I was once told by one of my lecturers that there are 2 professions which would always be in demand in our little island down south and if we do well and climb all the way up in these two professions, we would never be out of jobs. He mentioned teaching and gerontology, which actually took me by a little by surprise, because I had half expected him to say ‘teaching and social work for Malay issues/social problems’, the latter which never seems to end, but then again, I digress.
Anyway, we know that there will always be a job in the teaching profession. Whether it attracts the right kind of people is a different story altogether, but it is a job that would not go ‘out of business’ for as long as there is humanity needed to be educated.
However, ‘Gerontology‘ is not the common term on the streets. You can hear children saying ‘I want to be a teacher, a soldier, a pilot, a baker..’ But I have not heard any child, or even young adults fighting for those coveted places in the universities to have said ‘I want to be a gerontologist’.
Gerontology (from Greek: γέρων, geron, “old man” and -λογία, -logy, “study of”) is the study of the social, psychological and biological aspects of aging. It is distinguished from geriatrics, which is the branch of medicine that studies the disease of the elderly
Hence someone who studies gerontology becomes a gerontologist, the antithesis to child psychology ( although eventually from my experience over the weekend, there are many similarities in both, which I will go into later).
Last Friday I made a quick dash back home to Singapore right after subuh prayers. The day before, I received an update from my mum that my nyai- (my paternal grandmother and the only surviving grandparent I have left), who was warded in the hospital a couple of days earlier suspected of mild stroke.
I knew then that what I wanted, more than anything else, was to be back and see for myself, instead of relying on sms and FB updates from family members back home. So that Friday afternoon, although I did surprise everyone for appearing in the hospital without notice, I was surprised myself with what greeted me upon arrival at ward 35.
The hand which once upon a time rocked my cradle. She once upon a time rocked my world but over the weekend, she was, to put it simply–another patient in that ward full of senior citizens her age and all of their geron issues. I stayed in the ward for most of Friday, since I arrived at noon and I observed the whole ward. Each elderly was with their own ailments, bedridden and there were a few who had gone back to being like little children.
With my Nyai being the exception, for she had constant supply of visiting children and grandchildren, I observed that the few others in the wards were not so lucky. Some were just left there and for the two days I had taken the shift to babysit nyai, I observed that some of her other ward mates had no visitors at all. They were left there all alone, in the hands of the nurses, staring into space, sleeping, waking up and sleeping again. One of them communicated by moaning her pains, another one watched my nyai and another– too weak to even smile.
It was at that moment I suddenly remembered my lecturer’s words, that the gerontology industry would never ‘run out business’. Strong and mighty with youth on our side, we all know that it would not last forever. For the lucky ones, some would be called back to be with HIM before we reach the age where all of our faculties fail us. But for many such as the people in this ward, the nursing homes or even in home care–their faculties, especially when their mental and physical abilities fail them before their times are up, and taking care of them is painfully difficult.
I grew up shuttling between Jalan Eunos and Kaki Bukit, both of my grandparents’ houses then. At the Jalan Eunos house, I watched my mother’s sisters taking care of my maternal grandmother who suffered from whole body stroke. She was wheelchair bound and the only parts of her body she could move were her neck and her eyes. Her speech was slurred and she communicated by just voicing out the slurs. Young as I was, I remembered seeing that it was tough for my aunts. Both them and nenek were frustrated at times and I saw that their level of patience was super high, to be able to take care of a wheelchair bound elderly which had become a toddler all over again.
And that memory, resurfaced over the weekend. This time, I had the chance to be in my aunt’s shoes, only that to my last surviving grandmother, nyai. And just for the weekend, I found it so exhausting, not to mention sometimes frustrating.
Now that I am back, in the comforts of my own home-office, basking in whatever energy youth still has for me, I came to reflect upon a few things. Firstly, I have a newfound respect for ALL nurses and doctors and especially those whose duties are to care for the elderlies. These are indeed the unsung heroes of our society. In my education industry, we are focused in moulding the future of our nation/world. But these doctors and nurses of the elderlies take care of the people of the past, who have built our present.
Next, I was humbled by the fact that no matter how high and mighty we may be right now, there would come a point of time that we would have to depend on someone, when we are unable to take care of ourselves. And in this light, bless those who have raised their children well, who are able to take care of them towards the end of their lifetime. Both my grandmothers was and is such lucky ones.
Lastly, I pray that as independent as I am now, I hope that when I reach that stage where I can no longer take care of myself, HE will send along my way, the ones with patience to spare. The biggest test in taking care of the elderlies is in the patience department, and in this day and age, patience is no longer a virtue but seen more as a bane. And this, I suspect–is the very reason why the gerontology industry is always open for recruitment.