Losing independence is tough stuff. It can happen to the best of us at any stage of life, and we fight it. I half-remember a cartoon in which I think Linus (or was it Sally Brown?) said, “I can tie my own” (looks down) “two shoes!”
Well, right now I can’t. But hey, it’s way better than a couple of months ago when I couldn’t wash my own face.
That was after surgery on my left hand to get back some pain-free functioning in three fingers that couldn’t hold a book or knit a mitten without cramping. But you have to give some up to get some back. For more than a month, I showered with a plastic bag over the cast, and I paid helpers to bathe and dress me. I’d had plenty of time to plan ahead–I borrowed bigger shirts and sweaters from my sister to make it easier to pull clothes on over the plaster and then the fiberglass cast, and I baked bread, cooked soup and meat, and froze good things to eat.
Little by little, I got bits of my life back. After several weeks of therapy, I’m not done yet, but I can do many of the things I could before.
Like type. Last spring I blogged here about “Persevering with the Dragon,” and by this year I knew that voice-recognition software well enough to dictate all my writing for a couple of months. I even did mailing labels for the postcards I sent out to announce my new mystery, and other kinds of labels for the postcards I’m using as handouts for the library book signing and sending to mystery conferences.
And I sent a longish email to people I thought might possibly give a hoot about Her Brother’s Keeper or the ebooks that are now all up on my website. Dragon NaturallySpeaking wrote that email and the many I sent every week for a volunteer job, but while still wrestling my cut-and-pasted tendons back into usefulness, I’m actually typing this blog.
I’m bragging, both ways.
I’ve kneaded my first batch of bread but still can’t tie my shoes. Or pull up the fiercely tight compression hose I’ve needed for years. I’m told now that pulling up my knee socks may be what damaged the tendons in the first place. But after training a bunch of women helpers to do that time-gobbling job, I’ve taught my husband how, and taught myself just barely enough patience to see us both through the frustrating process. Pulling up socks and tying shoes aren’t enough to justify hiring expensive help. Not easy, but I can do this if he can. Not gonna be a wimp.
* * * * *
Fast forward a few weeks. Another batch of sourdough oatmeal bread is rising in my old wooden bowl–good wrist therapy, that. My hand is getting stronger, and I now finally have a new plastic sock aid (the kind I’d tried before was useless) that works well enough to help me get the darned things on in a couple of tries. Not if you follow the written directions, mind you, but with some common sense, it’s possible. And I’m stubborn enough. The good news is that it should help prevent future damage to the just-healing tendons and my other ones, too. And my husband’s.
I hope that hand soon will be better than before the surgery. That was the whole idea. Bluntly, it’s a whole lot harder to exercise the patience than the hand. I knew that ahead of time–that’s why I hired the helpers. It’s easier not to grouch at a stranger than someone close to you. And if I slipped up, the hired helper wouldn’t have to put up with me for long. The plastic puller-upper I’m using from now on can’t even hear what I mutter if the socks go on crooked and I have to start over to keep them from pinching my feet.
Going through this kind of thing reminds you that only lucky people get to hang onto their independence their whole lives. Most of us will have to give up bigger or smaller chunks of it at some point. Not easy to do. Hard even to think about.
So I’m working on it. Toughing out pain is one thing. Losing abilities can be harder, except for the unrelenting kind of pain we all hope to be spared. Losing all choice is hardest of all. You can plan ahead and control your life only so far. After that, you have to hope the people who start making your choices will leave you enough of them that you won’t mind needing to have your face and other spots washed, and things done their way that you’d rather do your way. And that they’ll guess right what matters to you if they have to guess. Even advance-care directives can’t spell out everything.
I can practice not taking choices away from other people myself. The bossy know-it-all in me is doing better about back-seat driving, and not just in the car. Not easy. But I’m not gonna be a wimp.
And for now, at least, I can tie my own two shoes again.
As a fellow writer, I have the greatest sympathy as well as respect for you. I remember when I first heard about Dragon software.
I was very impressed. What a wonderful help! Wishing you continued success.
Whenever I get down because my bum knee gives out, or my torn rotator can’t be repaired, or, or, or…I think, “Stephen Hawking is still teaching.” Or as my mother puts it, “I’m doing the best I can with what I got left.” You’re an inspiration! Thanks for the post.
Sara, thanks for your wise words. At about three decades behind you, I have recognized that some minor pains and ailments now are going to haunt me when I am older–my knee, bronchitis. Thank you for the lessons you teach me not to be a wimp about it. As I start to get old, prepare… and take it like an adult.
Thank you, Jacqueline, Nikki, and Sam! Nikki’s mother has it right. That’s all any of us can do.
Thanks for such an honest post, Sara. One of the toughest things I’m finding as I struggle with fewer discs and shrinking vertebrae is not only losing a measure of independence but having to disappoint others. I hope I was forgiving when people couldn’t “show up” for some reason and now I hope they’ll forgive me.
Yup. One of the things about blogging with Perseverance Press authors is that I’m among people who get it.
It doesn’t take John Wayne to star in “True Grit.” You’re among the many who do daily, and I applaud your attitude and foresight.
Thanks, Laura. You’re part of my support system.
Pretty soon you’ll be better than before. Almost of us will cope with disability at one time or another in our lives. When the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, as an architect I trained and learned how to design and retrofit buildings to comply. Then I realized that, whenever I twisted a ankle or carried a big portfolio toward the heavy door of a public or commercial building, all I had to do was hit the touch pad by the doorway with my elbow and glide right through, I was ecstatic and learned the true meaning of the word. Best wishes for the success of your new book.
Good post. You have great perseverance. Lots of luck with the new book.
Thank you, Peter. I am so grateful for the ADA. Back when I was entering high school, a classmate developed polio. In those bad old days, that excellent student never was able to go to school again, but had to attend by speaker phone, because the building was inaccessible.
Last summer I volunteered with others through our local Council on Community Accessibilty to monitor how well local businesses complied with the ADA guidelines. I feel personally responsible for persuading the public library to make its entrance walker-friendly. (A wheelchair could make it through safely, but a slow person using a walker had significant barriers.) Some of those doors with touch pads close way too fast for me!
Most people walk with their feet, but mine need help from the hands, too, so it’s worth considerable nuisance to get them to work right.
Such a gutsy, honest post, Sara. And of course I can relate. Takes me a lot longer than it did to walk a mile, and I’ve given up aerobic dance. My broken humerus took a year to heal, while my granddaughter’s busted limb took six weeks. I’m glad you can tie a shoe now, and bet your “new” hand will make typing/cooking a lot easier! Carry on, and congrats on the new book!
Bones are much worse! Glad you’re back to walking–it helps build bone.
Good grief! What an inspiration you are! Hope you’ll be feeling better quickly, and keep us posted on your progress!
Thank you. I feel just fine already.
A very thought-provoking essay, Sara. As I move farther into my 60s it sure gives me a lot to think about. I’m not sure I would handle it as graciously as you have! — Mary Ann
You handled plenty hard stuff a long time ago–I was there.
Nicely written, as usual. 🙂
It occurred to me, while reading your thoughts on having more and more choices taken away or made for you by others, that the two most basic life actions are done by every living person without having any choice at all, those being of course birth and death. True of everyone, regardless of gender, social status, nationality, health, wealth or any other who what where or when.
We all share this. It’s one of life’s few built-in equalities.
I guess I made one of those for you, Charles.
Well I guess I’m glad you did.
Happy Mother’s Day!