An act of bravery

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Let’s play the writing game. Here’s my first effort at responding to a daily writing prompt

 

She slowly began to emerge from the delicious haze of semi-wakefulness and dreams of her youth and, ever the optimist, turned to her side to begin her day. But every bone in her 92 year old body rebelled against her efforts, trying to drag her soul into the same abyss of pain she faced daily, and would only grow worse with each passing month. Summoning up courage far greater than any of those who summited Everest, or who brought home Olympic gold, she began her day. Breakfast first. A little light cleaning. Lunch. A few more chores. Over to extended care to spend the afternoon with her husband of 68 years, who sometimes remembered her. Home. A few more chores, Bed, Sleep. Wake. Repeat.

This is the life of the true brave; the life of those we often ignore, writing off as being old and useless.  We do not worship them; we do not thank them for their years of forging the way so we can live in the style we want. We do not see what they once were; we see only frailty and weakness. Yet most of us could not muster the same courage they must do every single day, every single movement, every single moment. This is the life of the golden years – the reality of growing old and living with chronic pain.  These are the people who deserve our hero-worship.  These are the hoardes of seniors who every single day show truly unusual acts of bravery more deserving of respect than those who foolishly risk their lives chasing windmills on the likes of Mount Everest.

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A letter to our health minister

Dear Ms. Hoffman:

I am a relatively health 59 year old woman who suffers from severe osteoarthritis of my hip. I have therefore unfortunately entered the endless cycle of waiting for surgical services in Alberta.   I am trying to understand why our wait times are so long, but am having an extremely difficult time finding the right information to explain this backlog.  According to my doctor and other front line medical workers, the waits are not due to a lack of staff or facilities. Instead, they are due to a lack of funding for surgeries.  Again, I have a difficult time understanding this lack of funding when we have such a healthy budget for healthcare in our province. As you are aware, our province spends $21.4 billion per year on healthcare, or over 45% of the total provincial budget.

I beg of you to please find a way to streamline our system. I know I am just one of the thousands of Albertans who are forced to give up on our dreams, change our lives, and sit back and wait for help for what ails us.  I must face the reality of changing my life from a very active and involved community member to someone sidelined by pain. Instead of spending my early retirement years fearlessly taking on new adventures and challenges, volunteering for community events, and so on, I now must face different challenges. Simple tasks have become difficult.  Instead of taking pride in parking in the farthest spot from the shopping mall’s doorway so I could get in a few extra steps, I am now looking for a small store with parking close to the door so I can handle the trek in and out of the store. Shopping malls are becoming my enemy, as they are too large to navigate.    I now look for a grocery store that has free shopping carts near the doorway so I can lean on the cart while I shop. Instead of going about my daily activities without even a second thought, Going to the bank, taking care of the house, and taking care of the yard have become activities that I have to think carefully about so I can find the most pain-free way to get them done.  In other words, at less than 60 years old, I have joined the army of seniors with  mobility challenges.

Not only are my daily activities now more difficult, but my health is challenged.

Last year I was very active. I managed to lose weight, reduce my cholesterol and blood pressure, and become a very healthy Albertan, other than what was then moderate arthritis. But this year, reduced mobility is starting to take a toll. When I do walk, my gait is misaligned so my other joints are stressed. I feel my knee and foot starting to suffer. I believe that by the time I have surgery, I will have seriously damaged my other hip, knees, and feet from the stress put on them when I try to compensate for a sore hip.  I also am finding it difficult to maintain a high fitness level, leaving me vulnerable to other health challenges.  In my opinion, the longer I wait for surgery, the more of a burden I will become to the health care system because of problems resulting from dealing with the pain.

I also ask you to consider the overall decline in my quality of life resulting from an outrageous wait for surgery.  I had all sorts of plans for my early retirement years, including finding rewarding part-time work and volunteer activities.  I  worked hard my whole life so that I could fulfill them. But most of these are now gone.  From start to finish, this process will take over two years, including the basic recovery time. I will have lost some of the prime years for reaching my dreams. As an Albertan who has actively contributed to our economy and society, I find this possibility very depressing.

