“Humour heightens our sense of survival and preserves our sanity…. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity more than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness without those qualities, life would be violent and all will be lost.”
“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain”
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
‘Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.’
At the Strong Centre established by Associate Professor Nalin Singh, I found a world of difference between the low morale and some questionable professionalism in the ward from which I had been discharged, deemed never to walk again, and the esprit de corps amongst Dr. Singh’s staff.
Whilst in the Beazley ward of Balmain Hospital-aka the ‘Beastly’ Ward, my spirits had been lifted not by the highly qualified medical staff but by the Irish cleaner, Maureen, who beat away my black dog with her early morning singing and kind nature.
Whilst away with the fairies, with little control over my urinary function or the curtains surrounding my bed at visiting hours, it was observed by one doctor that my ‘exhibitionist’ tendencies might pose a risk to the public upon my release. I didn’t learn this until later. It hadn’t been discussed with me at the time. As if I could flash when I couldn’t dash! I could hide but I couldn’t run. This doctor, a friend of Dorothy, should have known better. The same doctor pushed the drug Zoloft onto me to deal with my depression. I had to spit it into the bin on the sly as the effects were so sickening.
Like most people, one who likes to put members of the medical profession on a pedestal, it was a relief to have my faith restored by Dr. Singh and his emphasis on common sense, compassion, humour and less reliance on drug use. It gives fast acting relief.
We participants come with different backgrounds and sensitivities.
Yet we all receive regular medical assessments to determine our state of health.
Dr.Singh put me through one to determine my ability to take part. ‘Now please turn your head and cough,’ he asked at one point.
What’s that for?’ I asked.
‘Auscultating heart sounds is a fundamental component of a physical assessment. We listen to detect any worrisome murmurs. Even in the best circumstances these sounds can be difficult to hear. In addition, heart sounds last slightly more than 0.10 seconds, and their pitch begins at the lowest level detectable by the human ear.’
‘You must need to have a good ear for that kind of thing.’
Yes and lots of practice. Of course, we medical practitioners are often trying it out on ourselves.’
‘Physician, heal thyself !’ I said. ‘You’re needed in working order.’
Professor Singh developed a fine eye for any peculiarities of his patients as is expected of his speciality.
He noticed one of the participants in the waiting room holding his newspaper far from his eyes. He asked the man about this later.
The man replied, ‘I have increasing difficulty focusing clearly on close objects. The words I’m trying to read are a bit blurry.’
The good doctor told him, It’s common as we age that the lenses of our eyes harden. You might consider getting your optician to prescribe you some bifocals. They do, I might point out, take some getting used to.
From his work in the wards, Professor Singh is fully aware of the difficulty of changing people’s lifetime habits.
I mentioned the appropriateness of the Centre’s title.
‘It’s actually an acronym.’ he said. ‘It’s official title is The Strength Training, Rehabilitation, Outreach, to the Needs of the Geriatric program.’
What does the ‘Outreach’ refer to?’ I asked.
‘The STRONG at Home program allows staff to prescribe and supervise the training of clients who train in other settings, such as gyms, their home or their office.
Some have treadmills for running or walking in one place.
Their design can be adjusted according to personal preference.
Participants gradually add on free weights – classic strength training tools-to build resistance.
Family members play an important role here through their encouragement.
Others improvise employing everyday items as equipment.’
‘In their home would be ideal for agoraphobics who avoid leaving it for a long time.’
‘We can help ease their intense panic attacks and anxieties. Unfortunately medical science is tantalisingly short of eliminating them completely. For them a cure is just around the corner.’
‘Some people think aging people should go easy on exercise because they may injure themselves,’ I said.
What do you think?’
‘As long as they don’t overdo things, there’s no reason to rule it out.’
‘What about the undesirable effects of weight training?’ I asked.
‘I believe it has fewer side effects than orthodox medical treatments. We find that it produces results in countering depression equivalent to chemical intervention. Our regime is as powerful as any drug on the market and without the side effects.’
‘What are some of these?’
‘Some drugs cause confusion, agitation, sleep problems and loss of balance, Essentially the drugs are just treating the patient’s depression, whereas Vitamin X- exercise- is doing their physical and mental bill of health a world of good. It brings about lasting improvements in reduced anxiety and improved self-efficacy, self-esteem and body image.
‘How does this work?’ I asked him.
‘We believe exercise relieves depression by changing neurotransmitter levels in the brain and affecting people’s self perceptions.’
‘This approach helps tip the locus of control out of the hands of the preferred healers, the pill makers.’
‘Who needs a pill when we do the mambo?”
‘It moves it consequently back to us. It’s not the rule. Our hospitals are overall not designed for the frail elderly. The treatments on offer and the medicines prescribed are usually only tested on robust 50-year-olds. The response to age-related memory loss and dementia is to institutionalise, isolate, sedate.
Supporting independence and wellbeing in old age is a low priority.’
‘And yet we have an aging population where the elderly appear in situations never before thought possible.’
‘There are increasing numbers of ageing citizens who require health and pension services. There is general and growing fear that this will lead to financial disaster. This perception has infiltrated our health system and led to a number of movements within medicine that are either consciously or unconsciously informed by our low regard for the elderly and the fiscal fear they now embody. Some of these movements – advanced planning, dying with dignity, avoiding futile over-treatment or even hospital – are morally sound, even laudable, but given our cultural climate they risk giving sanction to a form of health-rationing for our elderly, in a system which historically has held them in the lowest regard.’
Dr. Singh’s a natural with the infirm. He welcomes the widest range of patients from across the social spectrum. This has a socially cohesive function.
‘Our program,’ he told me, ‘highlights the growing emphasis on healthy living. It represents a copernican shift that’s happening world wide. Looking at more lifestyle related issues that used to be thought of as preventative medicine. Now we’re thinking about them as treatments. Many of of our participants are now able to get out of their chairs and carry their shopping bags with ease while a few have been able to throw away their walking sticks. They see improvements in flexibility.’
‘Some become stronger than their children.’
‘And better pallbearers for their friends no doubt.’
I had always dreaded the thought of being shackled down in a hospital. This is what happens to me now on a regular basis. My left foot flies involuntarily not over a cuckoo’s nest but off the pedal of the hip machine. To stop this my trainers strap it down with velcro, a material whose usefulness I was in two minds about at first. I never thought it would catch on.
To treat chronic disease and disability the Strong Centre uses prescriptive exercise (weights, aerobics and balance), with a wide array of equipment.
Older people are much less likely to be be subject to falls and fractures if they are involved in strength and balance training.
‘Aerobic exercise,’ said Dr. Singh, ‘going for runs around the block or some laps in the pool, doesn’t prevent this. The relative benefit of resistance versus aerobic training is weighted very heavily towards resistance training the older you get. If you are a betting person, strength training is the way to go. It maintains and increases bone density, vital in overcoming the effects of osteoporosis.
It can slow or halt the wasting effect of disused muscle groups. We know all about Atrophy. It’s an award given to those who do not exercise. Sarcopenia is like the ugly sister of osteoporosis: together they work to make us frail as we age. By the time we hit 60, the sedentary lives most of us lead will result in our muscles being 20 to 40 per cent of their former girth. This shrinkage results in a major reduction in strength.’
‘I know the feeling. You sit in a rocking chair and can’t get it going.’
‘Power resistance training counters this. Not only is the skeleton strengthened but the muscles around it as well.
Six months of has been shown to increase strength by 40 to 150 per cent and muscle size by up to 30 per cent. Understandably, this has a positive effect on walking speed, ability to rise from a chair and other daily activities. Weight training can have a dramatic effect on health if done at the optimal level which is 80% of a person’s maximum strength. One of the key rules of weight training is that you must keep increasing the load to maximize benefits, so once you’ve mastered one level, move to the next.
His research, published in The Journals of Gerontology shows that to be effective in reducing depression the exercise must be suitably robust. The weights must be hard to lift and increase as strength rises. Low-intensity exercise (walking, swimming) yields some results, but it is high-intensity resistance training that produces pronounced, measurable change in mood.
‘There are those who argue having the frail and elderly involved in weight training is particularly dangerous.’ I said.
‘It’s more dangerous not to. In actual fact we bring our participants back to exercise soon after they have any procedures.’
’‘There’s a widely held belief that weight training dangerously elevates blood pressure and causes damage to the heart.’
‘This is not supported in the literature’, replied Dr. Singh, ‘Nor in practice. For such people it’s a gateway to a more active life. Age is just a number. The idea that you’re too old to be active is disappearing fast.
The exercising oldster can be more up and moving than the twenty year old who just sits and tweets all day. Researchers have shown that those who regularly train with weights attended hospital less frequently, had shorter stays and in one study fewer participants died during the study period than in the control group. One message is clear. The more you advance in age, the more you should be doing it, even with a busy schedule.
And the frailer you are, the more benefit you’ll reap from a properly prescribed weight training program’.
This was just what the doctor ordered.
I go in, I go out, I work it out. Over a long period I’d been doing push ups upon waking. I’d go ‘up two three, down two three, up two three—’-and then I’d lift the other eyelid.
I had done some weightlifting. I used to strain as the sweat stood out in beads on my forehead. I used to grit my teeth and chew into my tongue, flaring my nostrils and breathing threats at my stubborn shoulders. This was my idea of weight lifting- simply standing up.
As for aerobics, I had jogged in the street, but found it hard going. Running in front of cars I tended to get tired and run down. Running behind them, I got totally exhausted .
The main thing I’d exercised was caution.
Hail, hail the gang’s all here.
Now, looking at things from a new angle, this instant oldie ‘pumps iron’, lifting to the max in the purpose built state of the art gym with a medley of walking wounded, mostly hoarier, some stronger than me.
We ironmen and ironwomen suffer from Parkinson’s disease, Oldtimers disease, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes, nephritis and in my case an incurable case of imaginitis. Of the same kidney, we’re all good pals and jolly good company.
Nola, a centenarian, can be seen working out on the knee extension machine.
The hospital rewards this spirit by putting on a great Christmas party at the end of each year.
I suggested to Liz that she put together a gymnasts formation display for entertainment.
‘Displaying what?’ she asked.
‘Our gymnasts could shape their bodies to spell out the name of someone we all love.’
‘And who might that be? Is there anyone common to all of us who’d elicit such an effort?’
‘Someone they’d bend over backwards to celebrate. Put our gymnasts together and they’d spell—-’
Our trainers go around the tables serving those too immobile to select from the smorgasbord layout.
A trainer asked one such man kindly if he would like any added to his trifle, ‘Crushed nuts?’
‘No,’ he replied, ‘Arthritis.’
Here is the sound of music we make as we travel to the gym in our community bus:
‘Antacid, nose drops and needles for knitting,
walking sticks, handrails and new dental fittings,
Wet shawl contests while dressed up in bling,
These are a few of my favourite things.
Catheters, hearing aids, exercise classes,
Polident, bifocals, false teeth in glasses,
Pacemakers, walkers and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favourite things.
When the pipes leak,
When the bones creak,
when the knees go bad,
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don’t feel so bad.
Low cholesterol, and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy, salty food except for some onions,
Bathrobes and heat pads and hot meals they bring,
These are a few of my favourite things.
Back pains, confused brains, and no fear of sinning,
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinning,
As we won’t mention our short shrunken frames,
When we remember our favourite things.
When the joints ache, when the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,
I simply remember my favourite things,
And then I don’t feel so bad.’
Young’uns should regard us as their future selves. Among other people with physical problems at this home away from home, we feel accepted and appreciated. Finding a shared comfort in suffering, we geriatric gymnasts are bound by another kind of love- the recognition of a shared humanity that renders differences of class, religion, and politics extraneous. It’s a special service, not just run of the treadmill.
‘I didn’t expect to see you here,’ I said to Tom Uren when he turned up at the gym.
‘I guess at my age it’s good to be seen just about anywhere.’
Like myself Tom was impressed by Dr. Singh’s wall poster reminds us of renowned athlete Muhammad Ali’s inspiring approach to staying on top of things: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
‘You would relate to this message, Tom.’
‘I’ll say. It’s the same for anyone involved in public life.’
‘And for you too, Tom in your early days. Training in the noble art of boxing.’
‘According to the Marquis of Queensbury if given rules to follow truthfully it enables men to channel their aggression less destructively. And to provide an exciting spectacle for those witness it.’
‘Some of our bruisers think the Marquis of Queensbury is a pub in Redfern,’ I said. ‘To be truthful you know what separates us from the animals. The ability to witness two men stand toe to toe in the spirit of sportsmanship and pummel each other into insensibility. ’
‘To be truthful is what Muhammad says is his way of joking. He says for him ‘that’s the funniest joke in the world.’
Well one thing’s for sure, there’s a lot of politicians who don’t tell the truth and there’s nothing funny about this. And Muhammad has said truthful things that are a scream.’
‘Can you remember any of these?’
As well as dishing out shiners, he’s served some killer one liners. Not surprisingly many of them are black and boastful. When asked to define boxing, Muhammad replied, ‘Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.’
‘I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.’
.‘A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. ‘I have seen the light and I’m crowing.’
‘My toughest fight was with my first wife.’
‘It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.’
‘It’s his right to do this that his government took away. They preferred he kill people.’
‘You’re a lot taller than I thought, Tom,’ one of our members, Roger, said.
‘It’s from all the uppercuts I got as a young man.’
Roger fancied himself as a bit of a pugilist. Before going to bed he extended his arms and punched away, working on his shoulder, chest, back, bicep, triceps, and specifically the Serratus Anterior, also known as ‘the boxer’s muscle’.
Laughter is our fraternal impulse and our fondest distraction, perhaps because we spend our working hours poring over the absurdity and fragility of life.
Yet staring down our own mortality we can’t quite accept the notion of it.
While we gymnasts wait our turn for our session, we swap tales with more than a hint of blarney.
‘Do you know, I told Dr. Singh,’ by simply telling a joke, you exercise 72 muscles in your neck, throat, mouth and tongue.’
‘No wonder people say they laugh ’til it hurts. They have a workout without realizing it,’ he laughed.
‘According to Dr. Lee Berk from Loma Linda University,’ I said, letting it be known I knew a little something about the physiological base of humour, ‘laughing increases the body’s antibodies which help to fight off infection and alien bacteria.’
‘You don’t stop laughing because you grow old, You grow old because you stop laughing.’
‘So how do you go about getting people started? I expect you don’t want them rolling round the floor to begin with.’
‘As with all exercises, Allan, we start gently. We get our participants to form their facial features into a pleased or amused expression with the corners of the mouth turned up and the front teeth exposed.’
‘So you build up their ability to smile so as to develop their sense of humour.’
