Not for the Faint of Heart . . .
Vol: 80 Issue: 14 Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Not for the Faint of Heart . . .
Having been out of the news loop for forty hours and still groggy from the events of the last couple of days, I am a bit behind the curve. So instead of faking it, we’ll divert from the beaten path this morning – forgive me if I babble a bit.
When I was a young man, I would look on the elderly with a mixture of sympathy and contempt. I had some measure of sympathy for their ailments, but nothing but contempt for their weakness.
I cared little for their accumulated knowledge or experience; what would somebody who grew up in the 30’s and 40’s know that would be useful to me?
Age was the great equalizer — old people were equally useless, regardless of who they had been when they were young.
I was much like the young men in Job’s lament: “But now they that are younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock.” (Job 30:1)
I now understand Job’s anguish: over the course of my life, I’ve known a number old guys who were just ‘old guys’ — until they went on to their rewards.
Only then would I discover that the ‘old guy’ I had treated with such disrespect had been a war hero, or a brilliant inventor, or had distinguished himself in ways I never would.
My own sojourn through the world was greatly diminished because I failed to recognize and exploit the wealth of knowledge God had placed within my reach.
I spent my last four months on active duty in the Marines as a patient in a Veteran’s Administration hospital in 1975. The majority of my fellow patients were WWII vets — who were then about the same age that I am now.
To me, they were just a bunch of old guys who complained a lot and didn’t really have much to offer. I remember there was this really annoying guy in his early 60’s a few beds down who complained about everything.
One day, as he was complaining about his breakfast, both his arms shot out straight from his sides, his eyes rolled back in his head, he let out with a little sigh — and died right there in front of me.
I’d just spent a bit over six years in the US Marines — I’d already seen lots of men die. God forgive me, I even joked about it with the two or three other young vets in our ward.
I didn’t find out until after he was gone that the annoying guy a few beds down had won every combat medal possible except the Medal of Honor.
I never knew his name — well, I knew the other old guys called him ‘Charlie’, but I never cared enough to even find out Charlie ‘what.’
As I recall it, my face still burns with shame, even thirty-three years later.
The Scriptures say, “The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the grey head.” (Proverbs 20:29)
I still don’t see old men as beautiful, but I’ve a lot more appreciation for them now that I’ve joined their ranks. Getting old is not something for the faint of heart.
Some time back, my brother stopped by the house after work with a couple of the guys that work for him on his roofing crew. One of his crew (all in their 20s) made an ‘old guy’ joke.
I told him, “If you woke up tomorrow morning feeling the way I do every morning, your first act would be to reach for the phone and dial 911.” That’s when I KNEW that I had crossed that Rubicon and there was no turning back.
I realized that, to them, I’m just another old guy, as useless and irrelevant to them as Charlie was to me back in my own youth. I thought I’d eventually get used to it.
Maybe I will. But not yet.
Yesterday, I had yet another ‘old guy’ experience at the sleep clinic.
A ‘sleep clinic’ is a place where one goes to have electrodes glued to one’s head, attached to wires that are plugged in to what looks like a little operator’s switchboard about the size of Palm Pilot.
They glued five electrodes to my head, one behind each ear, several to the chest, one to each leg at the knee, all attached to the little switchboard gizmo. Then they led me into a little tiny room with nothing in it but little tiny bed and a sash-lamp hook on the wall for hanging the wired up gizmo.
But this being the Land of Socialized Medicine, the hook on the wall was loose, and nobody had yet filled out the government forms (in triplicate) to have a janitor come and screw another one in.
So instead, the technician laid the gizmo, together with the bird’s-nest of wires, on the pillow beside me — and told me to go to sleep. (The technician was in his 20’s — no doubt he figured at my age, I was perpetually two seconds from dozing off anyway.)
I’ve no idea how long it took me to fall asleep — I’m sure they’ll tell me later — but it took awhile. The technician came in to wake me to tell me I’d pulled an electrode loose in my sleep; “Try not to do that again,” he said, replacing the switchboard gizmo BACK on the pillow — beside my head!
The next time I woke up, my head had become entangled in the bird’s nest of wiring, and I had several of the wires in my mouth. The technician came back in, rearranged the wires, shot me another disgusted “don’t-you-do-that-again,” before guaranteeing I would by putting the gizmo on the pillow beside me again.
And so it went. All night long.
In the morning, they gave me a questionnaire asking me if I slept well. If they were asking me then what the heck were all those wires for?
But at least it was over — or so I thought. Nope. The technician said that was just the first part of the test.
For the rest of the day I had to wear the electrodes but they rigged up a little handle on the switchboard gizmo so that I could ‘move about the hospital’ in between 20 minute catnaps they wanted me to take every hour and a half all day long.
I looked like a runaway stereo component, so moving about the hospital wasn’t much of an option. So I spent all that night and all the next day in bed taking naps.
By the time the test was over, I was exhausted. I got home at five pm, and was in bed by eight-thirty — then overslept this morning by an hour. Worn out by a sleep test!
Getting old isn’t for sissies.