‘There’s nothing we can do about it’

I’ve heard those words from my doctor before. Going to him with a small list of physical problems, with one exception comparatively minor things, he had a look at where the pain was, and suggested a blood test and an X ray (both addressed before the day was done). And once the result of those are known, he said, it will be easier to work out what’s wrong. The minor ones are more difficult. It’s then that I hear what is becoming a familiar phrase as one gets older: it’s all to do with age (being a kind man my doctor doesn’t actually say that, but grins sympathetically). And ‘there’s nothing we can do about it’.

Getting used to a body, that more and more becomes a stranger to you, is one of the least pleasurable experiences of the ageing process. Your body is not only a stranger, but potentially a tyrant as well. It dictates what you can and can not do. Long walks become difficult. It’s not so easy to hear what people are saying, especially in a crowded room. Favourite food is less digestible than it used to be.

Memory is elusive, and long pauses as you try to respond to a question can be embarrassing to others and deeply frustrating to yourself. Aches and pains can keep you awake at night, and in fact sleeping itself can become a problem for some people, as they lay awake and wonder who is this stranger they are now living with. The medics suggest that at some time in the future you may need surgery, perhaps. You hear of old friends who are struggling with multiple problems. And so it goes on.

Christmas can make it worse! Those annual letters are already beginning to arrive; just as you are ageing, so are the friends of your generation, and there are sad stories of illness and debility and although often matched by bravery and endurance, you can’t help wondering if it will be your turn next. Sympathy for them begins to turn into anxiety about yourself.

We are all different and some of us seem able to shrug off these things, and to accept bad news stoically, whereas others of us are natural worriers. For example I am an unreconstructed hypochondriac, surprised by the fact that in recent years I actually have had serious health problems, and not just imagined them!

Meanwhile for many of us, the positives still outweigh the negatives. You are still you, and are surrounded by the same patient and loving family. The context of your life remains firm, you are in touch with good friends, able to do many of the things that are part of the good life, enriched by new experiences, accepting this time of your life as some sort of adventure that demands a response and challenges your resilience.

There are some things that the doctor can’t ‘do about it’.

But we can.