‘Exactly. Humour helps us take back control and connect—two things we tend to lose in our attempt to stave off the effects of aging and disease . People want jokes because jokes offer hope and relief, and they take the edge off danger; partly because they are a way of processing the experience, partly because this is a massive shared experience. People are looking for the release of comedy—and the knowledge that they are not alone.
If we all find the experience of these effects funny, it’s reassuring, a form of collective therapy. We can’t really do much about these things, but we can laugh in the face of them. In a godless society, it’s the one eternal victory we have.
Humour is part of the armour-plate of humanity, protecting us from life’s grim reality—that, ultimately, death wins out. It gives no refunds. We joke because if we didn’t, we’d cry.
We don’t laugh at scary things because we don’t understand their seriousness. We laugh because they’re serious. Making jokes gives us a sense of power over the threat.
Laughing’s a way of bonding. More than a simple response to comedy, or a cathartic mood-lifter, it’s primarily a social vocalization that binds people together. We laugh with others to give us the pleasure of acceptance. To show that we are the same. From an evolutionary perspective, laughter is rooted in this ability to connect. It’s a shared social signal. The joke is now our most reliable shield—and our warmest comfort blanket.
So while Dr. Singh aims to keep patients mirthful, I adapt their details to that desired end, tapping into a deep vein of humour.
.Professional physical therapists assisted by students from the university campus help us to lift our game, increase our kinetic activity, help us join the ranks of the wellderly.
They can be very personal trainers.
They target those areas that need most attention.’ Not least the grey matter,’ explained to me one of the therapists. ‘It increases the blood flow there, improving transmission between brain cells, increasing neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. Along with an enriched environment of interconnected burrows it cuts down amyloid plaques just as it does for exercising rats.’
‘I can just see these ropy rodents admiring the artwork in the hospital, stealing into the gym at night to bulk up their muscles —,’ I answered, struggling to come up with her name again. Right then I was having amnesia and deja vu at the same time. I think I’d forgotten her name before. Once or twice.
‘Exercise builds up our hippocampus, associated with short term memory’, she continued.
‘Aren’t elephants better qualified for this’, I replied.
‘Rats, hippos, elephants, even old dogs like like you’, Liz came back- as did her name, ‘can all be taught new tricks.’
Indeed exercise strengthens not only our wits but our ability to remember words- such as ‘hippocampus’. Ideal for me, being rather catawampus. Under guided supervision we happy campers see our performance pick up through measurement. This raises my confidence, my self-esteem, my ability to rise standing from a chair and complete activities of daily living.
Before each session we are asked whether we’ve had any recent incapacities.
‘‘O.K.You gym rats, any pains, blains, strains, sprains?’ asks Liz. ‘Tell me your banes.
What about you, Roger? You’re shivering a bit. Let’s see what you’ve got. You don’t feel warm. Got any chills? Normally you get the chills before the flu comes on. Any soreness there? I don’t feel any swollen lymph nodes?’ she said, feeling under Roger Morris’ chin and giving him the once over.
‘Roger, I know you go to professional conferences from time to time. Have you been to any lately?’
‘In fact I’ve just flown back from one. Due to cancellations I had to wait ages in the departure lounge with many others,’
‘You know, it’s wise to avoid unnecessary crowds and excessive travel. Both scenarios confine you in close, sometimes unventilated areas with many other people. This presents the highest risk for the current spike in flu infections that have been fatal for some.’
‘I realise that now. It can be a terminal illness.’
How do you feel about getting old, Roger?’
‘Though my hair has turned to silver and my skin no longer fits, on the inside, I’m the same old me, Just the outside’s changed a bit.’
‘Just take it easy today and have a good rest when you get home.’
‘Nice and easy does it every time.’
LIz asked Nola, “To what do you attribute your longevity?”
“Simple,”Nola replied. “I never argue.”
“Oh, surely there must be more to it than that,” said Liz.
“Well,” said Nola. “I guess you’re right.”
And how are you, Allan?’ asked Liz.
‘I’m recovering from bubonic plague,’ I reported, testing her credulity.
‘Don’t give me that,’ she replied.
The late magistrate Barbara Holborow told of her problem. Some years ago she had tripped over and broke her femur in ten places ending up with seven pins and two plates in her left leg.
She said, ‘I’ve been suffering lately from metal fatigue.’
‘Don’t you mean mental fatigue?’
‘And that too. you see I’ve been travelling round a lot lately.’
‘So how did that affect you?’
‘The beeping and ringing make me go off my nana. have been driving me crazy. My spare parts have been setting off alarms, detectors and scanners beeping when I’ve passed through courtrooms and airports. The more thorough wand scan beeps when it reaches my left leg. After September 11, they’d go, ‘We need to check’.’
‘Barbara, your sound, like your reputation, precedes you.’
When Molly Horniblow who has a large brood of grandkids came in Liz asked her, ‘Have you got on top of those headaches you’ve been complaining about lately?’
‘That I have, Liz. My pharmacist prescribed me some aspirin which did the trick, I simply followed the instructions: ‘Keep away from children’.
One lady, Maria Bello replied,
‘My back molars are aching something terrible.’
‘It’s the pain that drives you to extraction.’
‘My leg hurts in several places?’
Always ready with an answer, Liz said, ‘Well Maria, don’t go there anymore. Take it off your GPS!’
Maria added, ‘I may have to stop and go to the bathroom more than once. I pee like I’m using Morse Code. Dots and dashes. While I’m having troubles doing number two’s, I can’t stop passing water.’
‘When you get a bladder infection, Maria, urine trouble. You’ll have to see your G.P.’
‘Any wheezes, sneezes or seizures? Any post nasal drip caused by the grippe?’ asked Liz another time.
Maria replied, ‘I’ve been run out lately. I’ve been taking this new medication.
‘What did your G.P. advise you?’
’He said ‘I want you to take two of these pills every Saturday, Sunday and Monday and skip the remaining days in the week.’
‘Possibly your fatigue is a side effect of this dosage.’
‘I think not. I think it’s all the skipping I’ve had to do.’
On another occasion she answered ‘I haven’t slept for three days.’
‘Why’s that Maria?’
‘Because that would be too long.’
‘I’ll have to think about that,’ replied Liz. ‘For now I can’t stress this strongly enough, never under any circumstances take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night, particularly if you have uncontrollable coughing.’
‘I take enough pills as it is. If you shake me, I rattle.’
Another lady, a little embarrassed, reported a persistent case of loose bowels. I had the runs real bad the night before last. I rang my pharmacist for help.’
‘How did they deal with it?’
‘They put me on hold.’
Liz comforted her saying by telling her how common it is. ‘Four out of five people suffer from it.’
Back came the reply: ‘If four out of five people suffer from diarrhoea…does that mean that one enjoys it?’
Unlike these two, another lady reported problems with number one’s. ‘I’ve been suffering from Oliguria, a decreased output of urine.’
Liz said, ‘We can work on your bladder problem together.’
The lady replied, ‘There is no wee. I’ll have to work it out by myself.’
‘You’d better get a proper assessment.’
Before her next session, Liz checked up on her condition. ‘Did you see your G.P?’
‘ I did. He prescribed me the following pharmaceutical regimen , Take this red pill after breakfast with a glass of water.
‘OK,’ I answered.
‘Take this blue pill after lunch with two glasses of water.’
‘And take this yellow pill after dinner with three glasses of water.’
‘Good heavens,’ I said, ‘whatever is the matter with me?’
‘You don’t drink enough water.’
‘A common problem to an increasing number. The greying of Australia continues,’ said Liz.
‘Aging people pop up in the most unexpected places.’
Another lady constantly harped on about non-existent illnesses. She has a walk in medicine cabinet. After checking her carefully, Liz said, ‘Though you’re not really ill. you’ve always a pill. I can’t but think you’re a bit of a hypochondriac.’
‘Now that really hurts, Liz.’
‘Listen. For someone your age you’re in reasonably good health. You’ll feel fine when you get used to it.’
One lady responded as follows, ‘I’ve just had a bit of a shock. When I woke up this morning, I glanced in the mirror and nearly fainted at what I saw. My face is like an avalanche.
I’m like a gigantic recessive gene. How will I ever restore my former beauty? If I get one more wrinkle , I could screw my hat on.’
‘I hope you can pull it off. Time may be a great healer but it’s also a lousy beautician.’
‘It’s like ‘The Invasion of The Body Snatchers’. I’ve got a spectrum disorder. Every little bit hurts. Everything under the sun. I’m “held together by gels, capsules and suppositories, My bottom is so big, it’s got its own gravitational field. Every part of my body has started to sag, hang lower, or generally head south.’
‘Gravity hits us all. The challenge is to make sure our spirits don’t drop quite as far.’
‘My thighs are so flabby, but fortunately my stomach covers them. I looked last week in the mirror and wondered how my pantyhose got so wrinkled… and then remembered Í wasn’t wearing any. I now have to iron my birthday suit. My hair has gone even more grey and wiry and falls out in clumps, my skin has become pasty looking and horribly blotchy. I’ve got crow’s feet so big they could make the headlines.’
Time marches on and eventually you realize it’s marching across your face.
‘My friend complimented me on my crocodile shoes-and I was barefoot. My liver spots show through my gloves. Both my eyes are bloodshot. They look like they’re bulging from their sockets. Along with my layers of fat and wrinkles, my pug dog acts like I’m his mother. ”
Liz gave her a quick examination, looked her in the eyes and said to her, “Well, you will have to see your G.P. The good news is you’re not a hypochondriac. And you don’t have anything wrong with your eyesight!’
Another lady reported troubles with her eyes. ‘I keep seeing spots before my eyes.’
‘These suggest retinal detachment. Have you seen a doctor?’
‘No, only spots. And my eyes get inflamed, itchy and teary.’
‘The whites have certainly turned pink. You should report straight to casualty. ‘Then,’ she said winking one of her own eyes, ‘check out a new website ‘conjunctivitis.com’ It’s a site for sore eyes. By the way, it looks like you’re keeping your weight down. How are you managing this?’’
‘I find there’s only one way to look thin. Hang out with fat people.’
One participant reported news both good and bad, ‘The doctors have just told me I’ve got terminal cancer.’
Oh no, that’s terrible. And what kind of good news could you be told after that ?’
‘I’ve also got Alzheimers. In three months time I’m going to forget everything I’ve been told.’
‘And how are you going?’ Liz asked another patient.
‘Well I’m not getting any younger, he reported, ‘you know how it is, and I’ve got both bladder or bowel control problems.’
‘Have you been called on to give faecal and urine samples?’
‘That was simple. I just gave the lab a pair of my underwear.’
Francesca, another participant said, ‘My pacemaker’s playing up. Every time some spunky bloke passes my house, my garage door opens.’
Liz’ reply: ‘Pull yourself- and your blinds- together, Franca, or it’ll be curtains for you.’
Marilyn Stacey was a Uniting Church minister. Nathan asked her, ‘Does prayer give you the willpower to keep you keeping on?’
She replied, ‘Every night I get down on my knees and pray. I pray that I can get off my knees.’
‘I take it you can’t touch your toes while standing up.’
‘If God had wanted me to touch my toes like that, he would have put them on my knees, weak as they are.’
‘We have to get you strengthening the quadriceps, hamstrings, and other muscles surrounding the knee,’ said Nathan, ‘so they become more stable.’
You must spend a lot of time thinking of the hereafter.’
I certainly do. I go somewhere to get something and then wonder what I’m here after.’
Liz asked Jack Gibson why he had two red ears.
‘I was ironing a shirt and the phone rang,’ he answered. ‘but instead of picking up the phone I picked up the iron and stuck it to my ear.’
‘Awful,’ Liz exclaimed in disbelief. ‘But then, what happened to your other ear?’
Jack replied, ‘Whoever it was called back.’
Before entering the gym, Liz asked a former scientist who had studied under the biologist JBS Haldane, ‘Any aches, breaks or shakes? Any languishments of the limbs or troubles of the thoracic tracts? Any trembling of the trunk?’
He reported his news as follows:
‘I’ve noticed I’ve been passing blood
Only a few drops, not a flood.’
Liz advised him: ‘Don’t wait for aches and pains
To have a surgeon mend your drains;
Ask your doctor, your best friend,
To peer into your hinder end,
To prove or to disprove any rumour
You’ve got a malignant tumour.
If he says ‘cancer’ you’re a dunce
Unless you have it out at once,
For if you wait it’s sure to swell,
And may have progeny as well.’
Some months on his return Liz asked him ‘How did you get on?’
He replied as follows:
‘In order to decide the issue
They scraped out some bits of tissue.
The microscope returned the answer
That I had certainly got cancer,
So I was wheeled into the theatre
Where holes were made to make me better.
I’ll swear, without the risk of perjury,
It was a snappy bit of surgery.
Through this incision, I don’t doubt,
The neoplasm was taken out,
Along with colon, and lymph nodes
Where cancer cells might find abodes.
Liz asked, ‘ And how are you coping now?’
‘My rectum is a serious loss to me,
But I’ve a very neat colostomy,
And hope, as soon as I am able,
To make it keep a fixed time-table.
A third much smaller hole is meant
To function as a ventral vent:
So now I am like the two-faced Janus
The only god who sees his anus.’
Liz: ‘While you’re in the area, you might check out your buttocks.
‘This is made up primarily of the gluteus maximus muscles, which are the largest and strongest muscles not only in the butt but also in the entire human body.’
‘The Centre obviously sees this as an important area to work on.’
‘We leave no stern untoned.’
‘Women in particular always worry about ending up butt-sprung,don’t they.’
‘The tush is my wife’s biggest asset. She’s always trying to perk it up.’
‘What exercises can I do at home to strengthen these muscles?’
‘Whenever you climb up stairs, run, bend and lift, squat, lunge.’
Do you have any advice for doing squats?’
‘Never squat with your spurs on!’
‘What about chair rises?’
‘Whenever you get out of your chair, squeeze your butt! Imagine you’ve a hundred dollar bill between your cheeks. You drop it, you lose it!’
‘I won’t. My wife’s always calling me a tightwad.’
Liz asked a lady who’d been away for a while to report on her recent medical examination.
‘Thought I’d let my doctor check me,
‘Cause I didn’t feel quite right. . .
All those aches and pains annoyed me
And I couldn’t sleep at night.
He could find no real disorder
But he wouldn’t let it rest.
What with Medicare and bulk bill,
We would do a couple tests.
To the hospital he sent me
Though I didn’t feel that bad.
He arranged for them to give me
Every test that could be had.
I was fluoroscoped and cystoscoped,
My aging frame displayed.
Stripped, on an ice cold table,
While my gizzards were x-rayed.
I was checked for worms and parasites,
For fungus and the crud,
While they pierced me with long needles
Taking samples of my blood.
Doctors came to check me over,
Probed and pushed and poked around,
And to make sure I was living
They then wired me for sound.
