Imagine this. You go to your GP with something like a sore throat. Nothing that’s going to immediately kill you, you understand.
But something that, like a Lion’s Mane jellyfish, could turn big and nasty if not caught early. Your GP deals with the main issue and then turns to her computer.
This lets you know she’s now going to go through every detail of everything that’s ever been wrong with you, which is simultaneously flattering, admirable on her part, and tedious, as far as you’re concerned. Normally, anyway.
This time, she’s painstakingly going down through the prescriptions that keep your wheels moving, Fair few of them, there are, because anybody over 60 is held together by the daily administration of a fistful of pills and capsules, She stops, half way down.
Oh, she says. That monosyllable is filled with regret, reproach and worry. She points to a prescription that ran past its shelf life a few months earlier.
If you’d been filling it out at the local pharmacy like you’re supposed to, you’d have been back weeks ago to the GP looking for a new prescription.
But you haven’t been back, have you? Which in turn means you have not been taking the bloody thing once a week, the way you should have.
Now, you have a good reason for not taking it. A reason that’s perfectly good from where you stand, which is that the first thing you do when you wake up, each and every morning, including Saturday (the designated drug-taking day) is make yourself a litre of coffee and drink it sitting in bed checking out the state of the world on your laptop.
The thing is, this particular medicine would require you not only to eschew your first and pivotal caffeine fix, but to walk around the house, never permitting yourself to sit down, for a full half hour after its ingestion.
How hard can that be, I hear you ask.
Many, maybe even the majority of the population, have no problem walking around their homes — or, indeed, outside their homes — for half an hour, but a minority are firmly of the belief that God made the iPad, the newspaper and the book in order to cue humanity to the thrilling pleasure of sitting the hell down.
You have to watch this walking-around habit. It starts small, but in no time you’re doing the Camino.
Because you disapprove of walking, except for other people, the bottom line is that you have to confess to your GP, who has fixed you with wide eyes awash with concern, that no, you have not been taking that medicine which is supposed to fill up all the little holes in your bones that happen after a certain age, leaving them with the pleasing consistency and structural strength of a stick of chalk. No, you shrug.
To be honest, you haven’t been a compliant patient, you confirm, laughing lightly, inviting the doctor to join you in your good-humoured denigration of the importance of the particular drug.
The doctor does not join you. The doctor so clearly does not join you that your light laughter dies on your rapidly-drying lips and you wait for her condemnation.
“But if you don’t take it,” she says, horrified.
“If you don’t take it, you will have a fall, a quite ordinary fall, and you will break your hip and you will have to go to a nursing home and you will never come back out.”
At this point in the conversation, you have a number of choices.You can smack her right in the chops. You can tell her you are a young, able woman and are insulted by being lumped in with the hip-breaking brigade: the very idea.
Or you can try not to let your mouth fall open in shocked dismay and you can say nothing, because this is such a good doctor who wants nothing but the best for you and whose words are uttered for your own good.
Almost every truly wounding comment shared directly with you throughout your entire life, you realise, has been made “for your own good”.
Dry-mouthed with shock, you allow yourself to be gently herded into a different way of solidifying your skeleton, and depart the surgery into a new world where, you realise, you are part of one of the two “for your own good” cohorts.
Before children are old enough to tell their elders to stick a sock in it because they are old enough to leave home and to do whatever they want, whether it’s good for them or bad for them, they are coerced, in honeyed tones, by someone playing the “for your own good” tune. Ditto when you get old.
Except, when you get old, the implicit threat is worse than a smack.
It’s not that anybody wants to put you in a home. Mostly, they don’t. Even the State doesn’t want to put you in a home.
They’d much prefer if you stayed put with a package. But what they want to do to you and what they CAN do to you are two different things, just as your rights as a free citizen and your rights as an OLDER free citizen are two different things.
As an older free citizen, you do not have the right to endanger yourself or others. Fascinating, that. Because it’s the only widely-applied prospective denial of rights. It’s future tense.
You don’t have to actually set fire to yourself or someone else: once it looks as if, due to age, you might at some stage do so, you’re goosed. Put the arse of the electric kettle down on the heated hob, and you lose more rights than if you’d mugged a tourist with a box cutter.
Strangely, we all know folk who’ve repeatedly got behind the wheel of their car sufficiently over the alcohol limit to endanger everybody on the road that night, themselves included, but you know what?
Unless they run someone down or a Garda checkpoint catches them, they’re good to go.
Even if they do a DUI and kill someone, their sentence is relatively short. Bits lopped off by being suspended. Other bits lopped off for good behaviour.
So, even if a younger person proves they’re a danger to themselves and others by killing someone, their sentence is short. An older person gets found guilty without harming anybody and their sentence is for life with no time off for good behaviour.
Once you’re in the nursing home, you have no power whatever and no right to escape. You cannot demand a lawyer to discuss habeus corpus.
Well, you could, but it will avail you naught. No activist will find you and fight for you. No Innocence Project will work to free you.
You are in the gulag with no way out. The care may be great, the family may visit, but you don’t have the code for the exit door.
When you try to sneak out alongside one of the cleaning staff, you are detected and prevented and brought back. For your own good.
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