Stuttering Longevity! When to shut the tap?

A couple of years back, I had written a blog titled “Longevity bane or boon!” The link for the blog is given below.  In a couple of years, our thought processes change, situations change, more information becomes available. The present blog can be considered as an addendum to the old blog.

Last fifty to seventy years have seen life expectancy go up and up and up! Obvious reasons for this are better medical treatment, higher incomes allowing families to afford treatments for managing illnesses. Add to this better diagnostics and a better understanding of the diseases. Life has become interesting; knowledge about exercise and diets is also improving. All this has led to improved longevity.

But everything in life always has two sides. The sides are good and evil, rosy and dark. Like the pros and cons, we have a positive way of looking at things and a negative way of looking at things. One important aspect of humans is emotions. The human brain is supposedly more advanced than that of most species, and it is seemingly flexible in thinking. Hence we look at death and maybe death like situation, in a different way.

Are we practical in our thinking? Are we pragmatic in our thinking? In most cases, the answer is no! In the last couple of months, three persons known to me, between the age of 67 to 75, died “suddenly”! The 75-year old person was leading a bonus life as he had escaped the death a few years back, miraculously. Another person did die “suddenly” as we knew her quite well and know the details. She had normal health issues which never indicated she is passing shortly. Then there was one more “sudden” death! We never knew his “real” health situation, but he looked quite unwell about ten days back. I am talking about my neighbours from the condo where I lived for 35 years of my life! Out of the three, two looked normal, moved around or travelled unattended. They attended our society meetings and took part in the proceedings.

My point is would their close ones, or they have a preferred death after they got into full assist mode? Knowing them, I do not think they would have liked to live a life where they were dependent on someone else all the time. Am I talking of euthanasia? Yes and No! What is the point in being around in this world when you do not and cannot contribute anything? By contribution, I do not mean writing some stories or treaties. But live life with minimum assistance. No harm in taking help but if you need help like we help babies to grow, then it is not worth it. I may be a little blunt, and you may think I am crude and rude! But I am not, I am pragmatic! Would an “intelligent” human being like to live like a stuttering engine? Would someone splutter all the time and love to continue living? I don’t think so!

Sometimes, it is the near and dear ones who take decisions leading to such situations. Emotions take precedence over pragmatism. Medical practitioners take Hippocratic oath when they complete their degree. I am giving below the definition of Hippocratic oath!

The Hippocratic Oath is a symbol of a collective moral and ethical promise from doctors united in a singular purpose to bring healing to their patients. It is named after Hippocrates, a Greek physician who was born in 460 BC.

This oath ensures that the doctors try their best to save the life of the patient who has come to them for the treatment. The oath in today’s times becomes a double-edged tool. Many times it so happens that patient is taken in for condition A and then condition B evolves. Since doctors are under the Hippocratic Oath, they try different drugs, procedures and support systems to keep the patient alive. At this point, the moral dilemma starts. How much intervention should be done to keep the patient alive? What aspects should be pondered until the decisions are taken? Doctor’s Hippocratic Oath is on one side, the family’s moral conflict and trauma are on the other side! These two conflicting thoughts clash. In real life, they don’t clash. The family tries to decide in such a way that life is not lost, though it is hanging by a single thread!

I remember an incident many years back shared by a doctor with me. A friend called him early morning for advice. The person’s father was in a hospital, all of 88 years of age. He was kept alive by use of a ventilator for a month. Hippocratic Oath and commercial side of the hospital wanted to continue the treatment. The prognosis was weak, and doctors had said that without ventilator the patient would die in 24 hours. The emotional turmoil of the family was not allowing practical decision. The friend finally decided to remove the ventilator. The old man died in 12 hours. The friend was caught in an emotional whirlpool for a lifetime, thinking “I am responsible for the death”!

What is the right age to allow someone to die without intervention? How does one know that the health condition is irreversible? How to know when to let go?  These questions arise, and they need to be answered. Else one may see a top-notch professional, a top-class cricketer or a dashing prime minister of a nation being kept alive in a condition which is traumatic even to know!

