‘You will never get any better, but I can make it a bit easier for you’ said the Hospital Nurse to my friend, G. He is 79, has had heart surgery twice and now suffers from Parkinson’s disease and several other ailments. He has an allotment near to my own and has been gardening there for more than forty years. He can’t bend down or kneel any more but ‘I can manage to plant quite well using a spade’, he said to me when we had one of our old men’s catching- up conversations this week. Evidence for his claim was apparent in the rows of cabbage seedlings planted out in neat rows.
It’s a break-through or a break-down when the medics say, that the trouble you are suffering from is how it’s going to be with you now and forever, and that’s that. Frequent visits to the doctor supposes that whatever problem you have is curable. The doctor can make things right for you. You go expecting to come away with good news. It might involve some embarrassing examination in hospital, or a course of treatment by a physiotherapist, or a regime of drug therapy, and a formidable diet sheet.
But for most of us when we seek medical advice we anticipate that what’s wrong with us can be dealt with. It might take some time, but eventually we shall be back to normal. As we get older however we can reach the stage where normative becomes negative. Getting better is no longer an option. And coping with that situation involves a hard test of character.
I have known people who at that stage give up entirely, but many others who have accepted what is effectively the last days of their life with immense courage and endurance. I met such a person a little while ago. L. is 95, had a leg amputated a year or so ago, is in an old people’s home and when I saw her was articulate and strong, full of admiration for her carers (and realistically critical where that was appropriate!) and full of praise for how God was looking after her.
When I reach the ‘moment of truth’ I doubt whether I will have such spirit as my two friends, but would like it to be so.
I hope it will be quite a while before I find out.