Embrace the downslope

Fifty came and went and I smiled to myself as presbyopia was nowhere to be seen; then came 51. I distinctly remember the day those tiny sutures were in focus from afar but so indistinct close up. The Modern Man three pack of 1.25 readers from Costco was an easy fix. I keep a pair in each exam room and at my desk, initially for close-up examinations, but I must admit that I seem to wear them more and more.

Recently an elderly gentleman came to see me with concerns about a skin lesion on the top of his head, so I put on my glasses for a perusal. For some reason I couldn’t get his shiny dome in focus so I took them off and embarrassingly noticed they were so dirty that they were almost opaque. Taking them to the sink I gave them a good clean with soap and water, apologizing to my patient for the delay. After a good dry I approached his scalp only to find it to be blurry once more. At this point the old guy asked, “Hey, what are you doing with my glasses?” Looking over at my desk, I saw that mine were right where I had left them. I was curious why he sat patiently and watched me clean his glasses, but maybe he thought I was trying to add value to the service.

It’s hard to ignore the passage of time once you require reading glasses. A few more signs have also come my way: I have a granddaughter and my parents are aging into their 80s. Not to mention my bunion, which has left me with hallux rigidus and crepitus. Leaping up with youthful enthusiasm is hard to do with only 15 degrees of first metatarsal phalangeal joint movement. I also find that my back aches if I stay in bed too long, and a nocturnal bathroom visit is now the norm.

Many of my patients have never heard of the TV shows, movies, or songs of my youth and look blankly at me when I muse about Gilligan getting off the island, Saturday Night Fever, or not checking in to the Hotel California. Talk of rotary phones, rabbit ears, and cassette tapes brings vacant stares. I find myself to be increasingly reminiscent and particularly enjoy when a patient my age brings up some cherished memory from our collective past.

It is a sombre realization that I have more years behind than ahead, both in life and my career. Retirement, while still years away, looms in my consciousness and seems tangible (as long as I stay away from cars while bike riding that is). Aging brings reflection and focus on what is important and what isn’t. I find many of the old quotes about life, happiness, contentment, and joy more poignant and truthful as my life experience grows.

When all is said and done, I would like to be remembered by my patients as the caring family physician who tried to make a difference whenever a request was made. It is often said that the quality of a person is reflected by their friends and family, but if this is true then I am not worthy. As I pick up speed on the downside of the hill, I intend to embrace and cherish the meaningful people in my life, and I encourage you to do the same.

David R. Richardson, MD. Embrace the downslope. BCMJ, Vol. 58, No. 6, July, August, 2016, Page(s) 300 - Editorials.

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