Discussion brings one to the good old question of who should look after whom? In the ordinary course of time, parents look after the children once they are born. They are looked after until the child becomes independent. When does a child become independent? Do we have an answer for that? When life expectancy was low, humans would support their children for almost 35 to 40 % of the child’s life span. In other species, this support could be there for about 10 to 15% of their life span. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage? To me, it is more emotional. Because of low life expectancy, the children did not have to look after their parents. Nowadays it is common to have “children” who are 50 and parents around 80. Is it children’s responsibility to look after their parents? This thought goes against the basic thinking of how we want our children to be!

Yesterday at a mall, Rhea and I were going to an escalator. I jokingly told her that I am not very confident about using the escalator. She “taught” me how to do it! That is how she has been brought up. I had a similar anecdote with my grandson Suyash. He was 2 ½ years old. I was seeing him for the first time;  we went to the escalator he simply said, “I want to go up”!  He did.

Confidence with which the children and grandchildren are brought up, the things we teach them are done for a specific reason. We want them to try to do better than what we have achieved in our lives. We want them to become better persons; we want them to become global citizens with no limits. Then we become 80, do we want them to come where ever we are living, to support us? In India, systems for handling old people are still evolving. Society will find a way of doing these things. What is the point in restricting the career path of children so that they can look after us in our old age? The same question again, what is old age? When does one reach that age?

In conclusion, I can say that each individual handles life in a certain way. There can be hired support or system support. But it is not correct or mandatory for near and dear ones to give up everything whatever they are doing, to help parents in old age. The simple reason for this is we don’t know how long the help will be needed. But I am quite sure that the near and dear ones will shed a tear or two when one is gone; they do not need to feel guilty for not being around.


Strange are the ways!



 Pramod somehow managed to make Internet Genie run at the high speed that was expected of him. Genie as usual started narrating a story. He started with a question, “Pramod today I am going to share some incidents and I want you honest answer, Ok?” Pramod knew that if he uttered a word, Genie would slip out of his control and system will hang! So Pramod did not give any reply to what Genie asked.

As usual Genie kept on talking. Pramod, when you were in school, there used to be a  Cricket commentator called Vizy, Maharaj kumar of Vijaya Nagaram. If there were an award for most boring commentator, he would have won it hands down. You were listening to the commentary and Vizy was telling some boring story on the lines of, “In 1936, when I was in England…” he kept on talking and talking. In between 2/3 times you heard sudden crowd noise in the background. Vizy kept on talking, then his co commentator suggested, “Vizy should we update our listeners about today’s match?” He said, “Ok, I will update.” He coolly said, “In the meanwhile India has lost three wickets!” Pramod, was it not a strange way to handle the situation? Did Vizy forget that he was there to explain the match to listeners and not talk only about his nostalgia?

Pramod, this incident is a bit serious! You were chatting to a friend who had gone on a holiday to Europe, along with a group of friends! When you asked how the tour was? He said, “Fantastico!” Obviously, they had visited Italy too! Then he told you about St Moritz, Lucerne and many such lovely places. All in all, they were extremely happy with the experience! You had heard that there was a mishap on the tour. So, you asked about it. He said, “Oh! So and so died as he had a stroke and hemorrhage on the bus while we were in the middle of nowhere!”  My worry is about “Fantastico”. How can one say that tour was Fantastico when someone from the group died! Pramod, was it not a strange way to react to a sad event?

Pramod, this is even stranger issue as it was the way things were handled by a group of Professionals. A friend of yours had a massive heart attack; next day doctors declared that patient’s heart was working at 18/20%. Doctors said that even if he survived, he would be left completely bed ridden. Next strange action was that he was put on a ventilator for 3 weeks. Obviously nothing was improving. Then they took a decision to perform the bye pass surgery and convinced the family how it is essential! Next day the surgery was performed. Result. Doctors came out and said, “ Surgery is successful!” After four hours they declared, “The patient died; his body could not handle the surgery!” Pramod, is this not a very strange way of handling the situation? That too by professionals. They performed the bye pass surgery only from commercial angle!

Pramod, last one is even stranger. A person died and he was a non believer. Cremation was done without any religious stuff. Then you were told that there  will be pooja on 13th day. This was a surprise to you. When you went for pooja, you found that there was a big religious stuff planned. Thoughts about the person who died and his immediate family be damned! The reason, there was a marriage in the extended family in a couple of months. The dark shadows formed because of death were to be thwarted. Who cares about the thought process of the person who died? Pramod, can anything be stranger than this? Tell me why people behave in such a strange way?