They have finally concluded,
Their results have filled a page.
What I have will someday kill me;
My affliction is old age.’
As the Centre is a teaching facility for students of exercise and sport sciences, an element of the educational procedure is to lay out to them the various handicaps of participants.
Indicating me, I overheard Doctor Nathan De Vos explain to a student who was a bit slow off the mark that morning,” As you can see, this patient limps because his left side musculature is very weak. Now what would you do in a case like this?”
The student piped up: “I suppose I would limp too.”
As well as being guided through our exercises, we receive supervision from nutritionists. It falls to Jodie to encourage us to eat wisely and improve our diets . To watch our weight as well as our height.
Our aim is to devise the best exercise and diet strategies to stave off frailty. we want to find out the role diet has in helping muscles grow and repair. She deals with those who’ve stopped growing at both ends and are now growing in the middle. Energy gone to waist. Lost to temptation.
‘We have to replace fat by muscle. Muscle is metabolically active and burns energy. Fat is not. As we age we have to make sure we control our abdominal fat. Because it surrounds internal organs it puts you at greater risk for developing several kinds of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and liver problems. The larger the love handles, the higher the chance of serious illness.
By increasing your lean muscle mass through your weight training, you increase your metabolic rate and therefore the rate at which fat is burned. Over the age of 40, you lose 1% of your muscle mass every year. 10 % per decade-so over time your body becomes weaker and simple activities become harder.
Jodie has to counter entrenched views in this area. Having always been a slim person, I found it hard to believe that my expanding waistline gave rise to concern. Flabbergasted, you might say, to find out. ‘Is it really possible that I’m as overweight as you say I am.’
Jodie replied ‘Maybe you would prefer to look at it in a different way. According to this chart, you’re about 10 inches too short.’
‘Isn’t this girth better for my balance?’ I argued. Doesn’t this mean my centre of gravity has been lowered?’
‘If you don’t do something about it right now,’ said Jodie, ‘It will be all of you that’s being lowered.’
‘I’m going to be cremated, Jodie. My last hope for a smoking hot body. Or is there an other certain way I can get my weight back to standard, to look buff with ripped, roided out muscles, carved pecs?’
She said what I took to be: ‘Sure, don’t eat anything fatty.’
‘What, you mean cut out cookies and croissants? No chocolate cake with cream for this beefcake?’ I asked dolefully, my face becoming longer. ‘No Cappuccinos, caramels, ‘Belle Fleur?’ The very pleasures of life.
‘Like I said,’ she answered, repeating the advice the way she had given it, ‘Don’t eat anything, Fatty.’
One participant told her she’d been eating hardly anything at all. She was wasting away, was afraid of her body image and baulked at going out.
‘You’re considerably underweight compared with people of similar age and height,’ Jodie told her.
I’m what’s classified as an anorexic agorophobe,’ the lady replied, ‘although I don’t like to tell anyone about this.’
‘It sounds to me like you’ve got a real skeleton in the closet.’
To guide us to a healthy diet, Jodie has mounted wall displays of food products showing us which are the best for our health. One shows the differing calorie content of alcoholic drinks. One guy fond of a tipple commented ‘I went on a lager diet last month.’
‘Oh yes,’ said Jodie sceptically. And did you lose anything?
‘For sure. I lost three days.’
‘And how did it leave you feeling?’
‘Fair to piddling.’
‘And are you eating good nutritious unprocessed food?’
‘I personally stay away from natural foods; at my age I need all the preservatives I can get.’
‘ Just keep in mind, alcohol is a good preservative for most things -but not for brains.’
Jodie approved more of the diet followed by one fancy dressed codger who uses an intricately shaped walking stick.’
‘ Because you’re a vegetarian you need to boost your protein intake to build your musculature. At just 78 calories each, eggs are an efficient, rich source of protein and vitamins. Do you eat many eggs?
‘I consume quite a number each day. Does that mean too much cholesterol?’
‘ If a person’s diet contains little other cholesterol, eggs may be considered very beneficial. How do you eat yours?’
Let me show you. I’ll use a cup and a small flask of my long life milk if I may.’ Whereupon he bent the top segment of his walking stick over. The handle consisted of a whisk on one side and a handle on the other which he turned to concoct an impromptu egg nog.
The Centre is where I was referred after my stroke. If it’s a caring public health service you’re after, you can’t go past it. This community hub exudes professionalism and life through its committed director, staff and volunteers. Two of the latter have worked to rid me of my bias, helping me with my balance.
Max is an unhurried genial octogenarian who found his sea-legs in the Australian Navy during World War Two. He used to ride his bicycle to and from the hospital, a distance of about 5 kilometres as the crow flies. He’s ruled that route out now as strictly for the birds. Coming a big cropper during ticker tantrums, convinced him to go for the bypass.
Lynne Brooker is a gracious patient lady who when young reached great heights trekking in the Himalayas. Over four seasons she learned to keep a steady position crossing raging torrents by way of stepping stones. Lynne sang me this advice :
‘Walk like a man
Fast as you can
Walk like a man my son
No condition’s worth
Crawling on the earth
So walk like a man my son.’
Noticing the upper part of my carriage inclined forward, Theodora advised:
‘You’re just the sort of creature, man
That nature did intend
To walk right through the world, my man,
Without the Grecian bend.
Stooped posture, all this bending forward,
This fashion has to go.
You must work to stand up straight and walk without the slightest bow.’
Encouragement aside, the line I toe is not too fine. For me balancing on my left foot is difficult so I need to place my index finger on the railing to avoid toppling over. I try not to push down too hard but this was hard at first.
When presenting myself for a workout, Nathan once asked if I had any changes to my health or any injuries.
I replied, ‘Nathan, I do. When I press my leg it hurts. Then when I press my chest it hurts, when I press my head it hurts, and when I press my stomach it hurts. I’m worried, what’s wrong with me?’
Observing my finger, Nathan replied: Don’t do yourself any further injury. Ease off balancing on your left foot for a while. You have a swollen finger!’
We exchange details of our performance on the various low impact, air pressured machines. I asked Liz, another patient how she goes on the leg press.
‘I have great difficulty bringing my leg back after I push it out. It’s weak as I’ve had hip dislocation since birth.
I said to her, ‘What’s a joint like that doing in a girl like you?
We all perform best when incentivised by rewards both physical and social. Andrea, one of our exercise trainers kept reminding us, ‘ Remember, you’ll reap the benefits later on.’ I called him ‘Mandrea’ to avoid confusion with his female namesake, a Sports and Exercise student on placement. This wasn’t necessary as most lady gymnasts there attested. It’s that Italian thing.
Or even that Australian fling.
I found out why one short widowed dancing school dropout in the waiting room was always poring through the obituaries. That’s where he looked for eligible women.
‘You’re still a romantic, I see.’
‘More of a rheumatic, I’m afraid.’
‘You look out for women your age, I take it?’
‘ I’d go out with women my age, but there are no women my age.’
‘You should go to dances’, I suggested.
‘I’m not much chop in that department. I went to one just last week. I got all spruced up and went to the barber’s. I even had my ears trimmed.’
‘How did you go? Did you score?’
‘I enjoyed the great seafood buffet, though I fluffed my pick up line. I asked this cute sexy generian, ‘Do I come here often?’
‘Did your dancing make up for it ?’
‘The dancing was another story. She wasn’t impressed with my footwork. I’ve got two left feet. I apologised saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m a little stiff from exercise.’
She said ‘ I don’t give a damn where you’re from. You’re treading all over my feet. Please get off.’
At what point did you realise your connection to her was going nowhere?’
‘That would be when I asked her, ‘May I have the last dance with you?’
She replied, ‘You’re having it.’
‘I take it you went home empty handed.’
‘I’m afraid so. The one woman I winked at thought I had a tic. All I managed to pull was a mussel.’
‘Have you considered the tango. It offers a promising non-traditional approach to ameliorating balance and gait problems among elderly individuals. Of equal importance it can lead you to a new lady love.’
‘I tried that but all it led to was triage.’
‘Keep trying. Your chances of meeting that special person are statistically high. There are twice as many women as men over eighty.’
‘What a time to get odds like that!’
‘It sounds like you have difficulty getting close to people.’
‘My friends tell me I have an intimacy problem. But they don’t really know me.’
‘Did you ever think of joining a club where people dance?’
‘I used to belong to a naturist club.’
‘That’s interesting. How do the members dance?’
‘Very carefully indeed.’
You might consider trying one of those online dating services.’
‘I’ll try anything, Doctor.’
The next time they met, the Professor asked him, ‘How did your internet date go?’
‘Well, let’s just say, I got more than I bargained for.’
‘Ooh, lucky you.’
‘Not so, she showed up with her husband in tow and asked, Where’s your partner?’ It turns out I’d clicked ‘swinging ’instead of ‘swimming’ on my list of likes.’
‘Did you ever consider joining a Lonely Hearts Club?’
‘I applied to one along with a photo but they knocked back my membership. They said they weren’t that lonely.’
They couldn’t put you in touch with any potential partner?’
One of their representatives introduced me to this lady at the club headquarters. This lady was much, much older than me. I took one look at her and whispered to the rep, “Why did you bring me here? I told you I’m not looking for a beauty queen but at least someone who’ll last out the year. This lady is older than Methuselah, she’s very plain to put it discreetly, her teeth are cracked and crooked, , she squints and she seems to have a severe limp.” And the rep replied, “You don’t need to lower your voice, she’s also deaf.’
‘You didn’t give up your quest, I hope.’
’I applied to another club. which told me to send a picture posing with a copy of a current newspaper’
‘Maybe your photos don’t do you justice.’
‘They don’t. They just look like me. Especially my gnashers. I asked my last date ‘ What do you think about my teeth?’
‘They remind me of stars… yellow and far apart. ’
’What’s the problem? Dr. Singh asked diplomatically. You’re not that bad looking.’
‘Doctor, when I was a teenager and it came to a group picture I was always handed the camera. My parents sent my photo to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. They sent it back and wrote, “We don’t believe it.”
‘I wouldn’t worry too much about it at your age.’
‘But I do. Until I find another soul mate, I’ll remain unsettled.’
‘Try to be content with what you’ve got. Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.’
‘I accept my fate now. The next date I have will be on my headstone.’
I commented on his reading one day in the waiting room. ‘I see you’ve nearly finished your book.’
‘I’ve just started. When I get a new book, I read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends.’
One widowed lady chose to read the celebrity magazines provided for us.
She informed us, ‘There’s a new mag coming out expressly for the elderly. It’s titled, ‘Hello! Hello! Hello!’
‘Have you read any articles in it that might interest you?
‘They had one about matrimonial agencies that I looked into and followed up. I asked one of them to help me attract a marriage partner.’
One over ripe Lothario, Jack Callaghan, who has worked in hospitals himself uses the Centre as a pickup joint. A lifter if there ever there was, he doesn’t draw the line at trying to pick up weights. He chatted up one senior lady saying to her ‘Ma cherie, your teeth are like stars.’
‘Indeed they are,’ she replied, ‘they come out at night.’
Finally when he took her home one night, she confided to him, ‘Please be gentle. I’ve never been with a man.’
‘That’s all right. Neither have I,’ replied Jack.
‘I’m sorry, I have a headache coming on.’
‘Don’t worry. I won’t touch your head.’
‘How old do you think she is?’ he was asked.
‘ She said she was approaching forty, and I couldn’t help wondering from what direction. Of course a woman telling her true age is like a buyer confiding his final price to an persian rug dealer. She may very well pass for sixty three… in the dusk with the light behind her.’
Where did that relationship go?’
‘Down south, I’m afraid. She moved to Melbourne. I can’t see the two of us working out.’
‘What do you look for in a woman?’ Dr. Singh asked him.
‘A heartbeat and a full set of limbs.’
‘Most people when they get advanced in age lower their requirements. You don’t seem to fit in that category.’
‘I have such poor vision I can date anybody.’
Which wasn’t as easy as it sounded. One day he turned up at the Centre, his face all puffy and swollen.’
‘What happened to your face,’ asked the doctor.’
‘Seen us trouble.’
‘Don’t you mean Sinus?’
Jack responded thus, “No, I mean ‘seen us’ trouble. You see, I was coming out of a restaurant with a woman who turned out to be the wife of another man and he SEEN us.”
At home during the day Jack likes to watch all the girls go by from his verandah.
One session he was working out on his hamstrings when a middle aged maiden took his fancy. He turned to a nearby trainer and asked, ‘What machine in here should I use to impress that sweet young thing over there?’ Laura looked him up and down and said: ‘Try the ATM down in Darling Street.’
‘I tried it last night, ’said another elderly man, ‘without success. I asked a young man to help check my balance. He pushed me over.’
‘What a lousy scumbag,’ I commented, what did he say to you?’
He said, ‘Your money or your life!’
You said ‘Take the money’, of course.’
‘I said, ‘I’ll have to think about it.’
‘Did he get away with anything?’
‘Just my wallet. He got arrested the next day trying to buy electronic equipment with my kidney donor card.’
‘Did anyone try to come to your aid?’
‘I’m afraid not. This is Balmain after all.’
I’ve noticed that. The young trendies and fashionistas can be so uncaring.’
‘You can say that again. I was in Gladstone Park the other day watching an man even older than me feed the birds, and after a while I thought to myself: ‘I wonder how long he’s been dead?’
‘Did you inform the bank of your loss?’
I had to go inside the bank with no other clients but still join the line and go through the little maze. I asked the teller, ‘Can you get a little piece of cheese for me? I’m almost at the front. I’d like a reward for this please.’
I hope that experience hasn’t left you unnecessarily worried about your safety.’
‘I must admit I keep my front door more tightly locked than ever.’
‘Just don’t become paranoid about it. You might miss out on some welcome advances.’
This elderly man is still chasing girls . He doesn’t remember what for, but he’s still chasing them–as long as it’s downhill.
He ended up going up to an older lady in a mini skirt at a dinner dance to inform her, ‘Fashion magazines suggest that women wear clothes that are age appropriate.’
‘Listen mate for me that would be a shroud.’
‘How are you sleeping at night?’ Professor Singh asked him. I hope your experience with women and the theft haven’t left you stressed and sleep deprived. Keep in mind that during sleep, your body repairs damage on a cellular level while your brain gets a chance to relax and recharge. Sleep boosts your mood and improves your resistance to disease.’
I must admit I toss and turn a lot all night long.’
‘ Try exercise in the morning to boost your metabolism. Focus on movement. Walking is a great form of exercise if you’re not able to jog or run, or simply don’t have the energy for it.’
