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.
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
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.
So 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.
Up Yours Arthritis!!! You are my worst enemy. You are a nasty, evil being. You are a slow, insidious predator, seeping into my joints, painstakingly slowly cementing them shut. You are the quicksand – or “slowsand” of aging. You are worse than a hormonal junior high girl – on a downswing. And I should know – I am one of 7 sisters. Trust me, there’s nothing meaner than junior high girl.
I hate you for what you are doing to my country. You are robbing our healthcare system, sweeping in with a tsunami of need from us aging boomers as we seek help to outwit you. You are forcing a legacy of debt to our children, who will eventually have to pay the bill for our care. They will struggle to cope with you, but like our grandparents and parents, they will survive too. They will fight and fight and maybe even defeat you. If not them, then their children will find treatments that work, cures that last, and lifestyle changes that will keep you at bay.
I hate you for what you have done to my family. My husband’s knee – being eaten by you. My father’s joy in walking and biking – being ebbed away by you. My sister – crippled from your non-stop presence. My mother. You have robbed her of her physical balance and strength. You have even taken her body parts. But you are cunning. You crept so slowly that by the time she needed a new joint, she was deemed too old. So now she spends every minute in agony. Her movements are slow and guarded, her sleep is disrupted, and her mind is clouded by pain and painkillers.
You will eventually defeat her physically, but you can’t take away her soul. She wins there. Even at age 88, her body racked with non-stop pain, she won’t give in to you. You can’t beat her spirit. She still volunteers, she still cooks for her neighbours, she still makes treks up and down her stairs, no matter how long it takes her. She won’t give into you. No way will you win. She is going down fighting you. In that respect, she will win. Why wouldn’t she? She raised 7 teenage girls. Now that’s a survivor.
Mostly, I hate you for what you are doing to me. You are my OCD nightmare – the one that won’t go away – and step by step becomes reality. I feel you creeping in while I sleep, coaxing my joints into immobility, cementing them shut while I rest. I feel you trying to take all of me. You have taken some of my mobility, and causing me to move differently, taking away some of the activities I so loved to do. You will eventually defeat me physically. But like my mother, I won’t let you defeat me. I will keep trying to purge you from my system. I will try natural cures, medicines, and quack cures. I will try alternative therapies, physical therapy, massage therapy, and any other kind of therapy. I won’t quit. I am giving you warning – I won’t let you rob me of my soul.
I go to the fridge and look to see what can become the ingredients for today’s special meals. I decide to make my family favourite – chicken cordon bleu, green beans au gratin, waldorf salad, and a cherry torte for dessert. I grab the chicken breast tucked neatly behind the kale and place it …. wait, wait. Stop! I don’t cook; I hate cooking. I hate all things related to elaborate meals. Please, wake me from this culinary nightmare!
Lately I have been dreaming of me playing the role of domestic diva – a role I have always eschewed, and never wanted. I have struggled to figure out their source. Perhaps it is the pending arrival of Mack who will soon finish university for the summer. Will I be expected to cook supper, prepare lunches, and do laundry? Probably not, but I worry that I should want to do so. I feel I should do something, especially now that I am no longer working. I of course want to make my son’s time at home special. I don’t get to seem him very much so I should feel excited about taking on the role of traditional mother to him while he is home. I have never been that type of mother, so why do I think I need to be one now? I’m not sure.
Everyone else seems to think that I should be happy to be domesticated now that I am free of the daily grind. I should want to bake muffins and reorganize my shelves. I should feel wonderful that I finally have time to make healthy, nutritious meals from scratch – with ingredients I have either grown myself, or laboured over while perusing the organic section of the grocery store. But I’m not thrilled. I don’t like being thrust back into that continual pull of traditional vs modern role. I have worked very hard to break free of stereotypes. But suddenly I find myself thrust back decades. Discussions at seniors curling often imply that I should have the homebody role – that I should be thrilled to no longer need to work. Moreover, I should be really happy now that my hubby makes a good living so I don’t have to worry my pretty little head over such silly things as a career. Arrrrgggggghhhhh!
I am becoming more comfortable with the non-working role. I am learning to enjoy my time at home by myself. But I am still not fully adapted. I still haven’t found the thing that gives me the need to jump excitedly out of bed in the morning. I’m filling time, I finding great happiness in the moment. I am loving having time to steep my tea properly, to do a few minutes of yoga when I want – and to make my bed in the middle of the afternoon if I feel like it. These are the small delights I know many of us longed for during our careers.
But what comes next? What do I do when I have had months, or years of taking my time in the morning? What will I be? What will I do? What will I have accomplished of value?
I am still adjusting to the role of retiree. I am still trying to define what it means for me. Right now, I still need to wake from the nightmare of others’ domesticated expectations of women who retire. In the meantime, I will try to “let it go” and just be. I think for rich now, I’m make a cup of tea, check Facebook, look for cute April Fools jokes online – and just enjoy the moment. For now….
“Pensioner gets rescued from sea after attempting to swim to cruise ship to find husband” – Headline for March 28.
Curiously, what struck me about this headline was not how odd it was that a 60+ woman actually tried jumped in the Atlantic to swim back to her departing cruise ship, but the use of the word “Pensioner”. What is a pensioner? How old are you when you are a pensioner? Why would the Western Daily Press choose this word? What reaction where they trying to get? I think they were trying to suggest that this woman was old – she was a pensioner – someone clearly retired and “old”.
Yet look beyond that label. What exactly is a pensioner? According to Mirriam-Webster, a pensioner is ” a person who receives or lives on a pension; especially : a person who receives a government pension”. Simple, right. But the connotation with the word is much more complex. When I was under 55, I tended to think of pensioners as older people living on fixed incomes, possibly quite frail and old. They sometimes needed tax breaks to cover the increased medical costs and ever-rising living expenses. They quite giving Christmas and birthday presents to everyone because they were now living on a pension. The label stuck when I looked at the grey haired, arthritic people in frequenting churches, old folks homes, and funerals. Sometimes they lived alone because their spouse had died, and their children have grown and left the nest. They belonged to my parents’ and grandparents’ generation – not mine.
But wait – I am now a pensioner. Is that how younger people see me? I am living on a fixed income – one that certainly does not meet my monthly living needs. Am I also now frail and useless? Most of the time I don’t feel that way. Sure, I have minor aches and pains. I sometimes stumble slightly while my limbs un-cement themselves after sitting for a long time. But I don’t think I stumble my way around with a cane. My child has grown up and left the coop. Most of my friends are now grandparents. So I suppose I am part of the pensioner generation.
I’m sure the news service wanted to suggest the woman was frail and feeble-minded. But how frail was she if she was able to survive 4 hours swimming in the Atlantic Ocean? And how “poor” was she if she could afford a cruise? Is she your typical old-generation pensioner? I think not!
I suggest we need a new connotation for pensioner. Those of us in the new pensioner group do not fit the definitions we gave to our parents. I have met so many strong, vibrant, active and healthy 55+ers that I would never even think of the word “pensioner”. So what are we? I don’t have the right word yet. But I do know that we need to ensure that the age-challenged (young ones) never again look at us as weak, feeble, or useless simply because we are no longer working full time – and have chosen to subsist primarily on the pensions we worked so hard to earn.
Pensioners of the world unite! We have nothing to lose but our labels…