Aging gracefully was something that I had aspired to achieve in my lifetime. I silently ridicule the fifty-some year old males that I see driving little sports cars. I laugh when I see their hair dyed jet black, hip-hop music blaring over their radio, and much younger ‘eye candy’ giggling in the passenger seat. I just cannot bring myself to try and fool people into believing that I am younger than I really am. I do not dye my hair or buy age-defying wrinkle creams. I don’t try and dress like I am 25 again. I don’t close down the bars and then show up to work bragging about how hungover I am. Not only does that sound like a lot of work, where is the dignity in having to create an illusion that I am younger than I really am?
The vast majority of my co-workers are half my age…literally. As the elder statesmen for my company, I constantly get teased with comments like, “Hey gramps,” or, “Isn’t it time to change your Depends?” or my favorite, “I bet going to a nursing home is like going to the strip club for you.” I usually fire back with comments like, “Take the pacifier out of your mouth so I can understand you,” or, “Can you get into your booster seat all by yourself or do you need help?” or, “If we hurry back to the station you can still watch Sponge Bob.” For the most part it is good natured ribbing. At least I hope that is what it is. Admittedly, though, I have become very sensitive about my age and the jokes do hurt sometimes, no matter how hard I try to laugh it off.
The ambulance service that I work for is fairly busy (10-12 calls per 12 hour shift). As an older person working in EMS (ancient by most EMS standards), I have had to come to terms with the stark possibility that my age is becoming a factor. The aches and pains are starting to add up and making the job more difficult. By the end of the week, after I have logged 50-60 hours, I am whipped.
Enter the denial phase.
When I started to notice the affect this job was having on me physically, I wanted there to be a logical reason…besides my age. I started keeping track of some things, because I was unwilling to admit to myself that my body had truly reached a point to where I might need to cry uncle. I calculated that we lift an average collective patient weight of 1,775 pounds per 12 hour shift. This is in addition to the repeated lifting and carrying of an airway bag, cardiac monitor, and medication bag up and down steps, and in and out of the ambulance. I decided that such a physical workout would make anyone tired, yet my younger partners never seemed to be affected. I found myself making a conscious effort not to grimace or limp or otherwise complain about the aches and pains around my co-workers, and that is when I realized that I was no better than the guys going through the midlife crisis; I was trying to create the illusion that I am younger than I really am.
I do not want to be too old to do this job. Not yet. I still very much enjoy being a part of the solution. But am I making a fool of myself? Is it time to move on and let the kids take over? Am I risking my health and well-being simply to prove to the world that I can still do this job? At what point is pride crossing the line into stupidity? Regardless, I will continue until the day that my physical limitations are inhibiting my ability to provide good patient care. The youngsters I work with will just have to deal with my gray hair, my love of retro music, my unwillingness to ‘twitter’ every five minutes, and my disdainful comments about their tattoos and piercings. If they don’t like it then I will give them their Ovaltine and put them down for a nap.