There's a billboard I see everyday on the way home from work. It's at the middle of a bend in the road as southbound traffic enters Long Beach, and it's high enough above the browning tree branches for a motorist to see at 70 mph.
The billboard reads, "The first person to live to 150 has already been born."
Roadside advertisements seldom capture my attention while driving, let alone impact me enough to recall it later. But it wasn't until I got home last night and heard about Grandpa's doctor appointment that I actually considered the impact of this statement:
Why the hell would anyone want to live that long?
I only needed to look at my blind, diabetic 89-year old roommate to see that old age is a bitch. Here's a man who lost his best friend four years ago, whose health declined so rapidly thereafter, that he could barely manage daily tasks like paying bills, taking (the correct) pills, and preparing food, despite (excellent) special training for the blind from Veterans Affairs.
Which brings me back to the doctor appointment. Grandpa's recovering from a small cold that led to pneumonia, which put off hernia surgery, and this appointment was a follow up. My wife attends all of his appointments and she made it a point to personally talk to the Doctor candidly, and alone, before leaving.
Aside from the cold, grandpa hasn't been his normal self this month. He's sad and grey looking and pale; he's falling asleep nearly every time he sits; he's forgetting things, misplacing things more often; and most of all, he just isn't interested in talking anymore.
Doc said that we're doing a tremendous job with Grandpa, that he hasn't seen him better at any point in the previous ten years. But also, Grandpa is just really old.
"But Doctor, at what point… when would you suggest that Grandpa's needs are more than what I can provide?"
The Doctor told my wife that Grandpa is as good as he's going to be. That's it. This right here--he's not going to be any better. He's 89 and deaf and blind and weak, he can barely breathe, and he has maybe a year remaining.
And so, if it were medically possible, would this frail old man even want to live another 61 years? Could science give him his eyes back? Could it give him his youthful swagger?
The only thing he wants now—and which science can’t give him—is his wife. She’s in a porcelain urn on a dresser in his bedroom.