I’ve been thinking about this a great lately, and it seems to be an ever present dichotomy in my mind, but in January I will turn 50. A half century, the big 5-0. And with that I realize that mentally, emotionally, and more so physically, I am doing better than I ever have.
I believe I have a luxury a lot of other people don’t in that I see patients everyday who are my age and sometimes younger who have made other choices in life and are calling me, well 911 anyway, to help mitigate a lifetime of the consequences of those choices. This was clear today, its July 20 as of this writing, and I picked up a gentleman who has lived a life of those choices and is now living with the consequences whether he realizes it or not. As we were trying to lift him to the stretcher, he commented how terrible it was getting old. I asked him how old he was and he said he just turned 50. And it’s at these moments that the choices we make in life are so striking to me. I see this every shift and if you’re in the same line of work I am, a paramedic on a box in a 911 system, then you it see every shift as well. But, I think for me it’s more interesting than to most because I could have been on a very different trajectory given my background. Most people tell how fit and healthy they were when they were younger, and I think back to when I was an obese kid. I was a solid 150lbs at 11 years old and I was fueled on the standard Southern diet of Mt. Dew and Doritos, along with fast food, and as much sugar as I could eat. I was that kid. The one always picked last because I was fat, and unathletic to say the least. Thinking back though I realize that maybe my personality wouldn’t be what it is had I not had that life experience. My sense of humor developed more as a defense mechanism than anything. I found being the quick witted fat kid was far better than having defense at all. It also allowed me an empathy I think that is sometimes lost on those who were skinny and/ or athletic when they were kids and the weight and years seek up on them which always makes it easier to default to the “I’m getting older” routine. Those are also the people who default to the, “when I was your age” bullshit, and make no mistake, the likelihood of it being bullshit is tremendously high. We humans have an amazing ability to candy coat our memories of our youth don’t we? And we’re equally good at telling others about the glory days.
I’ve found though as I grow older, I dig the fact that I’m nearly 50 and I’m feeling better than ever! I like telling people my age, especially after I hear their excuses for not taking care of themselves. Which brings me to the fact that I say those same people who talked about their glory days is bullshit. Those glory days very likely came easy because of youth, not from hours of hard work. And now oddly enough, with age, what was once easy takes just that, hard work, much harder than when you were younger. It takes a great amount of perseverance and discipline to undo the years of stress, injury, laziness, bad diet and exercise advice that we’re inundated with for years. I would also posit that it’s easier to take care of everyone and everything else in your life and simply place yourself on the back burner. Easier because it takes very little work to give in to excuses and time restraints, and all the other bull shit we all tell ourselves. I know. I was there not too long ago.
I can also tell you that if you make the time and you make the effort, the other side is so fucking amazing it’s hard to describe. The weirdest part is, it’s all up to you. It’s your choice every day and you make the conscious decision to live or die. That’s it, live better or die a little more miserable each day. Only the luckiest die early, instead of just being miserable the last 40 or 50 years of their life. So as I was helping a man my age to the cot that weighs 350lbs, has diabetes, CHF, and his cardiologist say he needs open heart surgery, I remember about the choices I make every day that keeps me from being that guy. Because when I see him, I feel empathy, I feel regret for not being able to say hey man, you could change things still! I’ve realized that as much as your intentions are good, sometimes it’s simply not enough. I’m not able to sway a great number of my colleagues to start taking care of themselves, how would I ever sway this guy! But, I do know I keep trying. I keep at it, and if ultimately only one person benefits from what it is I’m doing here, then I am proud to have made some difference.
Ultimately though it becomes a decision we each have to make for ourselves. Sick and tired or happy and healthy, which ever you choose, always remember that it was just that, your choice. Put your name on it. Walt