As I lie in my hospital bed, the pain still numbed by analgesics, left knee encased in bandages, completely unable to go anywhere or do anything, I have all the time in the world to contemplate the future. Too much time, really. An impatient person by nature, I hate being a patient; I’d much rather be getting on with all the things that need doing, catching up with people I need to see. Contemplation doesn’t get through the to-do list. Contemplation brings with it all those scary things like what I could have done better, and what I can do better to make up for it.
Like exercise: Do more.
Like eating and drinking: Do less of both.
If I want to live to a ripe old age like 89 – the age that statistics say I’m supposed to reach, on average, before I die – I’m going to have to make a few changes. I should look on this moment – this hospital room, these white walls and beeping machines enlivened by a few cheerful cards and flowers – as an epiphany. A turning point. A wake-up call.
It’s been made very clear: after knee replacement surgery, I have to follow the physiotherapy exercises they’ve given me, religiously. I have to keep on exercising the new knee – and the other one – or the whole painful process will have been wasted. No point in spending a small fortune on a new knee if I don’t get it going properly. As they say: Use it or lose it – a second time.
And get the weight down. I might have lost a few kilos before the op, but sensibly, I should lose more. Because extra kilos put extra strain on key joints like knees.
So it’s back to the two-day fast diet, keep the tempting carbs and sugary treats out of the house, and lock up the pinot gris. Back to salads and tinned tuna for lunch, to tiny lean steaks and large piles of spinach. To eggs without the benedict, and fish without the chips. It’s going to be two days a week with just 600 calories and being very careful the other five days, or the two days of being hangry are wasted effort.
It’s back to the pool to plough up and down so my muscles get a good workout and my fitness levels return to where they should be once more. And it’s back to brisk walks round the park, bracing against the easterly, dodging the commuter traffic to cross the road.
Like most people not long turned 65, one of my greatest fears of getting older is being treated as old – and the fastest way for that to happen is to look and behave old, to walk with a stoop or a limp, to be slow and hesitant, to be frightened of new ways of doing things, of new technology, of change.
So, along with the new knee and the determination to remain spry and active, come the social media boot camp, the lessons in search engine optimisation, and keeping up to date with new methods of communication. Listening to younger people about what’s important to them, listening to people my age about what’s important to them too. There is no greater an indication of old fartitis than expounding your views ad infinitum instead of listening to those around you. And the last thing I want to be is an old fart.
There is another great fear of getting old, of course, and that’s running out of money. We’re supposed to live a lot longer now – I may well live past 89, if I get back in the pool and get the kilos off. Statisticians predict that in a few years’ time, women in particular can expect to live to 100. But can we afford it? Our retirement savings will undoubtedly be swallowed up before then. And who knows what will happen to our Super, with or without Winston?
By the time I’m 89, there will be over one million people 65-plus eligible for Superannuation and, because of the stagnant birth rate, we’ll make up around 22% of the population. The cost of our Super to the Government will be $98 million a day (currently it’s $20 million) yet the number of workers paying tax and supporting this vast financial commitment is declining. In 20 years, will the current level of top-up from our retirement savings still be there? I doubt it.
I suspect, with fewer workers supporting an increasing number of retirees – who are living longer thanks to better health care – there will be an even bigger divide between young and old, and a growing number of elderly poor, living longer than they budgeted for, who find it hard to pay the utilities.
So my takeout is to seize the day, make hay while sun shines, and get most out of today because it could all be Gone Tomorrow (which just happens to be the title of my next book!)