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”

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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.

 

 

Pensioner, Senior, Retired… Redefining labels for 55+ers

“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…

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Curling Rocks!

Sometimes in life we made really, really, really bad decisions, but once in awhile, we get lucky and make a great one.  That’s what happened to me this winter.

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Blaine bugged me all year to join him in Senior’s Curling in Lethbridge.  I just didn’t want to the big commitment.  Driving  all the way to the city  two days a week  – that means a 45 minute drive – leaving mid-morning so we get there in time to practice, staying for 3 hours to curl and chitchat with strangers, and then driving back home arriving around 4:30 or 5:00; well, it just seemed to much of a bother.  After doing that same grind (even longer) every day for almost 26 years of work, I just didn’t want to have to say yes.  But finally, in March I agreed.

Flash forward 6 weeks.  I know we must made our best decision in years.  We are together at a social event twice a week – it’s like “date afternoon”.  We are put onto different teams so we have to meet different people during reach game. I  I have been forced out of my winter hibernation comfort zone at a time when I needed it the most.

I’m not that great of a curler, but I have picked up more tips in the last 6 weeks that I have in 6 years.   I’m getting fit again.  Take note Jenny Craig, Weigh Watchers, Herbal Magic and all you other diet businesses – I have found a better way!  Today I fit into curling pants I haven’t even dare to try for over 2 years.  Who knew that curling twice a week could put me on the path to picking up my skinny jeans again (well, not for another few weeks yet, but I still can dream). Plus, because of curling, I found a friend that I can travel with. Last week we took a grand curling adventure to Swift Current Sk. to watch the first 3 draws of the World Women’s Championship. Now, I have a whole rink full of new friends to mull over the games, each of us offering our own so-called “expert” take on the games.  What a blast!

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Team Canada enters the arena at the Opening Ceremonies – World Women’s Championship 2016

The best part – watching happy seniors stay physically and mentally well.   Sometimes I can look across the ice and see the kid in us all, no matter our age. It’s fun to laugh over a mistake, worry over a shot, and  high-five over a success with my new team mates.

I wish that more younger people could see the joy in our eyes – and see that life after 55 doesn’t mean we are out to pasture. Instead, it means we are still full of vitality! Unlike those of you younger beings, we now have the time to revisit our inner child and be a kid again, despite our creaky knees, saggy boobs, and thinning hair.

Rock on my senior friends – and Hurry Hard!

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Opening Ceremonies for the Word Women’s Championship – Swift Current, 2016

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