Are You Talking to Me?
By Tim Harper
On a recent Sunday morning, so early in our new COVID world I actually knew what day it was, I was lazing away with my partner, slowly easing into consciousness as the CBC’s Michael Enright intoned from the radio on the bedside table.
I was drifting in and out of a blissful torpor when I was jolted by the words of a gentleman from the Canadian Medical Association explaining how, if it came to this, a 65-year-old with the coronavirus would be denied a ventilator in favour of a young, 35-year-old father of three.
The 65-year-old, he explained would have lived a rich, full life and would have to accept his secure, and swift passage out to sea on the ice floe.
Forget for a second that I have no intention of sharing any experience with a ventilator and that there was a cold logic to the gentleman’s pronouncement, I had to stifle the urge to bolt from the bed and shout at the radio, “I’ll let you know when I’ve had a full life . . . that’s not up to you.’’
I didn’t, of course, because there are too many of us of an age who spend entirely too much time already shouting at inanimate objects or vowing retribution to a passing cumulonimbus.
No, I’m not 65 yet, but I’m damn close, and that broadcast was just the latest slap to the head for someone who is still deciding what he wants to do when he grows up.
This pandemic, with its ominous statistics for infections in those over 60, and our dirty little secret co-morbidities now being aired in public, is a moment of reckoning.
When public health officials and media pundits are talking about older Canadians, they’re talking about me. I have never thought of myself that way, but now others were, and my long game of denial was coming to an end.
My first brush with senioritis shook me to the core and I recall it as if it occurred yesterday.
It was about eight years ago in a Shopper’s Drug Mart in one of Ottawa’s soulless downtown malls. I had finally and mercifully snaked through the line to a counter, dumping my purchases in front of an exuberant young clerk who told me, with way too much enthusiasm, that this was Senior’s Day.
Unless this guy thought I had left my mother elsewhere in the store, I thought, what earthly reason would he have to inform me of that? I was so pleased our elders were getting a discount, but for all its relevance to me, this guy might as well have blurted out that it was Unicorn Day.
Did I qualify? He asked. As a senior, not a unicorn, he meant.
I met his gaze with a look of unbridled scorn, my best “well, I never . . . ‘’ look, just short of my “do you wanna take this outside?’’ look, until he said: “You have to be over 55.’’
“How much is the discount?’’ I asked.
He told me.
And from that moment forward, I was a senior, albeit a young one, but one old enough that I could never remember what day was Senior’s Day at Shopper’s Drug Mart, anyway.
The acceptance of my status was gradual, and the road there was anything but smooth.
About a year ago, I was in Hamilton and dropped into a fast food joint for a cup of coffee to fuel my drive home to Toronto.
At the counter was a woman who, in my mind’s eye, was my grandmother, but again I was trapped with the senior’s discount query.
Sure, I said, aiming to please her. For that I received a 25 cent discount and a loud treatise on Grey Solidarity.
I nodded wanly as she poured the coffee, loudly announcing that we had to stick together, us seniors, being on a fixed income and all and not getting proper respect from the government.
Before she downed tools and took to the street demanding better pensions, I grabbed my coffee, furtively canvassing the restaurant to see who had been disturbed by this Pension Power call to arms.
I wondered whether I should buy a walker, just in case, and begin to mash my food for better digestion.
Yes, I have a mirror and I can see the sags and the belly which seems to have recently plain given up. I have the degenerated disc that renders me almost immobile each morning, my knees crack when I try to do squats and I don’t blithely breeze through a hangover like I once did.
These are inevitable signs of aging. It is the arrogance of the brain that is the last hurdle before acceptance.
But there’s probably no escape. Resistance will be futile.
As I was writing this, a text arrived from a female acquaintance.
It began, “For a guy your age . . . ‘’