Standing up straight and steady, packing our bodies together along a simple straight line can really test our patience- and sometimes that of our trainers-to the limit. It tested me how to pack a laugh anatomical into a space economical:
‘There once was a gymnast named Lydia
In her balance grew steadily giddier
When walking the line
She’d fall down all supine
Cried her trainer, ‘That’s enough!I’ll be glad to get riddya.’
Laura couldn’t of course even if she were serious.
That said she has taken to prodding me in the back, taking me by surprise. This is so I can correct my balance when forced. I can take it. Like Lydia, I’m no pushover.
The first time Laura escorted me to the balance area, she bounced up confidently to me and said ‘Walk this way!’
I replied, ‘If I could walk that way, I wouldn’t be here.’
One participant took to his own novel way of walking. And thinking. He moved on all fours. ‘You’ll never get cats or dogs complaining about back ache,’ he explained. ‘It places their weight equally on the back.’
One participant had a decided slouch which Laura tried to correct him of.
Make sure that you hold your body the right way, Henry. Whether you are moving or still so as to prevent pain, injuries, and other health problems. I recommend you see your optometrist.’
‘That’s what the missus keeps telling me.’
Then there was Helen who doddered along knocking into the apparatus, threatening to fall over.
‘Keep trying, Helen, ’said Liz encouragingly, if you want to make the Australian gymnastic team. ‘
‘Yeah, just like Berylina Stumpy!’
Bill who suffers from Kyphosis, a physical deformation of the middle and upper spine, in which its natural curve increases, found out that those with such posture problems were being prioritised for balance exercises. ‘I have a hunch,’ he said, ‘ it might be me.’
Veronica Elmers volunteers too but has her hands full these days. She drives her man Reg all the way from the southern suburbs. He used to believe everything was coming his way. Still insisting on doing things he can’t, Reg is trying hard but gradually losing it.’
Dr. Singh asked him, ‘How is old age treating you, Reg?’
‘Age is kinder to me than you’d think. With my bad eyes, I can’t see how bad I look, and with my rotten memory, I have a good excuse for getting out of a lot of stuff.’
‘Are your eyes more troublesome at any particular time.’
‘Yes,after I have a cup of coffee.’
‘I’ve noticed you having a drink in the waiting room. If your eyes hurt after you drink coffee, you have to take the spoon out of the cup.’
‘What kind of capers does Reg get up to?’, I asked Veronica.
‘Going off on his own without telling me, going into other peoples houses by mistake-that sort of thing. He took off in the car one day by himself. He wanted to show me he could make his own way to the Centre. I was listening to the radio when they put the word out that a car was going the wrong way on the freeway. I yelled out to Reg to tell him of this drama but oh look, discovered both him and the car gone. I rang him frantically on the mobile.
When he answered I cried ‘Reg, I just heard. A car is going the wrong way. Please be careful!”
Reg replied blissfully, “It’s not just one car, Veronica. There’s hundreds of them!’
One knee extender, Olive, said ‘Reg is not alone in such escapades.’ She told us of a similarly hairy trip she had experienced recently coming to the Centre: ‘My friend Marie drove me here in an old borrowed car. The seats were fixed rather low. ‘Like her, I could barely see over the dashboard.
Marie drove slowly like the drunk driver who’s being tailed by a cop.
She commented soon after we set off, ‘Ever notice that anyone going slower than you is an idiot but anyone going faster is a maniac.’
She asked me to check if the car’s indicators were working.
I promptly stuck my head out the window and said: ‘Yes, no, yes, no, yes no, yes, no. As we were cruising along, we came to an intersection. I could swear as God is my judge the stoplight was red but we just went on through. I thought to myself ‘I must be losing it. I could have sworn we just went through a red light.’
‘Have you ever thought about this?’ said Marie, both hands gripping the steering wheel, as we continued, ‘At a traffic light yellow means yield, and green means go. On a banana, it’s just the opposite, yellow means ‘Go ahead’, green means ‘Stop’, and red means, ‘Where’d you get that banana?’
I didn’t say anything. My heart was still in my mouth.
Regaining my composure I asked her, ‘When did you realize you’d reached middle age?’
‘That would have been when anything new in the way I felt was most likely a symptom. That would have been when ‘Happy Hour’ became when I had a nap. That would have been when I’d met so many people that every new person I met reminded me of someone else… and usually was. That would have been when I was being cautioned to slow down by my doctor, instead of by the police.’
After a few more minutes, we came to another intersection and the light was red again. Again, I could swear we went right through. I was really concerned that I was losing it. And I was getting on edge. At the next intersection, sure enough, the light was red and I could swear we went on through. So, I turned to Marie and said, ‘Didn’t you see that red light?”
She said, ‘You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.’
‘Did you know that we just ran through three red lights in a row? You could have killed us both with your moving violations!’
‘Well, blow me down’, she said, turning to me, ‘am I driving?’
Indeed she was. It takes a lot to stop her.
Not that such concerns worry one of our members who will remain nameless. He lives under a flight path. He is stoically grateful about his good luck: ‘Have I been in the wars. Everything hurts and what doesn’t hurt, doesn’t work. Arch supports I have for my feet or I wouldn’t be able to walk in the street. Arthritis have I in both knees. When I talk it’s with a wheeze. My pulse is weak and my blood is thin. I’ve had two bypass surgeries, a hip replacement, new knees, fought prostate cancer and diabetes. I’m a trellis for varicose veins. My back goes out more than I do. I’m half blind, can’t hear anything quieter than a jet engine, take forty different medications that make me dizzy, winded, and subject to blackouts. Nobody smiles with piles’, he said grimacing. ‘I have bouts with dementia.
I’ve been having voices in my head but suddenly they’ve gone away.’
‘So what’s the problem then?’ asked Doctor Singh.
‘I think I’m going deaf’, he replied.’
‘ Like it or not, said the doctor, ‘you’ve got hypochondria.’
‘That and a dash of Lyme Disease as well! I have poor circulation, hardly feel my hands and feet anymore. I can’t remember if I’m 85 or 92. Have lost all my friends. But, thank God, I still have my driver’s licence.’
‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’
Professor Singh, the Centre’s director, always has a waiting room full of people who need his advice and specialist treatment.
Some are couples who’ve shared many years and belongings together.
One day I was sitting there opposite an elderly couple having a snack. I noticed that they had just one sandwich, some biscuits and an extra drink cup. As I watched, the gentleman divided the sandwich in half, then counted out the biscuits, one for him, one for her, until each had half of them. He asked her, ‘Please Dear, would you pass the pepper and salt.’ She had to make two trips.
Then he poured half of the coffee into the extra cup and set that in front of his wife. He then began to eat, and his wife sat watching, with her hands folded in her lap.
I decided to ask if they would allow me to get another hospital issue sandwich for them so that they didn’t have to split theirs. The old gentleman said, ‘Oh, no. We’ve been married fifty years, and everything has always been and will always be shared, and shared alike.’
I then asked the wife if she was going to eat, and she replied,
‘Not yet. It’s his turn with the teeth.’
‘How does that work when you go to a restaurant?’ I asked.
‘There’s no problem. Last night we went out to a new Thai restaurant in Balmain, and it was really great. I would recommend it very highly.”
I asked: ‘What’s the name of the restaurant?’
‘ The Thai something or other.’
He knitted his brow in obvious concentration, and finally said to me: ‘Aahh, what is the name of that red flower you give to someone you love?’
I replied: ‘A carnation?’
‘No, no. The other one, the man said.
I offered another suggestion: ‘The poppy?’ ‘Nahhhh,’ growled the man.
‘You know – the one that is red and has thorns.’
I said: ‘Do you mean a rose?’
‘Yes! Thank you!’ the man said.
He then turned toward his wife and asked: ‘Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?’
‘At least you remember some things we associate with flowers,’ I said.
‘That’s why at my age flowers scare me.’
‘Well, you’re in great shape,” said the doctor when Rose’s hubby’s turn came. ‘How do you do it?’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘ the good Lord looks out for me. For weeks now, every time I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he turns the light on for me.’
Concerned, the doctor found Rose in the waiting room and told her what her husband said.
‘I don’t think that’s anything to worry about,’ she said. ‘And on the bright side, it does explain who’s been peeing in the fridge.’
‘When do you know when you’re getting old,’ the Professor asked her when her interview came.
‘You know you’re getting old when you buy a sheer nightgown and don’t know anyone who can see through it.’
‘Let me assure you you’re still very beautiful.’
Tell that to our local peeping Tom. Last night I was getting dressed and he looked in the window, took a look and pulled down the shade.’
One man in the waiting room expressed his scepticism about the Centre til I put him right.
I’ve been coming here for six months and I keep hearing of participants who’ve died. How come if the Centre is so good?’
‘Professor Singh is not God. Keep in mind that the participant make-up is skewed towards the elderly. Some are very old. Most people die when they are old. The aim of the Centre is to help them reach that stage with as little pain and discomfort as possible.’
Three old guys were waiting to see Dr. Singh.
First one said, ‘Windy, isn’t it?’
Second one said, ‘No, it’s Thursday!’
Third one said, ‘So am I. I’d love to have a beer.’
One man in the waiting room looked very worried.
‘What is it? I asked him. “What’s the problem?’
I’m told that Dr. Singh will accept even the most hopeless cases. Mine is certainly like that.’
“Well, my G.P. told me I have to take one of the pills he prescribed every day for the rest of my life,’he explained.
‘So what?’ I replied. “Lots of people have to do that, me included.’
“I know. But he only gave me five pills.’
While waiting to talk to Dr. Singh one day about our regime, I asked Brian Tarlington, another gym junkie: ‘How long have you had your drivers licence, Brian?’
‘Mate, I drove taxis over fifty years. I’ve had my licence since I was this high, ’he said, extending his palm an inch over his head. I’ve had licences to drive trucks, buses, ambulances, tanks.’
Ambulances! People must have been grateful for your lifesaving presence.’
‘You bet. Like I this guy I knocked down in one on Darling Street. He couldn’t believe his luck.’
‘Tanks?’ I said.
‘How did you two love birds meet?’ I asked him and his missus, Daphne.
‘I had to fight off another woman to meet him- but I got the cab. Jumping in his cab one day just before Easter, I said to him, ‘Arthur Phillip’s Close.’ He said, ‘Hang on, we’ll lose him at the lights.’ I wanted to go straight home but we got mixed up in one huge traffic congestion. Most people were trying to leave town for the school holidays but an inconsiderate driver had failed to fill up sufficiently and had created a log jam. We had only gone a couple of hundred yards when I realized we weren’t going anywhere fast. Brian told me how such hold ups can cost the driver their whole day’s takings.
Two selfish drivers tried furiously to pass at the side. ‘Those who drive like hell are bound to get there,’ said Brian. There’s too many idiots on the road. If you put all the cars in the world in a single line, there’d be one idiot driver who’d try to pass them by. Now two wrongs don’t make a right. If those two were to make two rights they’d end up with a U-turn.’
Then as we inched slowly forward, I decided I was losing money. I leaned forward and tapped Brian gently on the shoulder. He screamed, mounted the pavement, almost hitting a rubbish bin but managed to swerve back on to the road.
I asked him, ‘What on earth was that all about? I only wanted you to stop so I could get out and walk home.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he explained, ‘but this is my first day back driving a cab; for the last few months I’ve been driving a hearse!’
As it turned out Brian knew the quickest way to go in traffic and avoid traffic jams. This one was so big, hundreds of people were coming in their cars just to see what was going on.
Being the smart cabby he was, Brian started reversing out of that parking lot. He ended up driving me backwards slaloming past other cars all the way home. Going by the meter it worked out he owed me fifteen shillings.’
‘Was hacking what you always wanted to do in life, Brian?’
‘After I tasted the freedom of the road I would stop at nothing to be a driver.’
‘So he ended up in a business driving customers away,’ said Daphne.
‘Originally I wanted to be a brain surgeon, but I had a bad habit of dropping things.’
‘Then he wanted to be a tree surgeon but he couldn’t stand the sight of sap,’ said Daphne.
‘Life cuts us down to size doesn’t it.’
‘I’d never trade him in’, she added. ‘He’s reliable with several new parts and has got high mileage. Despite some sagging saddlebags, headlights out of focus, and leaks appearing under the bonnet he’s still in reasonable running condition. Air bags? Don’t worry, the bags under his eyes are big enough. If any concerns arise we go for a test drive with me in cruise control.’
‘It sounds all like all your relationship needs is an occasional service and tune up. Has it ever lost it’s sense of direction?’
‘There was a period Some years back when we disagreed about what was what. I said ‘Brian, our relationship is at a crossroads. Down one road is struggle and hardship, but eventually, happiness. The other, well, that’s a dead end.’
He replied, ‘That’s not a crossroads. That’s a T-Junction, you silly sausage.’
I replied to him, ‘Oh you are awful—-but I love you.’
‘I see you took the first road.’
‘The thought of being without Brian sends shivers down my spine.’
‘You know, as we age,’ said Brian, ‘the discs between the vertebrae of our spines-you can think of them as as gel-like cushions- end up pressing closer together, just like me and Daphne,’ taking her by the hand.
‘Oh you are a one!’, cooed Daphne.
‘Now these cushions dry out and become thinner,’ continued Brian. ‘The result is that our spines become more and more squished with time. Moreover as we age, dem dry bones may also shrink both in density and size, which could also add to the shrinkage and the risk of hip fracture.’
‘Your hip and leg can end up in an abnormal position, I said. ‘That’s no laughing matter.’
‘Most people shrink from age 30 to 70, with men getting about an inch shorter.’
‘Don’t trip on dem pants, Brian. Now what about women?’ I asked. What about your Daphne?’
‘This delightful nymph,’ he said, ‘has gotten about two inches shorter since I first drove after her and overtook her.’
‘So where does this all take us, Apollo?’
‘Well. when we hit age 80, all of us lose another inch on top of that. And as it turns out, everyone shrinks a little bit each day. Water in the spinal discs get more and more compressed throughout the day, causing people to be just a smidgen shorter at the end of the day than they were at the beginning. However, whatever height is lost at the end of the day is regained after a night’s rest.’
‘Of course exercise will help us keep our back straight and maintain our posture, I said.
By the way, Brian, how has your meeting Daphne affected your outlook on life?’
‘ Since I met my Daphne, I’ve noticed things that I never knew were there before… birds singing, dew glistening on a newly formed leaf, traffic lights.’
Getting a little impatient to see the good doctor, a little behind in his busy schedule, Brian called out to him as he came by, ‘Doctor, will you be long. I think I’m shrinking fast!’ The doctor calmly responded, ‘Now, settle down. You’re doing O.K. at knee extension. You’ might just have to extend your patience the same.’
‘Doctor, at my age, patience is not a virtue… it’s a luxury.’
‘Brian, I’m sorry to have kept you spinning your wheels. As for your homespun ideas, how do you see the difference between knowledge and wisdom?’
