressful, and if I can survive that, I can do anything. I know, because I've done that too.

Steerforth said...

So the die is cast by a certain age? I read somewhere that Peter O'Toole gained an extra ten years on Richard Harris by giving up drink.

I think I'll pursue the middle way: moderate drinking, moderate exercise and five a day (fruit and veg, not drinks or cigarettes), but also a few treats.

Steerforth said...

Carol - There seem to be plenty of laws protecting 'heritage' sites, but if you live in an idyllic community where the buildings are less than a century old, it's open season. If someone wants to fundamentally change street where you live, there should be a process of consultation, with a right to veto.

Sadly, local authorities can't always be trusted. In London, a row of Georgian houses in Hackney have just been knocked down in the name of progress.

JRSM said...

When my daughter was born a couple of years ago, the life expectancy for white female Australians born in 2013 had hit 100 years. That means, radioactive turnips aside, she could well see the second decade of the 22nd century. It was as though my wife had given birth to a time traveller.

Steerforth said...

James - Yes, that's how I feel. My son, born in 1999, could see three centuries. He already regards me as a curious antiquity from the pre-internet era ("What did you do before the internet?"), having spent two thirds of my life without the benefits of being online.

As for your daughter, once the anti-ageing drugs appear, you can probably add a few more decades. Perhaps she'll live long enough to visit another planet.

Brett said...

I don't know why, but this cheers me up. At least, as Dr. Seuss says, you're only old once.

Tom Ford said...

Thank you for that last paragraph. Funniest thing I have read all week. And actually, I think there is the germ of a movie idea in there if we come up with a more upbeat ending. Call it something like, "How to survive the apocalypse without really trying."

Steerforth said...

Brett - I feel as if there are several old ages ahead of me (hopefully): late middle age, early old age, old age and care home. But the subtleties seem to be lost on most market searech companies, who have different age brackets until the last category, which is just "Over 55".

Tom - Yes, it does sound like a good idea - a cross between 'Threads' and 'The Good Life'. Instead of an angry mob, it would have to be a passivee-aggressive one.

Dale said...

I take your point about market research companies. I participate in online research surveys from local companies, sometimes, and I registered myself as aged 38 because then I thought they might listen to my opinions. I am a hellova lot older than that!

Then they sent me a survey where the client was a magazine I currently work for, and I was so keen to answer their questions and let them know my concerns about the magazine's direction that I blew my cover, so have had to de-register from that website. Haha! Caught!

I agree that it doesn't make a lot of sense to lump all 55+ cits together; we are as disparate as any other age bands. And it would certainly make sense for firms to chase the Silver pound or dollar - we may have more discretionary spending at our disposal than the youngsters with babies, mortgages and one income that the marketers pursue.

However, the marketers are right in one respect: we oldies are less easily led by fancy marketing tactics, more shrewd in our spending and more loyal in our product allegiances. (Don't want to waste all those years of tracking down products that suit us, now do we?)

Don't waste time on boredom and pessimism. Concentrate on creating happy memories, whatever your age. (Pardon my gratuitous advice, but I'm old, and am allowed to shake my walking stick at people....)

Helena said...

Every time I see a headline telling me that if only I do X I'll live Y years longer, I decide not to do X because why would I want to live longer? The old people I know have limited quality of life. I've also been spending quite bait of time in hospital out-patients lately, and I really do not want to be doing that when I'm less able to get around and entertain myself while waiting.

Steerforth said...

Dale - You're right - the older you get, the less inclined you become to change brands. I always buy a Fuji camera because I can't face the prospect of having to deconstruct the semiotics of a different make, let alone struggle with the 103-page instruction booklet, with its wealth of superfluous features. If Canon invent a better camera, I don't want to know.

I also agree about creating happy memories - last week we had a wonderful party for 20 of our friends and it was the best thing we've done for a long time.

Helena - It's quality not quantity that matters, isn't it? I'd love to be like the nonagenarian Lord Asa Briggs - I often walk past his house at twilight and see his working in his study, surrounded by tottering piles of books. But the reality for most people is sadly different. I hope that medicines will eventually do more than simply prolong life.

Tom Ford said...

