Home from work, I cleared the countertops and sinks of cups and bowls and spoons, loading them in precise fashion in the dish washer—I know exactly how each piece fits in its space. For decades I have taken great offense [hear my self-pitying sigh] at finding a dish in the sink after I have used copious quantities of my time and energy to empty the sink, and since I am the one that empties the sink, leaving a dish in the empty sink implies an unfair presumption that I am the family dishwasher servant [more self-pity]. When Mom takes these random dishes out of the sink and puts them in the dishwasher, I thank her, and am grateful for her courtesy to me. But it was time to stop ruminating and to load Dad into the Faithful Suburban so the dermatologist could examine this tag and that mole and this scab that will not heal, the skin doctor who is smiley and polite but profoundly disinterested. “Hello! How are you!” Three minutes of examination, and a declination to remove this or that because it is harmless even if Dad does not want this or that attached to his body because it does not belong and asks to have it removed. “Good-bye! Have a great afternoon!” I had terrible trouble getting Dad into the car, both times, succeeding only with an ungainly combination of pushing and lifting and shoving until he was on the seat and my muscles quivered and my lumbar complained. I had wondered what I would do if he could not rise from his wheelchair or if he collapsed once risen, and I had no answer—the only answer was getting him in somehow. “That was our last trip to Dr. Jensen,” I whispered to mom, distressed. And that distress and my tweaked back stalked me through making dinner and eating dinner and cleaning up after dinner and up the stairs and down the weeks and months of wakings. But Mom is sweet, and recently has taken to putting aside her needlepoint and shuffling over to the kitchen sink to towel dry and put away the pots and pans I have just washed, and I appreciate her effort to say thank you with a towel and an empty sink.
(Pictured above: felt rose craft I made for Valentine’s Day.)
(Pictured below: my valentine from my sweet granddaughter Lila.)
Dad sat reading volume “F” of the 1990 World Book Encyclopedia—“I haven’t read ‘F’ in some time”—and later at the dinner table expounded to Mom and me about Fahrenheit and Faulkner and Freedom. I think volume “L” might be his favorite. Whereas last week he had to ask Mom to bring this and that book or plate or newspaper to him—because he could not hold both the walker handles and the object he wanted—his new caddy allows him the independence of transporting things himself. While I searched the Deseret Industries thrift store for exercise dumbbells, which I did not find, the walker fairly stuck out its handles and introduced itself. Fifteen dollars later, I walked into the living room and declared to Dad, “This is not a walker.” He seemed fond of his floral-pattern walker, and I worried he might not welcome an interloper. I explained, “This is a food caddy and a book caddy and an anything-else caddy.” Dusty from sitting neglected in someone’s garage, I cleaned every inch of the caddy. Next day, Dad transported his books and his lunch plates without relying on Mom or me. He liked the like-new not-a-walker. In a related story, Dad announced to Mom and me in church that his wheelchair cushion was freezing his bottom—we keep the wheelchair and the memory foam cushion in the faithful Suburban, and the night before had dipped to 19 degrees Fahrenheit. I grinned and encouraged him to find consolation in not feeling too hot, for a change.
(Pictured above: Dad’s new thrift store not-a-walker caddy.)
Dad’s stylish pink floral old faithful walker.
I sat down with Mom and Dad recently, and asked Dad if we could discuss a plan to preserve his mobility for as long as possible. Far from defensive, he seemed grateful for the discussion: he and Mom know that him losing his mobility will dramatically affect quality of life for them both. After our discussion, I typed and printed our Mobility Strategy, in big blaring pitch, and stuck it to the refrigerator with a magnet. A day in the hospital, the Christmas and New Year holidays, and family celebrations interrupted some elements of the new routine, like going to the gym. Other elements we started immediately. I do not badger Dad about drinking water, for example, but every time I pass his chair, I hand him a bottle of cold water. My message is clear. And, to be fair, I hold my own water bottle even as I hand him his. (Water intake can reduce edema.) Here is our Mobility Strategy. I will let you know how it goes.
- Stationary Bike. Ride the bike 6 days a week, for 30 minutes each ride.
- Gym. Go to the gym 2 days a week, weather permitting.
- Leg Compressors. Use the pumping leg compressors when reading at night.
- Walker. Use the blue walker between family room, kitchen, and dining room, as needed.
- Cane. Keep the “walking stick” handy for short treks in the house or to the car.
- Compression Socks. Order. Wear.
- Elevate. When sitting, keep legs elevated.
- WATER. Keep several water bottles cold in the fridge. Sip all day.
(Image by Willfried Wende from Pixabay)
My siblings and I had begun to notice how ascending the stairs had grown more difficult for Mom and Dad. They huffed and wheezed and groaned. A wear pattern emerged on the wall where hands had sought some added traction and stability. My sister Sarah arranged for a company to install a railing on the wall side of the stairs, at equal height with the wood banister. Now it is much easier for them to push and pull their way up, using all four limbs, and to lean forward as they descend, easing the arthritis pains in their knees. I will not lie: I use the railing, too.