The Haves and Have-nots of Old Age

Prince Philip [for the unaware or hermits, Prince Philip is the husband of Queen Elizabeth 2nd, queen of The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland] who is ninety-six years old, is going into hospital for a hip operation.
You have to assume that the Prince will not have been hobbling around in agony for about two years. He has not had to first visit his GP [local doctor], waiting a couple of weeks to get an appointment, having had to convince the receptionist that he is in great discomfort. He has had some difficulty for ‘about a month’. He will not have had to get himself to a hospital for an appointment, pay to park, sit around in various waiting rooms and corridors, wait for scans, x-rays and investigations. He will not have had to return home with the vague promise of an operation, his name having been placed upon a waiting list.
No-the Prince will have attended a private hospital. He will have been given a prompt appointment, been chauffeur-driven to a luxurious venue akin to a top-class hotel, sat on a plush sofa to drink tea and nibble pastries while his personal consultant explains how they will fix his hip.
This extraordinary treatment will all have been paid for, reader, by we, the tax-payers.
I’m finding it difficult not to relate this my father’s death, at ninety-one in his local hospital’s men’s geriatric ward, in a bed with curtains drawn around it. I sat next to the bed as he wheezed and stared uncomprehending, while visiting times came and went, greetings sounding from outside the curtains and sometimes a chair pushed back into our tiny space by visitors to the adjacent bed’s occupant. Occasionally a staff member would come to tell me my father was dying and administer to him another dose of morphine.
The Queen Mother, I learned, had two hip operations in her nineties. Surgeons have to be confident that the very elderly are fit enough and well enough nourished for a general anaesthetic to be administered. Not much chance of the royals being under-nourished, is there? And Prince Philip has enjoyed the benefits of plenty of fresh air and exercise over the years, on royal estates and various jaunts.
Of course, in a democratic society we allow privilege and the way that life is for the [increasing numbers of] elderly is under debate. Some will always be able to afford any kind of care they would like, for as long as they like. Others must fend for themselves. For most, financial circumstances will play the largest part. While it’s as well to be prepared it is also a blessing that we don’t know what’s in store for us as we age. We can try to stay fit, eat sensibly, follow the rules, ensure that pension provision is adequate. But how many of us, if we achieve the age of ninety-six, would get a hip replacement operation within a month?

Don’t Breathe until you’ve Strapped on the Button-

We are used, now to seeing those posts that invite us to join in congratulatory admiration for friends’ achievements. You know the ones. So-and-so has just run X miles or, J Bloggs has cycled to here; there will be a map to show you exactly the route they took. These posts fall into the same category as those selfie shots, a cloud of grinning friends all having a ball or seated around a table of delicious, ‘Masterchef’ style food-or standing on The Great Wall of China or Golden Gate Bridge. It is rare to see a photo of someone grappling with a flooding washing machine or in the aftermath of open-heart surgery.

Creeping along into this melee of ‘tell-all’ comes the tiny, wearable, digital device. Of course, monitors of all descriptions have been around for ages, but these, ever-smaller, watch-like buttons are becoming more sophisticated than ever. According to devotees they will tell you how many steps you’ve taken, monitor your heart rate and inform you of how you’ve slept.

It seems to me that this is taking self-absorption to another level. Why do we need a device to tell us how we’ve slept? I am still compos mentis enough to know whether I’ve slept or not-because if I was awake I probably knew about it already. I also have a fairly good idea whether I’ve walked anywhere or if I’ve been a lazy slob slumped on a sofa with a book. I’ll let the health system deal with my heart rate, though if I’m feeling ok why worry?

Won’t these little, wearable buttons give us the same paranoia that googling symptoms does? Supposing it tells you you didn’t sleep a wink last night? What will you do? Go back to bed that minute to recoup the lost hours? Only walked eight thousand two hundred and fifty four steps? Quick-get outside in the garden and do a few circuits before ‘Eastenders’. Eaten too many calories today? Nothing to eat tomorrow!

Worse still, in a sinister vision of the future, supposing some popinjay in the health department of a nanny state government comes up with the brilliant idea of linking their use to the health system. You will be required to wear a monitor at all times if you wish to be entitled to health care. You will be resuscitated only if you have slept for the mandatory eight hours last night. You will qualify for a hip replacement only if you have completed your compulsory ten thousand steps per day. Goodness! A veto on surgery for smokers or the obese has already raised its ugly head. Linking healthy lifestyle to healthcare entitlement can only be around the corner.

Or why not programme the devices to issue warnings? They could jolt us with an electric shock if we sip at a second Sauvignon or munch on a MacDonald’s and sound an alarm to alert us to getting on with our ten thousand steps. Does it remind you of any famous novels? Just remember that 1984 was over thirty years ago.