I just now reread the bit about, "Instead of an angry mob, it would have to be a passive-aggressive one."
That's the most Python-esque formulation I've seen in a long time.
I can literally see Michael Palin delivering that line.

kutukamus said...

Mm.. Nope! The so-called 'healthcare' industry won't let you, anybody, die easily. They'll make sure everybody keeps buying their products/service first—sick or otherwise. :)

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Just about to take those tests and swallow those drugs - I'm enjoying life! Now if only Costa's did a proper cup of tea...

Steerforth said...

Lucy - I hope it's nothing too harrowing. As for Costa, I wish that someone would revive the Joe Lyons chain or open some new branches of Betty's tearooms. I like coffee in the morning, but after lunchtime it's tea or nothing.

Kutukamus - That's why I'm surprised that there is a state-owned pharmaceutical industry. It's appalling that cancer drugs are priced at a level that, according to an expert, "the market will bear".

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Well, I feel OK. Heart has probably been murmuring away to itself for years. I cling to the few proper cafes that remain in this "gentrified" area. (Actually there are three in walking distance!)

Steerforth said...

Lucy - I hope that it'll be sorted out soon. One of the worst aspects of a chronic health problem is the way it undermines one's confidence, never knowing what things will be like next week/month.

Chris said...

"We willingly commit some folly just to live on a little longer." — Goethe

Steerforth said...

Chris - So true and the same could be applied to our obsession with prolonging youth.

Anonymous said...

Great post, though I would add that over 50s now hold 70% of all wealth in this country. And only yesterday they (over 65s) got yet another handout form the chancellor. It is the young that are already being shafted from all sides, and despite living longer, will have less comfortable lives, and almost certainly no free healthcare, despite funding it for the current OAPs. I have a disabled child, but because I am neither old nor obese, I feel like my and my son's needs are way down the list of NHS' priorities (sorry if I sound bitter, but I certainly have been given reasons to suspect that's the case)
So, being old now is actually not so bad;-) Anna

Steerforth said...

Anonymous - That's very true. My father was richer in retirement than when he worked, thanks to high interest rates for savers, the sale of nationalised industries below their market value and decades of inflation in the housing market.

I think what's happening today is scandalous and if I was running the country, I would ban people who live abroad from buying UK property as part of their investment portfolio, along with tackling empty properties and the lack of social housing.

Re: your child, having a son with Asperger's has made me realise how it's all about money. Once, I naively thought that a child's needs were paramount. I now know better. I wouldn't say you're simply bitter, just justifiably pissed off and disillutioned with the system.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, my son has "classic" autism, so I know exactly what you mean.
And as someone who had lived in other countries, I cannot understand why British people put up with what is happening and don't riot every weekend. 70% of properties in London going to foreigners who then rent them out to natives at extortionate rates! And it is not just London! The whole property market is bonkers: the rental sector is completely unregulated and skewed in favour of the Haves and not, as is claimed, Have-Nots. I lived in Denmark, which, because it is small and densely populated, and has Germany as its neighbour, requires any foreigner to live in Denmark for 5 years before they can buy a property. But her - it is all about the 1% making obscene amounts of money...Sorry, rant over:-) Anyway, it is good to find other like-minded people, all the best, Anna

Steerforth said...

Anna - If you want to connect with other women going through a similar experince, my wife has found a great deal of support via Mumsnet. Along with swapping notes and sounding off, she's also got honest answers from annonymous NHS staff about what's really going on and some practical advice from parents who have challenged the system and won. I don't think we would have succeeded in getting a statement if we hadn't been so well advised.

You may already have lots of useful contacts, but if you haven't, please feel free to email and I'll ask to wife to pass on the relevant information.

Anna Maria said...

Thank you, but I know all there is to know and I go to a support group at my son's special school. In fact, I have now left some online forums, because they are dominated by issues around statementing and mainstream inclusion/support, which do not concern us. My son's statement was never in question, and we had not gone through the usual hoops - I suppose that's an "advantage" of having a child with more severe ASD. I also don't believe in "inclusion" which all too often turns into "corridor education", and keeping a child in a mainstream school at all costs, but I am in a minority. It works for some children, mostly the ones with Asperger's or high-functioning, but it certainly doesn't for others. Thanks again, Anna