Yes, I know you can argue that I can still find a rewarding life – and yes, I can still be involved in many things, and offer a positive contribution to our society. And yes, I know my problems are small compared to many other very ill Albertans.  And you would be right. But  that doesn’t mean my plight should be minimized or rationalized. .  The ridiculously long wait system has robbed me of my choices, of my plan for my life.   I am the one who has to deal with the pain every time I take a step, or move my leg. I am the one who has to deal with a lack of  sleep  difficult because it is difficult to get comfortable at night. I am the one who has to look longingly at those who simply walk pain free to the neighbour’s house for a visit. I am the one of the many who has to suffer while we hopefully wait for that magical phone call from the surgeon’s office saying that they finally have a date for surgery.    I ask you to consider those of us who suffer daily with pain while we wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, and the wait some more, for help from our health care system.  I beg of you to find a way to make our system more efficient so that people like me are not face with interminable waits for so-called elective procedures.

I ask you to consider the following information, which I am sure is typical of the thousands of Albertans like me who are stuck in our system. Look at our wait times and ask yourself what you can do to make this insanity stop.  http://waittimes.alberta.ca/

FYI – here’s the timeline of my wait:

Date of  my initial referral from frontline practitioner:  January 16

Date of Diagnostic X-Ray – February 21

Date of Diagnosis through Chinook Bone and Joint Clinic – March 16

Date of Initial Surgeon Appointment: June

Probable number of weeks before surgery after June appointment: 48 – 60 (10 – 14 months)

Total anticipated wait time from initial referral: 80 – 90 weeks, or 20 months, or almost 2 years.

Full recovery time – 6 months to 1 year

Total time lost:  As long as 2.5 to 3 years from initial referral to full recovery

Enough said.  Make it stop.

Connie Gross

“A Hurtin’ Albertan”

Alice doesn’t live here anymore….

It’s official.  Alice faces an eviction notice. Sometime in the next ten months Alice will be out of my life forever.  Recently she as caused me great pain and suffering. Her fickleness a robbed me of vitality . She has lulled me into a sense off fake hope, only to viciously turning me faster than Trump turned on his cronies.

Nevertheless,  I will be a little sad to see her go. She as been with me for many years, all my life in fact.  She supported me through childbirth,  bore the brunt of the burden on my Yukon adventure, and kept me company on a daily basis.  Before she turned nasty, she was there for me while I recently  finally grew into the person I always dreamed of being.

I didn’t think she paid much attention to me but obviously she was listening when,  I pronounced to the universe upon my retirement that I would try to “do it all” in the next 3 year, before my body gave out on me. Perhaps she was jealous and couldn’t stand to see my success. So, out of seer spite, over the last year, and true to my unfortunate prophecy,  she began to turn on me –  the nasty parasite. Her actions were insidious, building intensity slowly. I, like the proverbial frog in the frying pan, didn’t realize what she was doing until it was too late.  A little ache here, a sharp pain there, a grinding, popping noise everywhere – the symptoms soon grew in intensity. So much that a few months ago, she almost incapacitated me.

My harsh awakening came on while I was carrying out an otherwise mundane task one cool January day. Up until a few weeks before that date, I still dreamed of grand retirement adventures – hiking the West Coast Trail next summer, tackling the legendary El Camino trail with my sister, and of tackling the many mountain trails near our vacation property. No dream was too big for me – until Alice sought her revenge.

The need for Alice’s eviction smacked me in the face when I found myself in tears in the grocery aisle. I had to pick up  paper towels, but they were 5 rows away. I didn’t think I could walk that far, as I was debilitated by her pain. At that moment, I knew I had joined the legions of seniors who grasp desperately to their shopping carts for support the moment they enter a grocery store – who seek the parking spot closest to the door so they don’t have to walk so far. Who most certainly have no place on steep mountain trails.

Thus began my final journey to have Alice evicted – in other words, I knew I needed a new right hip. I decided to call my hip “Alice” so in a few months I can proudly declare “Alice doesn’t live here anymore”.

And it is now official. I am on the countdown. Sometimes in the next 10 months I will undergo a full hip replacement.  I know I will be fine once it is done, and my healing is complete.  But this disease has slowly robbed me of many retirement dreams. I waited too long to really run a marathon, too long to hike the West Coast Trail, too long to tackle many of the physical challenges I had dreamed of meeting.  I know I will have to find other dreams to replace these – and ultimately I will.  But in the meantime, I will allow myself a little time to mourn the change.  I have to face reality – that I am soon going to be 60 years old, and I have osteoarthritis  – a disease that will continue to slowly pick away at my physical vitality.  The dreams of my youth need to fade away and make room for dreams more suited to this new phase of life.