Pramod, I want your reply on this as I know you have strong views!! Pramod just could not keep quiet. He said, “Genie, you have told me so many incidents, I have to give you an explanation, incident wise.  Ok, Vizy was an old guy and in his own world. That a few wickets fell in between did not really matter. But in the case of European tour, how can the response be Fantastico?  Tour must have been terrible, post the death of a person from the group! The response should have been “Europe was good, but we had a very sad experience due the death of a friend on the tour”! In the case of the heart patient, the doctors should have advised the family that nothing more could be done. They should have allowed the patient to die peacefully! In the last incident, if people cannot honour the wishes of the dead then I don’t know what type of family are they?”

With this statement Pramod broke the golden rule of silence that Genie had locked him in.  At that instant Genie slipped out of Pramod’s grasp. Genie’s speed became equivalent of 2 G and the system hung!  Genie could not help but make a passing remark before escaping. “Pramod I agree with you, but what has world come to! Is there no humanity left?”


Prepare for Golden period!

Humans retire from their formal work between age 58 in some countries to no age limit in other countries. (This indicates till you can perform efficiently.) We have seen in country like Japan where people in their 70’s are advising many business teams.  In fact they are expected to do that. There will be some percentage of people who will be exceptionally fit both mentally as well as physically even after 70. But the general law of the nature is that age starts playing its role. But at some stage, you do retire and then your day to day activities pattern changes drastically.

Life style change in human beings on retirement can be pretty humbling! No, I am not talking about the money but the change in mental set-up needed is pretty drastic. It can be equivalent to some people, who are pilots for Boeing 787, to switch to flying single seated Cessna to sprinkle pesticides! During working phase, humans are so busy that they don’t find time to do many things. It is as good as putting away your time, in a bank recurring deposit. While in working phase, every month or every year, everybody must have felt that he should have had 15 days more to take his holidays, play with children, or spend time with spouse. This negative time balance accumulated and its volume, depends on each individual. Some of us were exceptionally busy and some moderately busy but I am sure there always has been a deficit of time. As and when you retire, this recurring deposit of time is automatically returned back to your account with interest.

Similarly your responsibilities, your capabilities start going down, over a period, on retirement. How do you handle this?  Our old age stage is like that of big organization which over a period has reached a stage where it is no more a dominant force. Its resources and abilities have reduced substantially. Retired human beings are like such organizations. In retirement phase it is not what you do in that phase but how you react to circumstances around you is important. Circumstances keep on changing rapidly, and you may not have control on most of them. 

In retirement phase try to look at the rivers to guide us. Rivers keep on moving at their own speed defined by geography. They flood when there is too much water and are not afraid to come out of their confines, the banks. People throw junk in them but they keep on flowing. When there is rain deficit or shortfall they simply dry up, they always change to suit the circumstances. Most important is the river always goes forward! No regrets!

Perceptions shape emotional well-being. Previously when I used to go for my walks, I would be upset if someone overtook me that is how I am made up. But now even if person 10 years senior overtakes me, I simply don’t bother and keep on walking at my own pace, smiling. You might see a senior person fitter, smiling and less wrinkled. Don’t get worried, everyone is made differently. In such cases go and talk to that person and discuss how he manages these things. The main mantra is health is wealth!

Look for authentic happiness in retirement. A bit of planning before retirement might help. What is authentic happiness? Your grandchildren can really give you a high and to every individual they are authentic happiness. But there is big trap there! They don’t remain four year old all the time! They grow and they may move to other cities or countries depending on their parent’s decisions. So this can’t be life time solution. Try to be with nature as much as possible. Try to spend as much time with spouse as possible. Try with to be with friends.

This new phase of your life is no different from previous phases of your life. You bring to the table your strengths and weaknesses; you face challenges and have opportunities. Now as you have before, plan accordingly. I encourage you to be forward thinking and realistic about what retirement means for you. For millions of us the new retirement means re-thinking and re-shaping our retirement plans. Work on it, it’s in your hands! Always be positive, and be active as long as possible!

I had created a list of points from practical point of view, for my friends. I am using the same as I felt that this will be useful to all. If you think of any other important point which I may have missed please let me know, I will add to the list. Happy golden period!

 1.       Self-Analysis: It was felt that our understanding about ourselves in working phase is based on opinion of other people around you. In work environment people may say very good things about you on face, for their benefit, and we start believing it. It is possible that same great boss may be a very different person in home environments. So we should self-analyze ourselves in a detached way. All warts and kinks could be displayed in the mirror when you decide to have a close look at yourself.

