Time was, when the NHS was but a twinkle in Bevan’s eye, old age was seen as a personal achievement.
A tribute to man’s ability to overcome capricious nature. The old had sidestepped the mortality rates of infantile disease, dodged the bullets of war, quickstepped through a working life of gruesome dangers unimaginable in today’s world of health and safety, and emerged as wrinkled, gnarled and toothless seers, ever present in the family home to reassure the next generation that they too might reach that esteemed state of being able to say and do as you please, waited on by the young, cherished and preserved as totems to warn nature that it could not always expect to win. The good luck talisman seated in the best armchair closest to the fire.
The NHS has transformed our view of the aged. Old age is now accredited as the result of advanced medical science, something accidentally doled out in the name of equality, by technicians researching ways of keeping us younger, fitter, more beautiful – for ever. It is collateral damage in the war against disease and imperfection. An unfortunate by-product of the modern age. More than that, an unwelcome reminder that despite all the research grants, we still face a future that is not as taut, as shapely, as enticing, as wholesome and desirable as we have been promised – and we do not wish to be reminded. Seeing the elderly is as much a shock to our collective conscience as seeing a broken down Rolls Royce by the side of the road. We want them under a tarpaulin, discretely removed under cover of darkness, taken somewhere on the edge of town, tended by we care not, but out of our sight.
We treat the near dead as we once treated the entirely dead – an unfortunate example of failure, to be shrouded like Victorian table legs, lest they shock the young. It is no surprise that we expect the NHS to take care of its own failures. It is, after all, they who have stolen ownership of the achievement of old age. We expect them to dispose of our half formed fœtuses, remove our ill-advised tattoo, or indeed, our penis, if such should take our fancy; they are the universal dustmen of our delusion that life is Utopian, ours to command. In the process the elderly have become the lepers of modern society.
We no longer bury the elderly with their lifetime’s possessions for their exclusive use in the next world; we don’t believe in a ‘next world’, we don’t even believe that they should have exclusive use of their possessions in ‘this world’. ‘Their possessions’ have been transformed into ‘our inheritance’, and we are not prepared to wait for death to be the arbiter of the totality of ‘our inheritance’.
The NHS pay handsome compensation for their other failures; the less than perfect child, the unwanted child that defiantly insisted on being born, the reshaped waistline that had an unwanted bulge; why should they expect us to pay for their failure to keep us young and healthy? We demand compensation.
When they admit defeat, when they can no longer patch up the sagging folds of skin, when the pig’s heart valve comes to the end of its pig’s heart lifespan, the corrosive acids will no longer dissolve the age spots, the plastic hip refuses to bend to hip hop dancing, they try to return Grandma to us. An terrifying reminder of their incompetence. A cantankerous old lady who thinks Tuesday is Wednesday and can’t remember to pull her knickers up, so we rebel, and demand that she be ‘buried’ in a discrete elder camp, to spend her days half listening to Jeremy Kyle, sitting in a circle with the other NHS failures, trying to remember what it was like being a human being. Toiletted, if she is lucky, at prescribed times. Denuded of her fags and that tot of whiskey. Clad in the clothing of long departed residents. Fed on a budget more proscriptive than any eaked out pension.
We recoil with horror at the idea that she might take some of her possessions with her. What? Sell her house, the one whose value we have been checking on Zoopla week in, week out; the house we had planned to sell to pay for our basement swimming pool and multi media room; the house that was going to buy us a life of ease and early retirement in the Dordogne? The NHS want her to sell the house she is no longer living in and use some of the money to feed and care for their failure to keep her young and spritely?
Outrageous! This is a tax on aspiration. An insult to materialistic families everywhere. Only the Tories could come up with such a heartless proposal.
Ad nauseum, ad nauseum.