I’ve decided that a positive unanticipated outcome of our long healthcare waiting list is that it is giving me time to adapt to the change. I am having the proper mourning time to adjust to my new reality. I am slowly experiencing a gradual shift in outlook. I know I

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Alice couldn’t stop me from taking part in the World Master Games in Auckland, 2017

 

will still find metaphorical mountains to climb and will be just fine. In the meantime, i am trying to stay as active and healthy as I can so I have the strength to face what comes – and the desire to find a new reality that will be just as fulfilling as the one I thought I would have.

So, sometime in the next 10 months – watch for the final eviction notice.  Stay tuned!

You gotta be tough to be a senior

Growing old is not for the wimpy, the weak, or whiny. Aging is tough.  It steals your dreams and ambitions and saps your energy. It is simply stinking hard work.

I don’t know how my mom has lived through it. She is 88 years young, and suffers from severe osteoarthritis. She’s had two new knees and a hip, and is way overdo for more.  But alas, a few years ago she aged out.  A victim of the system, she was passed off again and again, told to come back next year – that her pain was simply bursitis.  Never mind that the arthritis that was the root cause of it.  Month long waits for calls simply to make appointments seeped into more weeks, then months before even being called to get on the list for an appointment.  Slowly, painfully, the time leached into two years before she even was taken seriously for a replacement.  But by then it was too late. She was too old and too weak.  Those years of inactivity lead to extra weight, and more joint problems exasperated by the extra burden. Soon high blood pressure reared its ugly head and she was doomed to an endless cycle of “You’re not quite bad enough yet. Come back in 6 months and we’ll see if you are ready. Although the doctors never came out and said a flat out “no”, we all knew she was being passed over. That her quality of life was measured by standards of statistics and numbers – that younger patients would get priority in an over-stressed health care system inundated with again boomers and their parents.   Now,  well over 10 years later the new hip is now old, the other hip is totally shot, and the knees are due for updates.  She is left with increasing low back pain, a horrible lop-sided limp that creates even more imbalances and pain, and no hope for any real relief.

Yet every day she gets up, plans what she will make for dinner, does some cleaning around the house, and takes part in her many volunteer activities.  She still drives the ladies to the monthly CNIB meeting, making sure they all get at least one outing each month.  She takes part in CWL activities, making phone calls to organize things when she can’t actually do the physical work anymore. This year she sent out almost 100 Christmas cards.  She checks her Facebook regularly on her “gadget” – the Samsung tablet we bought her last year.  She still makes family dinners – and would not hesitate to prepare something for anyone who stopped by.   Each day the arthritis robs a little more of her body, but never her spirit.  I rarely hear her complain. When she does, I know she must be in agony, 0r she wouldn’t say a word.

I want to have her spirit, but not her arthritis, when I “grow old”.  But I don’t think I can grow old as gracefully as her.  I don’t think I will have the stamina to tolerate the pain, the hopelessness, and the slow, ebbing away of my body.  I already feel somewhat hopeless. I know I have to downsize my grand adventure dreams to smaller, simpler goals such as making sure I exercise every day so I can face a set of stairs without fear.  So much for hopes of long, glorious hikes in the mountains.  My goals will now be a casual, relatively painless walk around our property.

Perhaps this is the adventure of aging – learning to accept the outwardly small accomplishments that are actually extremely monumental.  Mom’s daily journey in life is far more brave than any extreme athlete who strives to climb to the top of a mountain peak, or the runner who just completed an ultra marathon.   I am starting to believe that making dinner for a large family, or completing daily household tasks, or some days, simply getting out of bed when you hurt so bad that all you want to do is stay asleep.  Or putting on a smile and not  whining all day long about every ache and pain.  Yep, I am starting to re-define strength, courage, and physical stamina.

Right now I say the words, but am not sure I have fully accepted this new reality. But I’m trying. Today, while taking part in my curling game I began to realize that I need to cherish each time I am able to slide down the ice, or throw a rock from the hack and come slightly close to making my shot.  Pretty soon the arthritic pain I feel from activity will become greater than the benefit I get from curling – or other sports.  So, I need to learn to take each stride for what its worth.  Let my body learn to remember the feeling of gliding across the ice, of being part of a team success – of just being active.  You never know when it will all evaporate.

