Pat the Salt, my venerable father-in-law and quondam globetrotter, turned 97 at the beginning of June. He was on the regular trotting about his half acre lot behind a push mower up to the age of 85. That year he rather abruptly stopped doing this necessary chore and it fell to me and Dau.II. Fair exchange is no robbery and we got our dinner and an afternoon watching daytime telly as well as a good physical work out. One of the interesting aspects of growing old is watching the finely-tuned physiological machine start to sag as things fall apart. Compare 20-something me lepping downhill from rock to rock in confident abandon with 60-something me who has to be careful jumping off a 60cm ditch onto soft grass. Or 8 y.o. me being able to pee 2x higher than my schoolboy cap vs 68 y.o. me being as feebly leaky as a failed tap-washer.
My sainted mother outlived her husband by 20 years but carried on with her daily round:
- Port Salut and instant coffee for breakfast
- reading the deaths column of the Telegraph
- weeding the herbaceous border
- lunch: spinach, trout,
- good works
- shopping [spinach, peas, quiche, trout, Port Salut]
- dinner: quiche, spinach
As she moved from octogenarian to her 90s, my sainted sister, who lived 2 hours away, would come visit for an overnight on the regular: help with the paperwork, source services to help with housework, provide an excuse for lunch in the local pub - and an alternative to spinach with everything. Living in a different country, my visits were much less frequent. In the Summer of 2019, I was visiting and had occasion to watch my mother repairing to bed tacking slowly up the stairs to Bedfordshire. It looked like an accident waiting to happen. Indeed, one of the arguments my mother made for having 7-day clean-and-care attention rather than M-F, was to prevent her lying injured after a fall for more than 24 hours.
And the chair-lift, it was so! I tried it out when I went back to visit the following month and it . was . real . slow . but . steady. Nevertheless it was probably quicker [and certainly safer!] than tottering upwards [downwards is probably more hazardous] under her own steam. So that was July, in September, my mother had a problem that required hospitalization, and she never went home again. £3,000 worth of kit was now just an obstruction on the stairwell and the electric stair company stoutly refused to acknowledge that it had any monetary value for re-use, re-sale or re-cycle.
Mais revenons nous a nos béliers. Like my mother, who had a 5 year head start, Pat the Salt is not as tough as he was. All the muscle-groups you and I take for granted in. say, walking to the kitchen to make a restoring cup of tea are losing their ability to co-ordinate the extension of the knee, let alone the left-right, left-right of walking purposefully in a straight line. A kindly and competent occupational therapist OT put it into perspective last year by saying Pat launching from the sofa and walking to the bathroom is, for him, now, the equivalent of mowing the half acre 12 years ago. As with my mother, tech has a number of solutions for the task of keeping elders at home which is desirable socially, medically and economically. One of the big stressors [if you can imagine it with your confident 40-something - half his age] demeanour and flexibility is sitting down backwards . . . and sitting down frontwards is no use at all.
The day before his birthday, Pat took delivery of an electric ejector and soft-landing chair courtesy of the HSE. Picture above shows me halfway through the cycle of stress-testing the machine. As you can see that, in addition to sit and push-forward-to-stand-almost-upright, there is an option to cant backwards and help the blood rush back to your head. That's another element to elderhood, the valves in your leg veins get spongy so the blood pools at your feet rather than being delivered upstairs for vital functions like not fainting. The same canny OT advised to have Pat count to 10 after sitting up out of bed; and count another 10 before moving off.
No more that my mother's chair-lift, Pat's new chair is about as exciting as watching the tide ebb. But it smooths over a lot of uncertainty and stress and makes life much easier on carers also. Th€ co$t? About the same as 10 days full board and lodging in a state approved nursing home. As a tax-payer [just above the threshold when all my pensions come home to roost] the zimmer frame, the rollator, the foldable car-boot wheelchair and the seat of which we treat are all excellent value in buying time from block-booking a bed somewhere which is not home.
Note: We have all been enjoined by a sardonic Dau.II to refrain from calling it The Electric Chair - that's a little too Oklahoma-close for comfort.
Cultural reference: I said take care of him.