Dr. Pillmartin looked concerned as I limped into his surgery for my yearly physical.
“Don’t you wish I was a psychiatrist?’ he asked, smiling, rising from his chair to lend me a hand. “You definitely look like you could use a couch.”
“More like new knees,” I grimaced. “Bloody arthritis.” After a brief pause and a frown, I added, “Can’t even play much golf anymore.”
“Having trouble hitting it, are we?”
“Are we? No, just me, Doc. This isn’t about you.”
Instead of smiling, Pillmartin looked puzzled. “Don’t worry,” he said, breezily. “You’ll be playing golf when you’re 100.”
And just like that, I had my opening to introduce a very difficult subject: dying.
“A hundred?” I repeated, loudly. “I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
Pillmartin gave me that “how so?” look and settled comfortably in his chair, waiting for me to elaborate.
“Well, it’s like this,” I said. “Both my parents and in-laws died in their mid to late 80s. At the end, they had no choice but to sell their homes and move into seniors’ residences. They couldn’t drive their cars anymore and weren’t independent enough to travel. They hurt all over. They were too frail even to do simple things like shopping or going to movies and restaurants.
“Depression set in, and, no matter what we did, we couldn’t snap them out of it. It just seems that so many people go downhill quickly after they turn 80.” Then I added: “If my parents and in-laws had died six or seven years earlier, they would have been spared so much misery.”
“What exactly are you getting at?” Pillmartin asked.
“Look, I’m 80,” I said. Then I decided to have some fun with the good doctor. Lighten the mood a bit. Let him know I wasn’t after free anti-depressants.
It didn’t work.
“Yes, I still have my boyish good looks and my mind is still as sharp as a steel trap, but that’s all just eye candy,” I said. I watched Pillmartin suppress a yawn, and then continued. “I’m slipping quite a bit, and it’s not just my legs. It’s my neck, my back and my hips. Also, my bladder. I get up three times a night just to go to the bathroom — oh, and I also have an enlarged prostate.”
Pillmartin put up his hand to stop me right there, and said, “Don’t we all?”
I ignored his untimely interruption and continued, picking up the pace. “All I’m saying is from now on, don’t go out of your way looking for things. I’ve had enough tests, scans and X-rays to last a lifetime. I just want to know you’ll be there for me when I have things like colds and the flu or even sore joints or sinus issues. Maybe get my blood pressure checked. Or maybe just ask for advice, especially if and when the time comes when I need a little help; when I can’t go it alone, anymore.”
There was an uneasy silence.
“I’m 80 and I’ve had a great life,” I said. “A loving family, a job that was more like a hobby, loyal friends, a cottage in the Laurentians and enough golf to fill three lifetimes.”
I almost said: “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention,” but thought better of it. “I’ve been very lucky — and I’m not afraid of dying,” I said.
“I know where I’m going.”