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Hurry Hard!
10865805_10152517351573045_3805404347596828530_oSo here’s to you, Mom.  You have taught me that growing old is not for the weak of heart.   May I have even a tenth of your strength and courage as I travel down the toughest adventure ever -growing old.

 

Rio Withdrawals

OK, I know it’s cheesey and politically incorrect “, but I am suffering from an Olympic-sized withdrawal from watching the Rio extravaganza.  Three weeks ago I promised myself I wouldn’t spend much time watching them; after all, our summer is so very short, why waste it sitting inside watching the elite group perform the impossible.  Besides, I should boycott watching them, after hearing all the controversy about Rio – corruption by the developers, unfair distribution of the Olympic costs and benefits, the deadly potential of the Zika virus, and the controversial ban of the Russian athletes.

I used to love watching the Olympics in the summer.  When I was much younger, it was one my late summer motivators to get up and go for a run, do a workout, go for a bike ride, or just move.  I remember spending many hours parked in front of the TV watching while I lumbered through my step-aerobics, or did a few extra steps on my non-electric treadmill. I was not delusional enough to believe that I was an athlete, but I did believe I could push myself to go just a little faster, further, stronger.

But this Olympics was going to be different.  I am no spring chicken anymore. Although usually I am very happy to see young people succeed, I have to admit that sometimes the jealousy virus attacks me. Sometimes watching young people reach their dreams depresses rather than motivates me.  On my down days, these people remind me of what will never be for me.  That I will never be able to even jog any more thanks to my new enemy Arthritis.  That I will most likely never have an opportunity to travel to these exciting places, and that I will never, ever, ever, ever, be young again.   I don’t dwell on these feelings, but sometimes they spread like a bad virus  oiling around and slowly sucking away the pleasure of a beautiful day. Yet somehow I found myself tuning into the opening ceremonies and watching with rapture as each new country marched into that huge stadium.   Before I knew it, my fingers were flying to google searching to find out exactly where island nations such as Vanauta or Tongo were located. Before I even knew it, I was hooked.  I have to admit sometimes I was envious of all these athletes – especially those who came from those amazing places I now know it’s pointless to even dream of visiting. The reality of being 55+ is that I can’t do it all; I can’t afford to see it all and do it all.  Sigh.  But I digress.

The Olympic virus had stung me and I was off to a two-week binge watch. The virus had won. Some evenings I wheedled my way downstairs to sit with my son and nudge him into watching some of the volleyball or swimming.  We chatted about the teams, and guessed the medal counts.  For the first time, because I so often ache from aging injuries, I looked at the athletes and started to realized how much they must really hurt after an event or during training.  And I worried a little about how quickly all that extreme participation will impact them when they are 55+.  Will they be suffering the slings and arrows of degeneration? Or will those superior efforts keep their bodies strong enough to fight against the ravages of age?

Other days I spent time by myself puttering around the house while the Olympics gushed out of each TV in the house. I channeled surfed to catch as many different versions as I could. I downloaded the apps and followed them faithfully, even though I was extremely annoyed by the awkward, non-user friendly CBC app that controlled most of the news. I followed the games on Facebook, Twitter, and Instragram. I liked the Canadian athletes, the medal winners, the media, and more.  I even sometimes wrote posts and followed some of the specific athletes. I entered the goofy contests in the very rare chance I could win some Olympic swag ( Of course I didn’t win a thing!).  I even won my own silver medal in a dragonboat competition (Hooray).  I did it all.  And in my heart, I felt a part of Team Canada, even though my head tells me I am being silly. These athletes are strangers whom I will never meet, nor ever even come close to their world, nor they to mine.  Why should I feel like I know them, or even care?  But I do.

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DASA Dragoons win silver at Calgary Dragonboat Festival – and cheer on Team Canada! Paddles Up Canada:)

 

Then suddenly it was Sunday and the virus was vanquished.  No more medal counts, no more motivational stories, no more heart-breaking 4th place finishes, or spectacular medal wins. Today feels so ordinary and bland without the Olympics.  It also seems like the death knoll for summer. The leaves have suddenly started to turn colour, the air quickly turns chilly at 8:30 at night, the air even feels different.  The summer binge, topped off by the Olympics is over.  My arthritis is back – and reminding me with a fury that I too am moving into autumn. All that is left is to mourn the loss, and wait for the sedate opportunities of fall to take over.

 

 

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