2.       Time on hand: After one fully retires from professional work the same 24 hours stretch really long; these same 24 hours were never enough during working phase. It is fine to say you can start hobbies, and will try to finish your bucket list and so on. But 24 hours and 365 days is real large time when retired. Plan your day, days or weeks in such a way that you have something to look forward to, daily! A friend has taken housing society work full time so has always looking forward to something. Another friend has bought a train pass from Thane to VT. As and when he finds it suitable, he travels by train at off peak hours. He just observes as life passes by and sees very interesting things especially the way young folks handle their lives. A friend has taken up to compering  musical programs but as an amateur!Don’t forget that in this phase you are going spend maximum time with your spouse! How about going with wife to buy grocery? How about going with her to buy a dress once in a while? How about learning to say sorry! Good to see smile on your face but these things will now become very important. You and your wife have never spent so much time together lately!

3.       Hobbies: Try and cultivate hobbies. You may already have them and there can many new ones. Discuss with your friends about what they are doing. Collect information about family and try to compile history as a hobby. Cultivate hobby of talking to friends who stay far from you, these days communication is almost free. Believe me when you talk to your long lost friend both will definitely feel happy. Sometime back I was looking for contact of a very dear friend from school days. The person who could finally give the details suggested to me that our friend has become a bit of a recluse so don’t get disappointed if he doesn’t talk for long. We ended up talking for one hour to start with! 

4.       Don’t be in denial: Think positively is the mantra for everything these days. You want to enjoy your golden period to the fullest but lack of planning can really disturb the bandwagon!  Thinking of ten years hence is also a very positive way of looking at life. How will our health condition be at the age of 80? No point in saying we will take it as it comes. Add to positivity by not going into denial! Things are going to change and it can be a good idea to be prepared for it. You may physically act at a later date but planning will always help. You will be able to enjoy your remaining life in peace if you have planned things. We always say, “I don’t want to be on ventilator, ever”! How will you achieve it if you are in denial, and don’t accept that this can happen to you too, so plan it! Supreme Court is strongly discussing about “Living Will” currently.

5.       General Health: It is important to keep general health as good as practical. If you are regular traveler make sure that you can lift and keep your bags in the upper bins. At airports, train stations a lot of walking is needed, so make sure you walk daily at some distance. At the same time just because distance is large, don’t opt for wheel chair at the airports unless you have a specific health issue. This act will allow negativity to creep in. Eat correctly and only as per your body needs. Each individual has a need for different diet as per conditions, follow them to keep healthy! Body, Mind and Intellect is what forms our body. With age, body is going to have difficulties but keeping mind and intellect intact is in our hands. (All my statements are subject to no health issues!)

6.       Desensitize yourself: By no means am I suggesting that you go away from emotions. What I mean by desensitize yourself is to try to stop worrying about your children, grand-children. We have hopefully done a good job of raising our children and they in turn will do the same! At our current age our children are old enough to manage the ups and downs in life and their children’s lives! I have read of a theory where you, your siblings and parents were in the inner most circle, to start with. As you grew, started your career, got married, you and spouse came in the innermost circle. The cycle goes on, so when your children get married they have their inner circle and you are in the outer circle. Get sensitized to this concept. 8 to 10 % of the couple’s world over are childless. They have their own issues as they grow old. They need to have their own “family”. I am not an expert in this subject but my thinking would be “family” should be of people much younger to us. Everything comes down to have having a close inner circle!

7.       Financial Matters: Make sure that there are no complex investments because we want to make life simpler. Make arrangements such that life is easy for next generation after you and your spouse.

8.       Take safety precautions: As we grow older possibility of slipping and falling down increase. Chances of our tripping while doing mundane things like changing trousers increase. Once we go into the bone related spin, life can become pretty complex. Regular exercise will assist in reaching this aim of not falling down.

To summarize growing older is inevitable, but there are many things we can do to avoid feeling older. Medical breakthroughs have and will extend our longevity, but how we decide to live as we age is crucial. Downsize your life in whatever possible way. Managing our physical health, maintaining relationships, being productive, taking safety precautions, visiting our health care providers often, and making adequate preparations to fund our retirement and long term care can help us make the most of our senior years.