‘Knowledge is realizing that a street is one-way, wisdom is looking both directions anyway.’
Another less patient patient, Gustav, who had been waiting awhile was getting visibly miffed. Not having made proper allowance for time, his parking meter ticket had expired. He asked.’ How much flaming longer Doc?’
‘Are you feeling upset?’
‘I’m feeling homesick. I did have a 48 hour virus but that cleared up in the waiting room.What would you prescribe? A cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down?’
‘If you have to get your back up,’ replied the doctor, ‘do it the right way. To strengthen your core, keep up your exercises, hold your head to the sky. Walk tall, walk tall and look the world right in the eye.’
I remembered that advice. That’s what my mama told me when I was about knee high.’
‘That way you’ll live to be eighty.’
‘I am eighty.’
‘See, what did I tell you?’‘
I believe you were named after the famous composer, Gustav Mahler?’
‘That’s true. In fact I was named not long after him.
’‘When did you first notice you were getting old?’ Dr. Singh asked him.
‘It was on my seventieth birthday’, this old biker replied. The folk in my retirement home made me a birthday cake. By the time I lit the last candle myself the first candle had burnt out. Then my son lit them for me. When I tried to count the candles, which incidentally set me back more than the cake, I was driven back by the heat.’
‘By the way how did that haemorrhoidal surgery go?’
‘It was an unqualified success. My problem, uh, is behind me now.’
’Some of the gymnasts like John Ennion have hearing problems.
‘My G.P. picked it up and needed his thingamajig to look into my ear.’ Nurse,’ he called out. ‘get me my auriscope.’
‘But doctor,’ she called back,’ I don’t even know your star sign.’
As if such highly trained professionals would be influenced by such pseudoscience!
‘Now I have to find my hearing aid to ask where my glasses are,’ says John. ‘Otherwise I need to read lips.’
People don’t mind him doing that, but he uses one of those yellow highlighters. They don’t realise what an effort he puts into listening to what they say . You have to credit him for trying so hard. One day he was talking about his new hearing aid. ‘It’s great. I long resisted getting such a device. I can hear well with it. I never thought I’d hear myself say that.’
I asked him ‘What kind is it?’
‘ 1pm. Time for our session to start,’ he replied loudly. John may be deaf but he’s certainly not mute.
How dare I say that, I hear you say.
You can say what you want about deaf people—’
His cardiologist had said to him, ‘You’re really doing great, aren’t you?’
John replied, “Just doing what you said, Doc. ‘Get a hot mama and be cheerful.’
The doctor said, “I didn’t say that. I said, ‘You’ve got a heart murmur. Be careful.’
John told us one day he had recently gone to a piano recital.
‘How could you have followed that if you’re hard of hearing? I asked him.
‘ Theatres today provide music description, player identification and explain sound effects for the hearing impaired.’
Another elderly gentleman had serious hearing problems for a number of years. Dr. Singh arranged for him to be fitted with a set of hearing aids that allowed the gentleman to hear almost clearly.
When it came time for his latest assessment the doctor said, ‘Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.’
The gentleman replied, ‘Oh, I haven’t told my family yet. I just sit around and listen to the conversations. I’ve changed my will three times.’
The Joints Aren’t Jumpin’
The Centre monitors carefully the progress of arthritis amongst us and how this affects our ability to function. One day while I was waiting to see the Professor, an elderly wizened lady from Rose Bay struggled crablike into the waiting room. ‘Oy, am I tired. Am I dog tired. But what’s the point of kvetching?’
She was completely bent over and leaned heavily on her walking stick. Tanya, the voluntary secretary asked her, Do you need a hand?’
‘I need more than just a hand. I need a whole new body.’
Eventually, her turn comes to go into Professor Singh’s office.
‘How are things with your husband now?’ he inquired. You told me our last interview your husband is totally fixated with his nonagenerian mother.’
‘All he cares about is his mum.’
‘That’s understandable. Her days are almost over. You asked me what you can do to get him to pay attention to you.’
Yes, anything to take his mind off his mother.’
‘I suggested you buy some beautiful black lingerie and wear it around the house. Did it spice up your relationship?’
‘When he came home and saw me like that, he asked me, ‘Why are you all dressed in black? Did something happen to Mother?’
While Dr. Singh was attending to her, I asked Tanya why she worked at the Centre while she could be enjoying her own free time.
‘I like to help people’, she replied. ‘Without volunteers, the Centre doesn’t have enough full time employees to operate effectively.’
Twenty minutes later the rickety lady came briskly out of Professor Singh’s room walking almost upright. Now I’d seen everything. She was holding her head high and even managed a smile. ‘Oy, was I tired. Was I tired.’
Tanya said to her, ‘As I live and breathe, that’s fantastic, a grade one Galilee miracle even. You walked in bent in half and now you walk out erect. What a marvellous doctor he is. Tell me, how did Professor Singh help you out.?”
“Miracle, shmiracle,” she said, “he just went click. It’s all part of his schtick. To adjust the length you simply push a button on the stick. “
Her problem it turned out had been the same as that of the Centre. She too had been short of staff.
Of course it can go the other way.
One retired racing car driver told Dr. Singh he wanted the best walking frame available: ‘I want The McLachlan Mighty Mover.’
‘The one with the sporty rear spoiler. Do you believe it provides aerodynamic benefit?’
‘It reduces drag and will increase high speed stability due to the reduced rear lift.’
Another lady had a problem along the same lines as mine. One leg was a bit shorter than the other. ‘What’s your name?’ I asked her.
‘Professor Singh’ said one of the elderly ladies, ‘I feel the need to have a rest in the afternoon.
Is that good or bad for me?’
‘Having a siesta is associated with a reduced risk of dying from a heart problem’, he said.
‘Having a nap in the middle of the day may help people to unwind and relax – which is important for our overall health.
‘However it is important to get a balance between rest and activity, as burning calories regularly also helps reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.’
‘I can take forty winks after my morning workout here with a clear mind.’
Mirth from Girth.
What never fails to amaze gerontologists is how the ageing process proceeds at such very differing rates from one person to the next. Dr. Singh judged one former fireman, one Mr. Mungus, referred to him by his G.P. to be a relatively healthy looking late septuagenarian despite having more chins than a Chinese phone directory .
At five feet tall and five feet wide he measured no more from head to toe than from side to side.
This guy was so large, he had his own climate.
You didn’t walk with him, you walked among him.
If you stared long enough, you’d see him get fatter by the hour.
Legend had it his shadow once killed a dog.
‘ Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened,’ said Dr. Singh. ‘Is that what you’re wondering, Hugh?
‘I couldn’t have put it any better myself,’ said the pudgy puffball, letting out a cough. ‘One minute I was feeling young and ready to set the world on fire. The next I felt as old as the hills.’
‘Considering you’re no longer a young man, I can’t help noticing how fit you look outwardly. How about inwardly. What about your soul?
‘Maybe an X-ray would help there, Doctor.’
‘Your face looks ‘lived in’, like a witness to time. Like that of Mick Jagger who works out every day.’
‘Doctor, they’re not wrinkles. They’re laughter lines.’
‘Oh come now. nothing is that funny,’ Dr. Singh said. ‘anyway, what’s your secret for a long life?’
‘Whatever it is, it’s not genetic. I’m having a blast while I last. I smoke two packs of cigarettes a day. ’
‘Something tells me that explains your coughing.’
‘I hoped you wouldn’t have pointed that out. You’ve just made a happy man old.’
‘Don’t you have the willpower to stop?’
‘I have indeed. I’ve given it up dozens of times.’
You know where smoking can lead to, don’t you, Nicholas Nicotine. It can doom men.’
‘It can also cure salmon.’
TB or not TB? That is the question.’
‘Screening has ruled it out so far.’
‘Keep your fingers crossed.’
‘What if I do get it? Consumption be done about it?’
‘Smoking leaves you at greater risk of it becoming fully blown I advise you strongly to give it up.’
It`s not the cough that carries you off, it`s the coffin they carry you off in. Not that I’ll be in one. I’ve got so much tar in my lungs, upon my death I’ve arranged to donate my body to the main roads authority. And smoking helps me keep my weight down.’
‘Smoking cures all weight problems… eventually. And it can take ten years off your life.’
‘Well it’s the ten worst years, isn’t it, Doctor? It’s the ones at the end! It’s the colostomy bag, kidney dialysis, adult nappy years. You can have those difficult, vexing, preoccupying years.’
‘You’ve got some serious bad habits, haven’t you. You don’t drink anymore, do you?’
‘I don’t drink any less. Every night I down five shots of tequila’
‘One should take that with a grain of salt,’ said Dr. Singh, feeling rather sceptical about this claim.
‘I do. What’s more I put a half dozen stubbies of beer into my bread basket as chasers’.
‘Your radicheck test shows you have too many free radicals in your system. That’s a big problem for you.’
”Free radicals, ‘Doctor?
‘Yes. They’re toxins that destroy the body and the brain, caused by eating too much red meat and white bread and too much alcohol.’
‘Then I shall cut out the white bread.’
‘From now on you should suffer a strict regimen of diet and exercise to purge those toxins from you.
‘I think we can safely rule out you putting a six pack on your stomach. But let’s tell it as it is. No one will pity you for your continued self indulgence,’
‘For men who choose a life of booze, I have no sympathy at all. My sympathy lies with sober guys, those drunks are having a ball.’
‘And your other habits?’
‘I eat fatty foods. My favourite food is seconds.’
‘Did no one ever advise you against this?’
‘My mother did her best to do so. I told her once, ‘I never want to live in a vegetative state, dribbling onto my bib, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle. If that ever happens, just pull the plug.’
‘How did she respond?’
‘She got up, unplugged the TV and then threw out my beer.’
‘You should take time to study the charts our nutritionist has placed on display around the Centre. They outline the optimal balance of essential food groups in a balanced diet.’
‘I’ve already worked that out. Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat.’
‘That covers a lot of ground.’
‘I cover a lot of ground.’
‘So how do you apply your idea of balance to beverages?’
‘A schooner of lager in each hand.’
‘You haven’t struggled much to shed some poundage.’
‘I don’t make any effort whatsoever to lose weight. ‘Struggle’ implies that I fought back at some point. I didn’t. I helped. I was very much an accomplice to my weight.’
‘ Listen, you need the support of others’
‘You’re right. We’re all in this alone.’
‘You’re not married, I take it.’
‘I had a brief merger with a broad who was as broad as me. She wanted to add even more bulk to her diet. I recall her father telling me at the wedding : ‘Remember, I haven’t lost a daughter – you’ve gained a ton.’
‘Did you try again?’
‘The next time I went down on my titanium knee to propose it was unsuccessful. I told the woman I was courting, ‘Well if you won’t marry me, at least help me up.’
‘This must have been a sad, disheartening experience for you.’
‘People say big boys don’t cry but that’s not strictly true. They cry because they’re fat. They cry because they can’t get a girlfriend. And they cry because there’s no ice cream left.’
‘What about the rest of your family?’
‘ My father always used to say, ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ – ’til the accident.’
‘His dying wish was to have his family around him. I can’t help thinking he would have been better off with more oxygen and with better info about his blood type. We couldn’t remember it although in hindsight we realised he gave clues. Right up to his death, he kept insisting ‘be positive.’ ’
’‘I take it he never exercised.’
‘He had a beer belly too. That’s why I’d always wanted a father figure.
‘And the others?’
‘No one in my family ever exercised. We consider ‘exercise’ to be a dirty word. As a child whenever I said the word I had to wash my mouth out with chocolate. My relatives see it as senseless as a vegetarian going to a barbeque. Whenever I feel the need for exercise I go and lie down for half an hour until the feeling passes. The nearest I got to being sporty was when I got athlete’s foot.’
‘What about the occasional fun run?’
‘That’s an oxymoron, isn’t it. Mind you I completed this year’s City to Surf Marathon. I’d never watched a TV show all the way through before.’
‘You must have tried some sport. If only as a roly poly goalie.’
‘I played seek but not hide. I tried tiddly winks but was disqualified.’
You needed forty winks.?’
‘Close. I was too tiddly.’
‘Did you ever consider combination sports like the triathlon?’
‘I tried a a cross between a lunge and a crunch.’
‘That sounds very experimental. What you might call a combination of fencing and abdominal exercises. One moment kicking forward with your front foot, pushing your body forward with the back leg, then on the floor working your rectus abdominis muscle and your obliques.’
‘I call it—lunch.’
‘The only other sport I’ve engaged in is weightlifting, otherwise known as walking or standing. I’m not an all round athlete by any means.’
‘But you are definitely all round and you do lots of chair rises. What motivates you to do those?’’
‘Every time I heave myself out of a chair I equal or exceed my previous personal best. Don’t forget I’ve got a bellyful of baked beans holding me back.’
‘You have no gymnastic apparatus at home?’
‘I’ve got these parallel bars at home. I run at them and try to grab a drink from both of them. Other than that If it weren’t for the fact that the idiot box, the loo and the refrigerator are so far apart, I wouldn’t exert myself at at all.’
‘You say that as if you’re proud of it. I recommend you exert your muscles productively to fit in with your daily activity.’
You know if you don’t use them you’ll gain atrophy.’
‘I’ll place it beside the plaque my dentist tells me I’ve gained.’
‘Yes, your teeth are noticeably yellowed come to think of it.’
‘That’s just what my dentist pointed out.’
‘And what did he suggest you do?’
‘He told me to wear a brown tie.’
‘It’s amazing you don’t look worse,’ said the doctor, ‘apart from your weight and your problem.’
‘My problem? Give it to me straight, Doctor. I can take it. What do you think my problem is?’
‘I don’t know exactly what your problem is, but I’ll bet it’s hard to pronounce.’
‘Maybe you can get this condition named after me.’
‘Don’t tempt me.’
‘Please tell me. I’m crazy about using those high faluting sounding medical words.’
‘You asked for it. What you are is a psychosemantic.’
‘No matter what I’ve done, Doctor, I haven’t been able to lose my excess baggage. I’m thick and tired of trying. I mean I’ve had a go at everything short of diet and exercise.’
‘Your bodily proportions certainly don’t approximate those described by Da Vinci.’
‘You’re being shamelessly sizeist, Doctor. They may not be divine proportions but let’s not forget not all Da Vinci’s models were divinely proportioned either.
People used to compare my figure to that of that of Michaelangelo’s David. They’d compliment me on how well I’d kept my figure.’
‘But you’ve added so much to it.’
‘I was offered a centrefold in Playgirl magazine but it turned into a supplement.’
‘Now you realize you have to kick your bad habits to the kerb. When it comes to eating, you can sometimes help yourself more by helping yourself less. If you were to join us, you’d have to diet carefully.’
