Surviving old age

By Herbert Vego

ONE morning I woke up feeling unusually dizzy, my neck in pain.  I slowly sat up in bed, my head propped up against the wall as I reached for my digital blood-pressure monitor. The reading was a high 150/100.  I therefore gulped my “maintenance” medicine, hoping to recover immediately so I could catch up with my overdue work. But I just could not keep my brain running.

What bothered me at that time was whether to have myself confined in a hospital. Feeling better after breakfast, I drove off to the clinic of my friend, Dr. Jun Dalisay.

After checking me with his stethoscope, he said, “You will be okay.”

I felt even much better after getting a piece of his prescription pad. I heaved a sigh, convinced that I was not “good” for another hospitalization.

The hospital is one place I would not like to be confined in. I had been there a number of times and found it inhospitable, always draining the money that had taken my bank account months to accumulate.

I realized I had turned 74 years old, which is above the 70-year average lifespan of Filipinos.

The vitamin advertisement “Bawal magkasakit” strikes at the core of the bitter reality that the average senior citizen eventually dies poor in our country – no thanks to expensive medicine and hospitalization.

Comforting myself with sweet memories of youth, I wondered, “Where have all the good old days gone?”

Back home, I listened to a recorded song sung by Glen Campbell, “Yesterday When I was Young,” and let its lyrics seep through:

“I never stopped to think what life was all about. And every conversation that I can recall concerned itself with me, and nothing else at all…”

I replayed in my memory a few lines of “The Young Ones” which was popularized by Cliff Richard in the 1960s:

“The young ones shouldn’t be afraid to live, love while the flame is strong. For we may not be the young ones very long.”

I had to accept I am no longer a young one but a “young once.”

Shifting to a grateful mood, I remembered what King David had said about the “bonus years” awarded to men who stay alive after age 70: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten, and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow, for it is soon cut off and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).

Journalists may opt to stay active after retirement age. And so while it has already been 54 years since 1970 when I started writing for a living, I hate to stop because one’s brain is as good as his muscles. Use it, or lose it.

I checked my memory for confirmation that my brain was still in place, recalling that time when I had forgotten my email address.

I mentally recalled the names of my classroom teachers. I succeeded in naming all my teachers in the elementary grades but not all in high school and college. I wondered whether early memories die last.

On second thought, I am still luckier than some of my classmates who have gone ahead to Kingdom Come.

I can still recall those days with my aging great grandfather, the late Catalino Balonon, who once asked me, a preschool kid in the 1950s, to accompany him to visit the grave of his wife Felipa.

At the cemetery was another old man, his friend Cente.

Lolo Catalino turned to him, saying, “Better to have lived and died than not to have lived at all.”

Those words still ring in my senior ears as a food for thought.