‘Tis now Spring, and all the pleasures of it displease me; every other tree blossoms, and I wither: I grow older, and not better; my strength diminisheth, and my load grows heavier.
I will begin from the ground up.
I have bad circulation in my feet. On a winter’s day, they go cold and bloodless up through my calves. My right foot pronates oddly, an old running injury, which has caused my right ankle to ache a bit all year round. Both knees have had the cartilages cleaned up through key-hole surgery. After the last operation, the surgeon told me I would need a new left knee when I was 60; I was due to go cycling today, but the knee popped out again yesterday afternoon (the third time this year) and so I have cancelled. My lack of exercise due to my knees has contributed to being, for the first time in my life, officially overweight on the BMI scale. I have an inoperable varicose vein. My hips are asymmetrically aligned, which means my right leg seems longer than my left; my wife nags me for dragging my foot when I walk. I am on my second pacemaker; since I was 43 my sinoatrial node has been faulty which means my heart stops beating six times a day and without a pacemaker, I would collapse/die. I have three lumps growing around finger joints in my left hand; I took my wedding ring off at the beginning of the pandemic to increase the effectiveness of my hand-washing, and now, due to one of the lumps being located on the middle joint of my wedding ring finger, I cannot get the ring back on. My bad circulation does not stop with my toes; I have Reynaud’s disease, where my fingers go white as the blood seeps away from them unannounced. I have a gap in my teeth where the dentist and I both agreed some 24 years ago, post-extraction, that my rotted tooth wasn’t worth replacing with an implant. The enamel on several of my teeth is wearing away and the teeth are increasingly sensitive to hot drinks. On the side of my nose is a red patch which no GP has been able to diagnose. On a bad day I can look like I have been on the whisky a little too much. I have two liver spots on my forehead, which have materialised as if my magic. My neck aches frequently, the lingering whiplash legacy of a head-on car crash at university. I need to visit the opticians as my varifocals do not seem to be working any longer; it’s all a bit of a blur beyond the tip of my (ruddy) nose. My hair is more white than grey and, after a 20-year hiatus, has been receding rapidly recently. I feel like I am becoming increasingly forgetful; this week I spent two days completing a crucial “reopening of school” staff briefing, finished it on Friday lunchtime, but forgot to email it to anyone – it sat in my inbox for 18 hours until I remembered with a start early yesterday morning, having been unable to sleep.
All this, and I consider myself to be fairly fit and healthy! As Atul Gawande says, “[As] medicine carries out its maintenance measures and patch jobs…the curve of life is a long, slow fade”.
I don’t want much from what time is left to me. If all goes well, I hope to have a couple more decades on this earth. I want to see my sons grow up into full-fledged adults. I want to holiday in Scotland at Easter again, with Louise and the boys and our mates the Davises. I want to experience the blossoming of the daffodils as spring arrives in all its yellow majesty. I want to go fishing.
But I won’t make twenty more years without the National Health Service’s dedicated, indefatigable, expert staff. As inflation rises inexorably over the next few months – as every economic forecaster predicts – it will mean that the 1% pay award to nurses will morph into a real terms pay cut.
So, Rishi Sunak, pay all our health workers properly, or there will be no-one around to stitch me together, just when I will need them the most.