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Ageing dogs – new tricks?

Listening to the footballer Michael Owen on breakfast TV recently was fascinating.

He's always been highly competitive not least with himself. He spoke of his struggles to deal with the psychology of getting older and not being the man he once was.

As a footballer, this was due to his body no longer being able to do what it could and consequent injuries. He had to admit he couldn't outsprint the younger guys. His stamina was not what it was, and his joints and muscles were letting him down.

He told of the reaction from one of his famous senior colleagues accusing him of being idle, overpaid and lazy. The guy used to be a friend but when the going got tough…perhaps not so much a friend.

How do we deal with the passing of years? Can we accept our ageing?

A few years ago, the realisation that my once perfect vision was deteriorating hit me hard. I hid the fact for a while because I thought it would stop my flying career. I needed glasses! The point I was having double vision when tired was a requirement for a prism and not that unusual! Then along came the heart condition – turned out to be a wiring problem solved by a pacemaker! Even retained my private pilots' licence through all this.

But underpinning it was a fundamental undermining of my self-confidence. A denial that I was mortal. You see, I'd barely been ill in my charmed life. Case of flu, bitten by an African tick one time in the Kruger Park in South Africa (moral – don't walk through long grass with shorts on!), chickenpox as a kid, but nothing serious.

You see, both my parents died comparatively young by today's standards. Father at 66 from a heart attack having had a stroke a couple of years before. Mother the next year from a recurrence of cancer aged but 61. I'm well beyond those years already. Suddenly I didn't feel like superman.

I've just been to the fabulous English Lake District again. Managed plenty of good walking and climbing and I'm reasonably fit for my age. But probably time to admit I won't scale Scafell Pike again. I could do it I'm sure, but don't kid myself. Coming to terms with that can be a struggle for some of us to accept. Michael Owen has had to face it at a much younger age – he isn't even 40 yet!

Generally, as we age, we gain more experience and knowledge and, to some extent, skills improve. However, there comes the point when our dexterity begins to wane. Also, perhaps some of those riskier things we used to enjoy are replaced by a more considered approach. I have become a slower (fractionally), more considerate driver, albeit still way above average of course!

With passing years, sometimes the air of authority grows, although of course, we are highly approachable. But in colleagues' minds, there may be a tendency to trust, possibly too much? "Don't worry about Trev, he's been doing this for years, he knows what he's doing …"!

Life is competitive. We need that balance of confidence without arrogance that I've mentioned before. "I'm not difficult to approach, I'm just damn good at my job, the best in fact."

Where is this going? Well, it's made me wonder about some of the problematic behaviours I see and hear about – in healthcare. Three times recently, I've been asked to come and help organisations where they are experiencing uncivil behaviour. In particular, in each case, with tutors of junior doctors.

Just because we experienced abuse when we were young ourselves does, in no way, excuse us doing the same. Although that is exactly what I heard from a foreign female doctor tutor last week.

I will return to this theme in a future blog. But in the short term, perhaps look in the mirror.

How do senior medics cope with getting older? What's the famous old saying? Physician heal thyself!

Communication and Perspective
Safety 2 to the core