Monday, April 26, 2010

Raising a Cane

Mom turns 91 in June. Here she is in a session with her Occupational Physical Therapist, Charlotte. She has ankle-weights on and she’s lifting her legs. She’s had walking issues of late. She was supposed to be using a cane, a doctor recommendation. But she performs the motions easily and without discomfort.

“Canes are for old people,” she says.

I didn’t know about the prescribed walking device. She has a walker too. She lives in assisted living. When I visited, they were never in sight.

Last month, Mom took a tumble. She walks around the assisted living facility, takes a walk after breakfast, lunch and dinner. More than half the folks there cannot walk unaided. The majority either use walkers or are wheel chair bound—and Mom is one of the oldest residents.

“When that happens to me that I can’t walk anymore, put me in the ground,” Mom has declared.

She said the same thing about driving. She drove until age 89—her license got suspended because she was driving South on Route 17 North (on the shoulder) and was stopped by a police officer. She lives in the New Jersey suburbs, where there is no mass transit culture—unless you want to go to Manhattan for your 9-5.

I did some investigating, “the town has a community bus, it will take you to the mall, shopping, to church.”

“Those are for seniors.” She was 89 at the time.

Last year, she became a resident of the assisted living facility.

The tumble meant a visit to the hospital. She was banged up some, doctors feared a concussion. She stayed over night. Now, she has to use the cane. The fellow residents at the facility and all the employees have been alerted. She cannot be seen without a cane. Physical Therapy was also prescribed.

Mom has gotten obstinate. Make that, more obstinate. My sister is worried that this attitude could get her thrown out of the facility. Her refusal to use the cane could be seen as a liability. I was angry that Mom kept the cane prescription from me, and I wasn’t the only one.

Charlotte explained to me that she needs the cane for balance. There are two reasons canes become required, either for support or balance. Age has turned mom wobbly (sadly, her politics remain conservative).

With me there, Charlotte emphasized the need to use the cane. “I don’t know if you hear me or not, but you can’t just carry the cane” – she mimicked the way I’ve seen Mom carry the cane – “you have to use it when you walk.”

My mother nodded.

I spoke up, “She heard you, she doesn’t want to use the cane. She’s carrying it so people won’t yell at her since she was hospitalized.”

“Is that true?” asked Charlotte.

“Please keep your mouth shut, Timothy.”

“Stop acting like you’re still 80, Mom.” It’s one of my favorite jokes.

Age is so weird. Mom is healthier than a lot of folks younger than her. She is lucid and still works—a part time job at her church’s rectory—although the forgetfulness is increasing.

But she doesn’t forget to lie about the cane.

We took a walk together around the assisted living facility. Mom was using the cane, at least when I was looking.

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