‘That’s wishful shrinking. The first few months I’d spend just finding my feet.’
‘Have you ever considered joining a group like Weight Watchers?’
’Actually I was a client of theirs briefly after a friend suggested I contact them. The company asked if they could send someone to my house to explain their program. I said, ‘Sure send someone round. They replied, ‘Sure we’ve got plenty like that.’
‘How did that program work for you?
‘No sooner had I started than they terminated my membership. After one of the early weekly weigh ins, I confessed to still eating lots of pies and chips.’
‘They should have seen you as a challenge. Did you protest their rejecting you?’
‘I accepted their decision with huge Grace. They threw her out as well.’
You must have difficulty getting the right size clothing.’
‘They’re all outsize. I have to get them specially made. Once when camping I hung my shirt on a branch and a troop of scouts moved in.’
‘What do you weigh?’
‘Let me just say that when I get on my Smart scales a voice instructs automatically, ‘One at a time’. Let me just say when I get in a lift it has to go down.’
‘I trust you’re aware you have a high risk of joint abnormalities. Has your GP referred you to a radiography unit for bone X rays, and if so what did they show?’
After the procedure I went to the the unit to pick the images up. I asked the technologist about the X rays he was studying. He said, ‘These are some of the healthiest X-rays I’ve ever seen… but if we compare them with yours…’
‘Have you been feeling off recently?’
‘Last year I had Asian Flu. Not as bad as the Hong Kong Dong I had once.’
‘How did you know you had it?’
‘My GP looked it up in his research literature.’
Not long back I had German Measles. I had skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, fever, sore throat, bleeding problems, testicular swelling, and inflammation of nerves.’
‘Were your blood and urine tested?’
‘I had all the tests, and my G.P. told me there was no question. I’m xenophobic. That’s another bloody illness foreigners have given me.’
‘Do you eat a lot?’
‘I’m a light eater. As soon as it’s light, I sit at the kitchen table and start to eat.’
‘Have you considered going on a fast?’
‘I celebrate Lent with a fast. As soon as it arrives I start eating even faster.’
‘I hope at least you’re eating the right food.’
‘I’m on a seafood diet .Whenever I see food, I want to eat it.’
‘Do you get much indigestion?’
‘I get persistent wind but my G.P. gave me an unusual remedy’.
‘And what’s that?’
‘He gave me a kite.’
‘You don’t eat too much bacon and red meat, I hope.’
‘It’s all good. My grandfather gorged on these every day of his life and he lived to be 40.’
Do you eat out often?’
‘I go to a restaurant sometimes. When I do, I don’t get a menu, I get an estimate.’
‘Do you ever host dinners at home for friends?’
‘I invite a small group of my friends home for dinner occasionally.’
‘I recommend you never have intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.’
‘How can I easily get rid of my belly fat?
‘Here’s a handy reducing exercise for you to start with. Place both your hands against the edge of your table and push back.’
‘I’d prefer to sleep. It’s the only thing that keeps me from eating around the clock.’
‘I see you have an interesting tattoo on your belly. Are you making some kind of statement?’
‘Tattoos are cool because they don’t belong on your body, but you put it there to say something about yourself. Much like my rolls of fat. They don’t belong on a human body. I put them there to say something about me. I don’t like fruit. Long bike rides? I’m out. Big Mac eating contest? I’m listening.’
‘May I ask you eight questions’, said the doctor. ‘They’re regarding a temporary condition characterized by a sense of loss of time.’
‘Question number 1: Have you ever had a blackout?’
‘No’, went the puffball—‘
‘—and finally, question number eight.’
‘Do you have a good sleeping pattern?’ continued Dr.Singh.
It’s been so long since I actually remember going to sleep instead of passing out. How common is my overall condition, Doctor?’
‘It’s undeniable. You face the same looming menace as Australians at large.’
‘Fat people blocking the footpath. You can’t get around it.’
‘Caution Wide Load. You can’t get around this statistic: One out of every three Australians weighs as much as the other two. Obesity is widespread. What was your attitude to exercise before?’
‘I have to admit I’ve never been much been into working out. When I wear a tie and a belt at the same time I turn into sausages. Mind you I do try to keep fit; I’ve got these parallel bars at home. I run at them and try to get a drink from both of them. I tried skipping some years ago but it was too dangerous. It registered seven on the Richter scale.’
‘The most exercise I’ve done over recent years is shaking, trembling and of course stretching’, he said, pulling up his shirt to display depressed lines of white shiny abdominal skin.
‘Striae distensae’, said Dr. Singh. ‘They pose no health risk in and of themselves. I must admit they are rather spectacular.’
‘That’s nothing. You should see the stretch marks on my bath tub.’
‘I notice you have some red patches on your chest.’
‘Have you had anything prescribed for that?’
‘I was given a tube of cream, a DVD of ‘The Singing Detective’ and a greeting card saying, ‘ Good luck, you’ll need it.’
‘So what do you intend to do about simply extending your body?’
My philosophy has always been ‘no pain, no pain’. I thought If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have left pieces of gold scattered underfoot.’
‘It isn’t that obesity runs in your family. The problem is no one runs in your family. Did you never consider jogging? It could add years to your life.’
‘You’re right. I tried it once. The ice fell out of my glass. Afterwards I felt ten years older.’
‘You might consider giving it another go.’
‘The first time I see a jogger smiling, I’ll consider it. One of my friends talks about this ‘runner’s high’ He has to go ten kilometres for it. I get the same feeling from a flight of stairs.’
‘Did you ever think of going swimming?’
‘I once went for a dip and nearly drowned. So I swore that I’d never go near water again until I’d learned to swim. Since then I’ve never swum a stroke in my life. Neither skinny dipping nor chunky dunking because it was never more than half an hour since I last ate.
‘You know that swimming is good for you surely.’
‘Especially if you’re drowning’.
‘Not only do you get a cardiovascular workout but yes, you don’t die.’
‘Do you ever get to the beach?’
‘I did as as a child. I just ended up floating out to sea.’
‘Well boys will be buoys. What about since?’
‘When a lady friend, a well known angler, took me there recently, someone asked her, ‘What did you use for bait?’
‘Look, it’s not safe for me on the sand. The last time I lay on the beach people felt sorry for me and tried to roll me back into the water. Once they succeeded and I ended up harpooned. ’
‘It sounds like you sit around the house all day.’
‘I don’t just sit around the house, I sit around the house.’
‘You don’t get out very much.’
‘I’m like old wine; they don’t bring me out very often, but I’m well preserved.’
‘You might consider cutting down your alcohol intake. Did no one ever warn you against excessive drinking?’
‘My G.P. told me to watch my drinking. Now I drink in front of a mirror.’
‘Is it that you use it as a crutch?’
‘I don’t use alcohol as a crutch, Doctor Singh, because a crutch helps me walk.’
Then why do you drink so much?’
‘I drink to forget.’
‘To forget what?’
‘I can’t remember, ’he said.
‘You really do have a drinking problem.’
‘Not so much for me as the people around me.’
‘Haven’t you read of the dangers of alcohol?’
‘I have. That’s why I gave it up.’
‘Your blood alcohol tests must have a high reading.’
‘The last time my pathology provider tested me he showed me the result.
I asked, ‘ What does it look like to you?’
He said ‘A Bloody Mary’.
‘Have you ever given up drinking at all?
‘It has been known. One Good Friday when the bottle shops were closed and I hadn’t made provision. I was forced to live all day, that Black Friday, on nothing but food and water.’
‘Can’t you simply refuse an invitation to drink or take a rain check on it?’
‘The only time I’ve said no to a drink was when I misunderstood the question.’
‘Have you ever considered joining Alcoholics Anonymous?’
‘I’m actually a member but I drink under a different name.’
One is ‘The Exorcist.’ That’s what my brothers call me. They claim when I visit them I rid their house of spirits.’
‘What got you started drinking?
‘As with most things in the lives of men, it was to do with love of a difficult woman. As well as the price of alcohol, it was her who drove me to drink. That’s the one thing I’m so indebted to her for.’
‘You realize don’t you that if you regularly have more than three units of wine a day, you could be well on your way to becoming an alcoholic.’
‘If I regularly drank three units of wine a day, I’d be well on my way to being cured.’
‘Do you know your limit?’
‘I know my limit. I just keep passing out before I reach it.’
‘How many drinks does it take to get you intoxicated?’
‘It takes only one drink to get me legless drunk. The trouble is, I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or the fourteenth. I’ve got the memory of an elephant and a figure to match.’
‘‘Although we say ‘To your health!’ ‘To a long life and happiness!’ think of its properties. Alcohol destroys your brain cells, your stomach lining, bladder, kidneys, liver and can produce splitting headaches, double vision, the delirium tremens. It’s slow poison you know.’
‘That may well be, but who’s in a hurry?’
‘Time waits for no man. You’re missing out on so much. Do people feel sorry for you?’
‘I feel sorry for teetotalers. When they wake up in the morning, that’s the best they’re going to feel all day.’
‘Do you need glasses?’ asked Dr. Singh, noticing his squint.
‘I don’t. I drink right out of the bottle.’
If I were you, I’d be checked for diabetes or liver irregularities. Have you had your urine checked lately?’
‘Doctor Singh, the last time I gave a urine sample, it had an olive in it.’
‘What about your blood?’
‘The last time a mosquito bit me, it had to check into an alcohol rehab clinic.’
‘‘You never mentioned recreational drugs. What about cannabis, cocaine, ectasy. Have you used these?
‘I did inhale marijuana but only got more munchies, I tried to tune up on cocaine to cut down my weight. It just made me eat faster.
‘There’s no happy ending to cocaine.’
‘That’s true. You either die, you go to jail, or else you run out.’
‘It appears you’d try anything risky if it was put in front of you.’
I would have injected vitamin C if only they’d made it illegal.’
’‘What about performance enhancing drugs?’
‘I used to take them to help me get out of bed. There was a time I had so many in my system I could have been in the Russian track and field test.’
‘Do you view these kind of drugs as a crutch, for those who can’t cope with reality?’
‘You could view it as the other way round. I see reality as a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs.’
‘Do you still use them?’
‘I don’t do drugs anymore, thank God. I can get the same effect just by standing up real fast.’
‘Do you have any addiction to prescription drugs?’
‘I’m addicted to placebos. I’d give them up but it wouldn’t make any difference.’
‘Do you ever have falls?’
‘I tripped over a phone only yesterday.’
‘You have to arrange the cable more safely.’
‘It was a cordless phone.’
‘Did you hurt yourself?’
‘Not as much as the time before. I fell down a flight of stairs in the city. Somebody rushed over to me and asked, ‘Did you miss a step?’
‘No way,’ I answered, ‘I hit every one of them.’
‘Have you come to terms with the idea of living to an old age?’
‘I used to be but am increasingly less so. The idea of living a long life appeals to everyone from from the mighty to the minnow, from the garbo down to the business executive, but as with everyone the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to me.’
‘When do you think you’re old?’
‘You know you’re old if they have discontinued your blood type.’
‘Just how old are you?
‘Twenty-six,’ he said.
‘Don’t you feel sorry for the way you’ve punished your body? You’ve got to get wiser, not wider. You’ve got to protect your organs. Those beautiful, intricate and faithful structures pump and squeeze and metabolise away quietly, keeping you alive. What will you be like when you’re fifty? I always say that life begins then.’
‘Maybe it’s true that life begins at fifty. But everything else, all those giblets inside. start to wear out, fall out, or spread out. After fifty, you have to stop seeing your heart as a muscle and more as an unexploded bomb.’
‘Maybe that’s the beer in you talking.’
‘I’m an alcoholic drink made from yeast-fermented malt flavoured with hops.’
When did you start to notice how overweight you’d become?’
‘That was when I noticed my socks didn’t fit anymore.’
‘Life is like a box of chocolates. It doesn’t last long if you’re obese. How long would you like to live?’
‘I’d like to live until I die. No more, no less.’
‘ I’m sure you will. Do you intend to be buried or cremated?’
‘When my spirit crosses the River Styx, I’ll have left my body to science fiction.’
‘If you paid attention to science facts you could rescue your body and. live to be much older. If you should survive to ninety five look at all you’d derive out of being alive.’
‘All those things that make me want to live to be eighty. I’ll endure with them. My tongue and my taste buds are my only friends. That’s how I roll.’
‘Ride out the clock, stay unfit. I’ve got news for you: the next chapter is not that long.’
‘It may be short but at least it’ll be sweet. ‘
‘Are you sure you don’t feel sorry?’
‘I feel sorry for those straining to achieve great biceps. Muscles come and go but flab lasts. All that energy spent in the gym trying to get rid of it is seemingly endless and futile—you keep doing it but it never gets done. I feel sorry for those who don’t drink or smoke because someday they’re going to be in a hospital bed, dying, and they won’t know why. I feel sorry for for those who do what you medicos recommend they do but to whom fate can deliver a killer hit at any time. I just don’t see the point. ’
‘So in your own way you believe in something. You feel you’ve achieved a kind of true inner peace?’
‘ Inside I’m a sea of tranquillity. I believe the way to achieve this is to finish what I start. So far this week I’ve finished a large bottle of Johnny Walker and a large tiramisu cake. I believe I’ll have another six pack tonight. I feel better.’
‘You have an inflated sense of your capacity to live a long life. You can’t postpone any longer giving up all this binging .’
’Doctor, you’re looking at a man with sky high levels of cholesterol who eats kilos of poultry crackling every day. You really think I’m afraid of death?’
‘You’re playing a deadly game of chicken. At least attempt to cut down on such excess. Doctor’s orders.’
‘I will try, Doctor. I’m going to stop putting it off, starting tomorrow.’
‘What’s holding you back?’
‘I’ll tell you what’s holding me back. It’s me spine.’
That does it. You’re obviously not yet a candidate for our regime. Any physical pursuit of yours would be a sisyphean task.’
‘Could you tell me why in plain English, I can never understand those medical terms.’
‘Well you asked for it. There’s no fool like an old fool who’s actually young. You have no self control. You’re simply lazy.’
‘Now don’t get me started! Just tell me the medical term so I can tell my friends.’
O.K. You have difficulty avoiding temptation as well. But I can assure you this. As you grow even older it will avoid you.’
‘Can I have a second opinion on this?’
Certainly, if you don’t have enough confidence in my judgement.’
‘I don’t have much confidence in any medical practitioner. My cardiologist told me recently that I’ve only had six months to live.’
‘So what was your opinion about this?’
‘I told him I could do it in four. So what can I tell my friends, Doctor?’
‘Tell them you have a terminal case of chronic indolence.’
‘I say that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it”
‘You haven’t accepted anything I’ve recommended to you.’
‘Just what you have recommended? ‘The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.’
