Sunday, 22 November 2009

Stages of aging

Last week Dr P went off to play bridge. Usually he gets a lift from friends, but that morning the friend whose turn it was to drive rang to say she could not drive him home. I had other engagements that day so was not available for chauffering duties. She and I urged him to get a taxi home, but he decided to drive himself. He set off. I felt rather anxious.

Just after 10 am he rang to say he had had an accident. He had been turning into an area of the carpark which led to a small parking area near an entrance with a ramp, which enables people to avoid having to climb the stairs into the club. Despite this bridge club being full of elderly people, there is no lift. Dr P's foot hit the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and the car hit the concrete wall.

Fortunately he was not hurt, just rather shaken, and went on to play his bridge. His kind partner drove him home. He has now decided not to drive any more, and once the car has been repaired he will give it to his grandson. For some time now he has not wanted to drive, and when we go anywhere together, or if he has a medical appointment I drive him, and accompany him to the appointment, and participate when necessary.

Along with everyone else, I am very relieved at this decision. Using taxis will cost him much less than registering and insuring a car, and it is much safer. He was not driving well, but was not amenable to persuasion to abandon driving. Understandably he was reluctant to abandon his independence, and to acknowledge yet another limitation of old age – he is almost 86 – but it seems that old people can get quite mean, and that he begrudged paying the cost of a taxi. Often he just won’t listen to reason, and he is used to having a servant class available to him, and I am the latest – probably the last – in a long line. He can be extremely stubborn, impervious to argument, and ready to shout people down. I do not want to be totally at his beck and call, and want to be able to lead my own life.

And yes, old age can be a real bugger. Dr P's old age shows itself in lack of mobility, severe forgetfulness, which necessitates constant repetition of everyday facts and arrangements, worsening deafness with consequent difficulty in conversing with family and friends, various health issues, the needing of frequent naps, the rigidifying of attitudes, and a far greater dependence on others. It is harder to maintain cheerfulness, and impossible to live life as before. I do sympathise and feel sorry for him, and do all I can to help, but it can be very frustrating and difficult. Although in many ways he is very generous, he is often very selfish.

A couple of years ago I read David Lodge's book Deaf Sentence. Lodge is quite deaf himself, and in this novel deafness is central to the plot. He writes 'Deafness is comic, as blindness is tragic.' Deafness, he says, might arouse pity, but not terror. He quotes Milton's Samson 'O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon, /irrevocably dark, without all hope of day' and offers'O deaf, deaf deaf' to illustrate the fact that deafness does not have the same pathos. While the blind have pathos, and there are visible signs which reveal their blindness, he says that 'we deafies have no such compassion-inducing warning signs' and indeed provoke irritation rather than compassion, because people must shout and repeat themselves constantly when trying to communicate with the deaf.

It is indeed quite unfair, but very true. My voice is soft, it makes me hoarse if I have to shout, and it is amazing how quickly my mood changes from kindness and helpfulness to irritation. I remonstrate with myself constantly 'Control your temper! He can't help it!' But he could at least use his hearing aid! Then I get depressed, thinking that these should be my good years, and, if I should outlive Dr P, I will probably have become so decrepit myself that I won't be able to have any fun or do anything, and there will be no one to care for me. That is no way to live, so such thoughts must be banished. And the decision to stop driving is a good one.


VioletSky said...

There was a time when our family (as a serious joke) decided that we could not have anyone in the car with my father, the risk of losing too many family members at once was too great.
Your bit about deafness is quite enlightening, and so very true. I hadn't thought about it quite that way.

Anonymous said...

My younger sister is hearing-impaired, so in our house we always had the line, "Are your hearing-aids working?" as a polite-ish way of really asking, "Why aren't you listening to me?" Now my father's hearing is going a bit, and all my grandparents are having hearing problems, so big family gatherings can be an endless chorus of "what?" and unanswered questions. Sometimes I just have to laugh about it all instead of being annoyed.

And not to rain on your self-pity parade, but you know you have many good years left, and too much love in your life for you not to be taken care of. :)

Laura Jane said...

Deafness is a profound social curse, and can certainly lead to crotchetiness and isolation.

My husband is losing his hearing (59) and I find myself getting the irrits with him. He now suffers from tinnitus too. Ironically his work is as a researcher into mechanisms of hearing loss. I frequently have to repeat myself, repeat comments from the field, and attend things on my own as he is too frustrated by the babble of conversation at parties and just begs to go home like a whining child.

What worries me even more is that I find myself becoming sensitive to the same stimuli that used to have him barking in rage, so I (11 years his junior) am likely to follow his path into noise-induced hearing loss.

It sounds unlikely that he will outlive you, so I admire your grace, commitment and courage, not to mention your sensible sense of self-preservation within these fading years of caring for a husband who is becoming frail. whining is CERTAINLY allowed.

And hooray for the fact that he was uninjured while coming to the decision to not drive anymore. It HAD to be his decision, with gritted teeth all around while everyone waited.


molly said...

My father-in-law is getting deafer by the minute, but denies that he can't hear as well as he used to. When his wife was still alive, she too was very hard of hearing. While it does have a tragic aspect, we had a lot of entertainment out of conversations where everyone was talking at cross-purposes.....and mis-hearing what everyone else was saying. A bit like the old game of "Postman" we played as children.

Meggie said...

I know just what you mean. At least Gom usually wears his hearing aids, but lately, has taken to removing them, & taking his glasses off also. I know it is not fair of me, but I regard it as a turning away from life, & me in particular.
Because he is going blind, he has been told not to drive. He insists on doing so!

Anonymous said...

My father used totake off his glasses and tell us he could ot hear us as he did not have his glasses on. We never questioned it!