Thursday, November 06, 2014

Make Friends with a Cane

"Please, do make friends with a cane."
Around the age of 55 my knees began to give me trouble. That did not fly with my profession as librarian and teacher in middle school. Two arthroscopic knee surgeries (roto-rooter jobs cleaning out debris cause by osteoarthritis) bought me a bit more time. In the process I made friends with a cane. By the age of 61 the friendship served me well while recuperating from double knee replacement surgery. I am happy for this friendship, especially when I see disasters waiting to happen all around me.
On November 2 and 3 the New York Times ran two articles on fall risk for the elderly: "Bracing for the Falls of an Aging Nation" and "A Tiny Stumble, a Life Upended" both by Katie Hafner". These are worth reading and sharing with older friends and family. Denial reigns. The statistical risks are frightening; the complications from falls are innumerable. Yet, as the articles report, safety measures like life alert pendants, canes and walkers are resisted, often to disastrous end. When my mother, already in dementia, was 88 I told her she really needed to use a cane. Her response, "Oh no, I don't want to look like an old lady." I told her, "You already are an old lady!" When walking aides are introduced after dementia sets in it is difficult to master the habit of using them. Not habituated to reaching for her walker, my mother rose one night in assisted living to use the bathroom. Just standing beside her bed she lost her balance, fell and gashed her head on the bedside table. She lay on the floor  for hours bleeding profusely. Although no bone was broken and the gash required only 6 stitches she remained in the hospital for 5 days, required time in a nursing home and is now a permanent resident there. There is something to be said for getting used to using a cane or walker while you can still master the process.
This message may seem a bit premature for me and my peers but not so. We may not need one all the time but can certainly use the assistance of a cane when conditions are treacherous - hiking in the woods, long tourist walks in unknown territory, icy conditions.
It pays to have one handy, have it sized correctly and know how to use it properly. At the age of 64 a tall healthy male friend of mine slipped on ice outdoors. He was not found for half an hour. He had dislocated his shoulder, damaged his knee and done terrible nerve damage. Two surgeries later after nine months in a nursing facility, living on narcotic painkillers and completely separated from his normal life of independent travel and teaching all over the world he is finally getting his life back. But his body will never be the same.
So pick out something useful but elegant. Keep it handy. Don't be too afraid or too proud, or like my mother too vain to use it. And know that people are very nice to those using a cane. This is especially true while traveling by air which has become an almost intolerably uncomfortable process. Ultimately it can be your best friend.

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