‘May I ask you something outside the language of science. Something someone scornful of modern medical medical practice like you might prefer to be asked. What’s your star sign?’
‘ Astrology, don’t give me that. I’m a Sagittarian, and we’re sceptical. Especially when we hear doctors call what they do ‘practice.’
‘That does it. You’re obviously not yet a candidate for our regime.’’
‘Dr. Singh, Don’t take life so seriously, it isn’t permanent. ’
Looking much healthier, a retired 80 year old guy came to the clinic to be checked up.
I said ‘I hope I look that good when I’m eighty.’
‘You don’t look that good now,’ joked my community driver, Glen,giving a little wheeze.
‘How are you coping with that asthma?’ I asked him.
‘My pharmacist prescribed me some medicine for it. I asked him ‘Is it quick acting or long lasting?’
He replied, ‘You can choose. You can have a short acting Beta agonist or a long-acting beta 2-agonist.’
‘What’s the diff?’
‘Do you want to feel better now or later?’
Nothing acts faster than a Beta agonist.’
‘Then I’ll settle for nothing.’
‘Ida has to be gotten post haste to a hospital,’ were the instructions Glen received one day from his base.
‘A hospital, what is it?’
‘it’s a facility providing medical and surgical treatment and nursing care for sick or injured people.’
Glen and his colleagues are both my drivers and carers. They carry out different functions.
As does Roger, my graphic designing home carer. Roger provides me with social support. He helps me stay connected and engage with the community.
He provides personal care and domestic support. While for showering I get by with a swivel seat that straddles my bath, some of his clients require close assistance. The agency Roger works for can offer advice in securing the best items such as bath lifts. The Bellavita brand offers one for the mobility challenged that reaches a record 48cm seat height. Roger discovered others can go even higher.
Back to the chipper octogenarian. ‘We tend to lose our short term memory as we age,’ Dr. Singh told him. ‘How old are you?
‘Old enough to know better. To know my true capacity for remembering.’
‘How is it?’
‘Pretty good. In fact I can’t remember the last time I forgot something.’
Dr. Singh said. ‘anyway, what’s your secret for a long life?’
‘My secret to staying young—having no sense of time.’
‘I notice in your file you’re having bladder problems. With urinary incontinence.’
‘You mean siphoning the python properly. Yes, Doctor, it likes to do impressions of Columbo. It’s just exiting, seemingly finished it’s work when suddenly it declares ‘There’s just one more thing…’
‘What about your blood tests? Did they show up any other things of concern?’
‘You might say that.’
‘Do you remember when you first noticed you were getting old?’ Dr. Singh asked him.
‘That would have been I noticed that work was a lot less fun and fun a lot more work. That would have been when I went from Dr. Spock to Dr. Scholl.’
Doctor Singh was amazed at what good shape the man was in.
‘You’ve got a strong grip there’, he said as he shook the man’s hand. ‘Do you use a hand exerciser?’
‘I don’t need one. I have a faulty back door handle.’
‘You probably don’t need to use our service. You seem to have stayed in great physical condition?’
‘I’m a bit thinner on top and thicker in the middle. Otherwise I’ve got everything I had twenty years ago, except it’s all lower. I don’t spend my time feeding pigeons in the park or practising my putting.
I’ve still got lead in both my pencil and my rifle. I’m told my in bed manner is as good as your bedside manner. I can still deliver the goods if given fair warning.’
‘What is more important to you. A chance for a bit of bouncy bouncy or a good night’s sleep?’
‘One flows into the other. I still like it but more than that he like the idea of it.’
‘How do you mean?
‘Let me put it like this. Every time I go to the deli I buy a kilo of pork crackling that I take home and put in the cupboard.
‘So what’s the point?’
‘ Even though I’m unlikely to splurge on it I like knowing it’s in the cupboard.’
‘Do you have any other activities that you do for enjoyment ?’
‘In my spare time I like to go back to hunt and fish, ’ said the old guy, ‘and that’s why I’m In such good shape. I’m up at the crack of my back and out setting my lines and stalking wild pigs. In the evening I have a cup of cocoa and all is well.
‘Well,’ says the doctor, ‘I’m sure that helps, but there’s got to be more to it. Do you maintain a healthy lifestyle?
Some years ago I gave up drinking and smoking totally.’
‘How did that affect you?’
‘I started to breathe better and sleep better but others claimed I was becoming morose. Even my fundamentalist Christian neighbours did so.’
‘What did they say?’
‘They told me to lighten up. If only my late friend had done likewise.’
‘What happened to him?’
‘He gave up smoking, drinking and fatty food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.’
’‘It’s important to maintain a healthy mind. Do you have any mental issues?’
No second childhood if that’s what you mean. I’m happy at home watching telly.
However there is one thing that concerns me. I have this obsession. I can’t stop singing ‘Why Why Why Delilah ?’
‘You have what Freud classifies as a fixation. Yours sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome. ‘
‘Is it common? ‘
‘It’s not unusual.’
‘Is it something I was born with? Could I go out of my mind like in the song? ‘Will it stop me from living much longer?’
‘It depends on genetics. Heredity can also play a large part in extending our longevity. How old was your father when he died?”
‘Who said my father’s dead?’
The doctor was impressed, ‘You mean you’re 80 years old and your father’s still vertical? How old is he?’
‘Carbon dating indicates he’s 100 years old if he’s a day,’ said the man, ‘but he’s young at heart and still going strong.’
Doctor Singh asked him light-heartedly, ‘So, he can walk the walk. I guess he goes hunting and fishing with you too?’
‘He comes along to keep me company sometimes. He likes to share a joke or two. I invited him to come recently asking him, ‘Are you game?’
He came back quick as a whippet, ‘Not if I’m the quarry.’
However he’s not coming tomorrow. No, Dad can’t come tomorrow. He’s getting married then.’
‘Getting married! That’s amazing. It’s vital to have a partner.’’
‘It is for him. He and my mother were inseparable. He said to me some time ago, ‘Would you bury me next to your mother?’
I said, ‘Don’t you think you ought to die first?’
‘You can’t reach his age without some conditions. What are his?
‘‘He gets heartburn, canker sores and and loss of appetite. And he gets very anxious about his capacity to have more children. It’s on his mind all the time. He’s a real worry wart and it affects others.
‘Then the stress may aggravate any open sores on the inner lining of his stomach.’
‘He doesn’t have stress ulcers, but he’s a carrier. He’s even worried about having safe sex.’
‘Is he taking any precautions?’
‘He’s having a handrail around the bed installed.’
‘So why does he want to take another wife again?’
‘He says it’s one more for the road.’
‘Is the bride the same age as him?’
‘She’s forty. I’ve had a haemorrhoid longer than that.’
‘What if somehow they manage to have a child. What could be the advantage?’
‘Then both father and child could be in nappies at the same time.’
‘Out of curiosity how did they meet?’
‘I introduced her to him. She had confided to me in a pub, ‘Men my age have no idea how to treat a woman. I’m looking for some old fashioned loving.’
‘Have you warned him to take it easy on his honeymoon in case of a heart attack.’
I did. He replied: ‘Que sera sera! If she dies, she dies.’.
‘So tell me, why would a cradle snatcher at that age want to tie the knot again?’
‘Who said he wants to?’
‘He might prefer the smell of perfume to liniment. And what would a young woman like that look for in such an old man?’
She has a ready answer for that: ‘I like older men because they’ve gotten used to life’s disappointments. Which means they’re ready for me.’
‘What does your father put his longevity down to?’
‘Growing up in the bush. He tells people, “When I was a little boy, I lived in the country.’
‘I have to remind him, “You are so old, Dad, that when you were a little boy, everyone lived in the country.”
The next time Dr. Singh interviewed the younger hunter and fisher, he asked after his father.
‘He’s happy but he had to cut short his honeymoon to attend a funeral. An old mate died.’
‘He got over it.I’m sure another of his mates filled in for him.’
‘At Dad’s annual checkup own doctor asked him how he was feeling. ‘I’ve never been better!’ he boasted. ‘I’ve got a forty year old bride who’s up the pole and having my child! What do you think about that?’
The doctor considered this for a moment, then said, ‘Let me tell you a story. I knew a guy who was also an avid hunter. He never missed a season.
But one day went out in a bit of a hurry and he accidentally grabbed his umbrella instead of his gun.
The doctor continued, ‘So he was in the scrub and suddenly a wild boar appeared in front of him! You know full well if you scare a razorback, they will gouge and gore you,’ he said, ‘go straight through you. ‘You could imagine what an inch-and-a-half of tusk would do charging at you like that.’ So this guy raised up his umbrella, pointed it at the boar and squeezed the handle.’
‘And do you know what happened?’ the doctor queried.
Dumbfounded, the old codger replied ‘No’.
The doctor continued, ‘The boar dropped dead in front of him!’
‘That’s impossible!’ exclaimed my old man, ‘someone else must have shot that pig.’
‘That’s kind of what I’m getting at…’ replied his doctor.
‘It wasn’t long before the son reported news of his centenarian dad moving to ‘God’s Waiting Room.’’
Professor Singh asked him ,‘How is he getting on in the old people’s home?’
The son said, ‘Oh he’s like a fish out of water’.
‘Is he finding it hard to adjust?’
The son replied, ‘No, he’s dead’.
Was it a quick departure or did he linger slowly?’
About a month before he checked out, we massaged his ricked back with a generous amount of oil. After that he went downhill very quickly.’
‘How’s your memory?’ Dr. Singh asked another entrant, retired schoolteacher, Tom Bates.
‘It’s always been poor. For example I remember my third birthday.
‘That’s great recall.’
‘I’d just turned fifteen.’
Do you remember when you retired?’
‘I retired a bit earlier than expected at age fifty.
’What prompted that?’
‘As a country town principal I was well known in the community. A little bit too well known in fact. It was when a letter simply addressed to Master Bates’ arrived through the post I realise it was time to call it a day. Dr. Singh, why do we have to get old?’
‘Because that’s what people do. But don’t let it get you down. It’s too hard to get back up. Isn’t that what we learn from life?
‘I’ve learned that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.”
‘Never regret growing old. It’s a privilege denied to many. Now how far back do you remember?’
‘Back to the days of silent radio. Back to when the Dead Sea was only sick. Back to when you bought politicians, they stayed bought. Back when most of the inventions we now take for granted, like automobiles and telephones, were full size and made out of materials that would not break. Back to when the wonder drug was Mercurochrome. Back to when in school they didn’t teach history. Back when my salary was paid in shiny beads. Back before drawing boards were invented and people had nowhere to go back to. Back before seat belts when if you crashed you’d go flying through the air. Back to when a ‘drive-by shooting’ meant someone had their rear end hanging out a car window. Back to when it was my belt that buckled, not my trick knees. Back to when we played ‘Spin the Bottle’, not ‘Kick the Bucket’. Back to when going out was good, before coming home was better. Back when you had to beat it before you could eat it. Back to when I sank my teeth into a steak and they stayed there. Back before the waiter would ask how I’d like my steak…and I’d say ‘pureed.’
‘Are you still managing to get lucky in bed?’
‘Doctor, for me having a nooky at eighty five is like trying to shoot snooker with a rope. How cruel can nature be? ’
‘My best friend tells me he makes love to his wife five times a week and I can’t do that.’
‘Yes you can. You can say you make love as many times a week as you like.’
‘But I’d be having myself on, wouldn’t I?’
‘Look at it positively. We don’t die when we multiply. You’ve played your role in continuing the species. Impotence is natures way of saying ‘no hard feelings’.
He asked another, an ageing bohemian, the usual question. ‘How’s your memory?’
‘Pretty good. I can remember way back.’
‘How far back?’
‘Back to when I was first allowed to stay up on New Year’s Eve rather than being forced to. Back to when I was into being hip rather than into hip replacements.
Back to when the names in my little black book weren’t all doctors. Back to when as a kid I had a pet dinosaur. Back to when the Wright Brothers had a bicycle shop. Back to when I ordered three minute eggs, the waitress didn’t ask for the payment in advance. Back to when I didn’t hesitate to buy green bananas. Back to when the streets weren’t so steep, steps weren’t so high and newspaper print was not so small. Back to when the air was clean and sex was dirty. Back to when the X Factor was just an ingredient in soap powder. Back to when Heinz had only one variety. Back to when rainbows were black and white. Back before Doris Day was a virgin. Back to when film stars kissed with their mouths closed. Back to when I turned off the lights for romantic reasons, not economical ones. Back to when I was ‘all killer, no filler’.Back to when safe sex meant a padded headboard. Back to when sex was safer than a virgin at a eunuch’s convention. When it was so safe and car racing was dangerous. Now it’s the other way round. I can remember back to when I could still see clearly who I was having sex with. Back to when I could remember who got tied up. Back to the 60’s when I engaged in group sex and didn’t know who to thank.’
‘You went to those swingers parties?’
‘Everyone threw their keys into the middle of the room. I don’t know who got my Vespa but I’ve been driving that Merc for years.’
‘Does anything still stir down in the old growth forest?’
‘The old hydraulics are not in such good working order.’
‘Have you had them checked out?’
‘Yes, a specialist found nothing serious. He felt for lymph nodes along my crotch. He checked my wedding tackle and had me turn and cough to check for hernia.’
‘So you don’t expect any more libidinal conquests?’
‘I’m now more interested in my pension than my passion. My sex drive has turned willy-nilly into a putt. The only thing I go to bed with is my hot water bottle. I’m more rheumatic than romantic. I call my position ‘Missionary Impossible’. I knew this when I saw my spouse naked in the bathroom, the shower was the only thing that got turned on. There’s been three stages of in my sex life: Tri-Weekly, Try Weekly, and Try Weakly.’
‘How has your diet changed to adapt to these circumstances?’
‘My wild oats have turned to shredded wheat! I’m at an age at which food has in no small measure taken the place of sex. In fact I’ve just had a mirror placed over my kitchen table.’
‘For how long can you sustain your love making these days?’
‘I recently made love for an hour and five minutes, but that was the night the clock is set ahead.’
‘Daylight savings. Now you used to be a romantic lead in those melodramas on telly, weren’t you.’
‘We were all something once. Now we’re all something else.’
‘How do you manage the love scenes these days?’
‘At first I used cue cards but now the studio hires a stuntman.’
‘Wouldn’t you like to return to performing these daring acts yourself?’
‘I really miss the passion of the playacting. My inability got me feeling so depressed I couldn’t do anything properly. My urologist suggested medication to counter this dysfunction. He assured me, ‘ Don’t worry, we’ll have you back in bed in no time.’
‘You had a long and successful string of outdoor roles as an outback stockman. Do you have any regrets about this casting?’
‘Unfortunately I developed cataracts and macular degeneration. All that exposure to strong light took a toll my my eyesight.’
‘Are you working on anything these days?’
‘I’m in a science fiction story about two aged lovers. It’s called Partial Recall.’ After that I’ll be in the upcoming episode of The Expendables.’
‘It’s called Pumping Rust.’
‘It’s an inspiring tale, I hope.’
‘It’s an uplifting story of triumph over adversity.’
‘Any other recent offers?’
‘I was invited to take part in what I was told was a American ‘action’ movie which I turned down. They weren’t looking for fresh faces. They were looking for stale bodies.’
‘Do I know it? What’s it’s title and classification?’
‘Debbie does Dialysis‘. It’s classified VM. Very Mature.’
‘How about your personal connubial concupiscence?’
‘I’m in a same sex marriage. The sex is always the same.’
‘Do you find it difficult to share your most intimate thoughts with your spouse?’
‘It can be. I told her last week that unless she expressed her feelings and told me what she liked I wouldn’t be able to please her, so she said, ‘Get off me.’
‘‘I said to her, ‘I’ve just read a book that says if you want to keep a relationship passionate you tell your partner what you want.’
‘She replied, ‘How do you tell them you want somebody else?’
‘You both need to work on your pillow talk. Now are you able to add a touch of spice to your lovemaking? Are you able to sustain it satisfactorily?’
‘Unfortunately I experience premature ejaculation.’
‘You can get help for that, you know.’
I know. I belong to a support group for fellow sufferers’.
Do you meet often?’
‘I went to a meeting just this morning. It turned out it’s actually on tomorrow.’
‘How is your wife taking this?’
‘It all balances out. She has a short attention span.’
Have you tried fantasizing about other partners?’
“During sex I fantasize that I’m someone else.
Last time we tried to have some rumpy pumpy nothing was happening, so I said to her, ‘What’s the matter, you can’t think of anybody either?’
‘You know it’s never too late to become a sensitive lover.’
I tried learning that with a DVD ‘How to improve your foreplay technique’
‘Did it do the trick?’
‘I had to fast forward through the boring bit at the beginning.’
‘Let me pass on some advice every man ought to know.
If you want a little loving you’ve got to start real slow.
Squeeze her real gentle, make her feel good.
Tell her that you love her like you know you should.’
‘I’ll give it a go. I want to be a sixty minute man. Can I employ any devices in my quest to provide stimulation?’
‘There are a number of mechanical devices which increase sexual arousal in women. Chief among these is the Rolls Royce Corniche.
Tell me, when did you notice you were getting older?’
‘I could see it coming a mile away. It was when I went to Madam Tussaud’s and they started to dust me off. I knew this for sure when I was jumping the bones of someone half my age-and it was legal.’
‘You’d better be careful. You don’t want to be accused of sexual harassment.’
‘Worse still to be accused of sexual decline.’
‘What did you conclude about this interlude?’
‘To my surprise I found women over forty are the best going. They don’t yell, they don’t tell, they don’t swell and they’re happy as hell.’
Dr. Singh asked another, a champion greenhouse gardener, about his memory. ‘I’ve got difficulty remembering things. I just pointed out the extent of this to my apprentice.’
‘Do you think that wisdom comes with age?’
‘I have all the answers but nobody is asking me the questions.’
‘Let me ask you one. Are you talking about wisdom-or knowledge? What’s the difference?
‘Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.’
‘Let me ask you another. What do gardeners do when they retire?’
‘Old gardeners don’t retire. They just spade away.’
‘Do you suffer greatly from fatigue?’
‘After painting the town red, I need to take a long rest before applying a second coat. The older I get, the earlier it gets late. It takes me all night to do what I used to do all night long. Work is a lot less fun and fun a lot more work.
‘Have you considered pharmaceutical back up in the erogenous zone? Vitamins are good for what ails you. Viagra is good for what fails you.’
‘My doctor refused to write me a prescription for such drugs. He said it would be like putting a new flagpole on a condemned building. He said ‘the purpose of our profession is to heal the afflicted, not to raise the dead.’
‘Everything that goes up must come down; but there comes a time when not everything that’s down can come up.Have you heard about Viazac?’
‘The area in France?’
That too.It’s a cross between Viagra and Prozac.Mostly the latter. All you might get up is your hopes but you don’t care.’
‘I’ll give it a pass.’
‘Good idea. How is your wife taking this?’
‘It doesn’t bother her any more. I came home recently and said to her, ‘Don’t you think we should sit down and have a serious talk about our sex life?’
She replied, ‘You want me to turn off ‘Days Of Our Lives’ for that?’
‘She doesn’t find you so attractive anymore?’
‘She used to be afraid of the dark. Since the last time she saw me naked, she’s afraid of the light.’
‘Some people are like that. They lack a strong libido.’
‘She’s always been like that. When we were going steady many years ago, she told me ‘Don’t keep talking about sex until we’re married. Then when we were, she said, ‘Now you can talk about it all you like.’
I talked to her about it one morning recently. I said, “last night, were you faking it?” She said, “No, I was really sleeping.”
‘Another time in the sack things started to look up. She started applying pressure to my shoulder. Then she started rubbing my stomach. Then she started pressing my thighs. Suddenly she stopped. I asked, ‘Why did you stop?’
She said, ‘I found the remote.’
The next time we were engaged in sexual congress she let out a short cry of delight.
‘There’s a surprise!’ I cried, ‘what happened?’
She replied, ‘It’s wonderful, I finally decided those curtains would look better in green.’
‘She needs to talk to someone herself about men’s sensual needs and how to co-ordinate satisfying these with that of her partner.’
‘Actually she has talked to her friends about this. I overheard her saying to one, ‘My husband’s penis is like a semi colon. I can’t remember what it’s for and I never use it anyway.’
‘She’d be surprised the uses to which it can be put. Such as quoital foreplay.
Well, you’re not a young man anymore and you’ve got offspring. Follow nature. Think of the word menopause. Most women see aging as a time to put ‘men on pause’. Why not channel all your thoughts into exercising hard and bumping up the resistance.’
‘They say the best exercise takes place in the bedroom. That’s where I get the most resistance.’
‘Put aside ‘The Joy of Sex’. Go for the joy of flex.’
‘Would I find Comfort in that? A gourmet guide to lovemaking.’
Perhaps you might consider seeing a therapist if you’d like to ramp up your amorous activity.’
He agreed to this suggestion and to his surprise so did his wife. When Dr.Singh asked about their consultation, the man said, ‘The therapist asked what our problem was. My wife went into a passionate, painful tirade listing every problem we had ever had in the many years we had been married.
She went on and on and on: neglect, lack of intimacy, emptiness, loneliness, feeling unloved and unlovable, an entire laundry list of un-met needs she had endured over the course of our marriage.
Finally, after allowing this to go on for a sufficient length of time, the therapist got up, walked around the desk and, after asking the wife to stand, embraced and kissed her passionately.
My wife shut up and quietly sat down as though in a daze.
The therapist turned to me and said, “This is what your wife needs at least three times a week. Can you do this?’
I thought for a moment and replied, “Well, I can drop her off here on Mondays and Wednesdays, but on Friday’s, I fish.’
An elderly married couple scheduled their regular three monthly with Dr. Singh the same day, so they could travel together.
During the meeting, the doctor said to the elderly man “You appear to be in good health. Do you have any medical concerns that you would like to discuss with me?”
‘In fact, I do”, said the man. “After I make love to my wife for the first time, I am usually hot and sweaty. And then, after I do it the second time, I am usually cold and chilly.’
‘This is very interesting’, replied the doctor. ‘Let me do some research and get back to you.’
While discussing matters next with the elderly lady, the doctor said ‘Everything appears to be fine. Do you have any medical concerns that you would like to discuss with me?’
The lady replied that she had no questions or concerns.
The doctor then said, “Your husband has an unusual concern. He claims that he is usually hot and sweaty after being intimate the first time with you and then cold and chilly after the second time. Do you know why?”
‘Oh that silly boy!’ she replied. ‘That’s because the first time is usually in December and the second time is usually in July.’
‘Dr. Singh asked another participant, How are things with you?
‘I’ve got everything going for me. My teeth are going, my hair’s going, I used to spread happiness. Now I just spread.’
‘Do you remember when you first noticed you were getting old?’ Dr. Singh asked him.
That would have been round the time I started noticing my descendants outnumbered my friends.’
‘What about your sex drive ?’
‘My sex drive has gone into Park. Now I’ve got the time I’ve lost the inclination.’
‘What about Cialis? It could give you something shaped like an Egyptian obelisk. Have you considered taking it ?’
‘I take it at night. It stops me from rolling out of the bed.’
‘Who has been the greatest influence on you in life?’
‘My father. He told me during hard times it doesn’t matter what you achieve in life, as long as you’re happy and you can afford your own bed. That’s the last thing he told me on his death chair.’
A patient with a heart problem asked Dr. Singh, ‘Do you think with a ticker like mine I should have anything to do with sex?’
‘Certainly not if you’re engaged in it.’
I’ve heard a lot about this Viagra. You have too I suppose.’
‘Of course. And by other names as well. The layman knows of it’s trade name but we in the profession know it by it’s various generic pharmacological names. We know it also as ‘mycoxafloppin’, ‘mydixadrupin’, and of course, ‘ibepokin’.
Dr. Singh interviewed Mr. John McDonald.
‘Do you have any conditions I should know about, John?’
Dr. Singh propped up his head with his hand and gently spoke in his ear, ‘Did you have a late night, John?’
‘I’m a narcoleptic,’ said John, stirring.
‘So you can fall asleep at the drop of a hat.’
‘I’m so good at sleeping, I can do it with my eyes closed’, said John, yawning,’ expressing his honest feelings openly.
‘Well the regime you’ll undertake here will help you be more alert and sleep at the right time. I’m sure there are serious risks you want to avoid. Can you tell me about these.’
‘Well Doctor, I had a sudden snooze yesterday in the loungeroom. It was so cold. I slept like a log.’
‘That sounds quite relaxing.’
‘I fell asleep in the hearth.’
‘Does coffee keep you awake?’
‘Unfortunately no, not even when it’s hot and being spilled on me.’
Do you have any special bedding requirements such as a water bed?
‘I sleep best on stacks of old magazines. I’ve got back issues.’
‘Have your pathology tests indicated anaemia?’
‘Has your G.P. prescribed iron tablets?’
‘I’ve swallowed so many, when I awake, I’m always facing north.’
‘You have a slight American accent. Am I correct?’
Yes I lived in Minnesota. That’s where my back problem started.’
‘How did you get treatment?’
‘My doctor told me he’d have me on my feet in two weeks. He was right. I got his bill; I had to sell my car.’
‘That shows the value of a subsidised health system. Any other associated problems?’
‘It hasn’t helped in my conjugal relationships. I’ve been accused by my ladies of sleeping around. What’s more I like to sleep naked.’
‘And when you do stay awake do you still manage to do some bumping and grinding?’
The fact of the matter is after all my years, I’ve ended up performing like an amatory amateur. ’
‘At your age you should probably expect some diminishing of your sex drive… when did you first notice this as a problem?’
‘Oh, last night and then again this morning.’
‘I wouldn’t worry if I were you. Opportunity may once again knock at your door. ’
‘If it does, it had better be loud otherwise I may not awake.’
‘Your snoring wouldn’t help matters. By the way how do you know you’ve been snoring?’
‘I get a sharp pain in my back’
‘How does that work neurologically?’
‘It starts by getting on someone else’s nerves. It ends with a woman’s elbow jab.’
‘It’s no laughing matter by the sound of it.’
‘Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snore and you sleep alone.’
‘Before you go, John, what would you say is the thing you like best in the world?’
‘Sleep is my favourite thing . It’s what gets me up in the morning.’
‘When do you think you know when you’re getting old?’
‘You know age is catching up with you when everything dries up or leaks.’
‘How are you coping with the ageing process psychologically?’
‘I’ve finally got my head together. Now my body’s falling apart.’
‘You need to watch your weight, John. Do you keep a record ?
‘I do. My wife bought me a car for Christmas. I said ‘That’s no good to me, I want something that will go from zero to one hundred and sixty in three seconds’. So she bought me a set of bathroom scales.’
‘Do you find yourself getting more forgetful?’
‘First you forget names, then you forget faces. Next you forget to pull your zipper up and finally, you forget to pull it down.’
‘Do you still manage to make love, John.’
‘Only after I check with my parents.’
‘I can’t believe they’re still around.’
‘They always are. Mother Nature and Father Time.’
Dr. Singh said to one participant who was experiencing the onset of senility, ‘Mr. Petersen, I’ve noticed you’re wearing one black shoe black and the other brown.’
‘Yes,’ Mr. Petersen answered, “I’ve noticed it myself.’
‘Why didn’t you change?’
‘See, I went to change, but when I looked in the closet, there was also one black shoe and the other brown.’
Joyce Skilling, a most definite nonagenarian, was a voluntary receptionist at the Centre. She bused it all the way from St. Peter’s.
‘What do you think of voluntary work?’ I asked her.
‘I wouldn’t do it if you paid me.’
‘And what do you think are the best things about having reached such a grand age.’ I asked her.
She simply replied, ‘First, no peer pressure. Second, everything comes with a life time guarantee.’
One day an eccentric old dude came in off the street to the Centre and asked to see the good doctor. ‘Professor Singh,’ said Joyce to the good doctor,’ there’s a gentleman here in the waiting room who wants to see you. He’s a bit delusional. He says that he’s invisible.’
“Well, he has to get a referral from a G.P. and make an appointment like everyone else. Tell him I can’t see him right now.’
I value my place in the program highly, coming twice weekly. Professor Singh, who agrees humour is the next best medicine, an antidote to the pain and problems of existence, up to and including mortality itself, monitors each and everyone’s progress. When discussing mine in an interview, he put it to me: ‘Allan, you’re held in good standing here at the Centre. How flexible are you?’
I replied ‘Well, Professor, do you want me to do a Michael Jackson moonwalk? To strike an Obama yoga pose ?
To do a Beltway Backbend?
I’m not quite ready to do the splits. Any acts of contortion are out of the question. I now have difficulty making ends meet.’
‘What I mean is – would you mind dropping one session per fortnight.’
Being compliant I agreed, reflexively crossing my fingers, if not my legs, that I would not lose any more.
Unfortunately for us in inner west Sydney, we lost Professor Singh to the northern suburbs and beyond. He left Balmain Hospital to establish his private practice in the northern suburbs and worked there, in nursing homes and Bega Hospital, caring for his patients despite an illness of his own until shortly before his death in 2021, fulfilling his mission: providing what is frequently missing in aged and disability care; meeting the changing needs of his patients with continuity
He was a beloved family man who led a life of service and commitment to his family and patients.