Weighty Matters

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Alone and Becoming Older

on May 20, 2013

A friend is going through a rough time right now.  She’s suffering vertigo, her balance is horrible and she’s falling a lot.  Last week she tripped on a cord at work and her balance and reaction time were so off she couldn’t break her fall.  She slammed down hard on her knee.  Four days later it’s still swollen and she can’t bear to put weight on that leg.  She had an appointment with a doctor today so another coworker/friend and I went to help.  A good thing that we did because, even with crutches, she couldn’t have made it and she definitely shouldn’t drive.

This friend is a couple of years older than I am and lives alone, except for her two small dogs and a number of indoor and outdoor cats.  She has no blood family in the area, but our work family is strong.

Her situation taps into a significant concern.   I never really admitted this to anyone, and barely could stand thinking about it myself, but as my weight increased and it became ever more difficult for me to move and do things, I began to worry more about living on my own.  What if I really got sick or fell in my house?  What if I got injured somewhere else and was hurt badly enough that it affected my mobility?  How would I get around?  Who would help?  What would I do?  I’m an independent, self-reliant woman and the thought of anything making me less independent and self-reliant, scared the crap out of me.  It made me feel insecure and that is a horrible feeling when you’re single and in your 50s.

I used to have horrible visions of slipping and falling in the shower, hurting myself in some way that made it impossible for me to get up or even reach a towel to cover myself.  I knew that coworkers would be concerned if I didn’t show up as expected in the office and they’d either come to find me or send emergency teams.  I hated the very thought of being discovered in so helpless a scenario with the added humiliation of being naked.

I’m really fortunate to work where I do because we honestly do look out for each other.  Back in 2006 I had a health scare and wound up in the hospital for a few days.  My boss showed up at the hospital within mere minutes of my getting admitted.  I called a co-worker and immediately arrangements were made for her granddaughter to dog sit.  In 2007 when I needed to have my gall bladder out suddenly, as soon as I was in recovery, my boss showed up again and informed me that she and her husband would pick me up the next day when I was discharged and that she was spending the night.  No arguing.  Last fall, she injured her back.  I spent the night at her place in case she needed help.  That’s how we roll where I work.  So, when I’m not scaring myself with “what ifs”, I can logically look at possibilities and know that I’m not truly alone just because I don’t share my home with any other human.

I do, however, think sometimes about my retirement.  When I’m in my 70s, will I still live in my house in the Keys or will my need for security compel me to move back to the Northeast, closer to family?  Should I plan now to find a really great senior citizen condo complex that also has some degree of assisted living?  Financially, will I be able to, instead, pay for someone who can come in and help me maintain my independence, like my elderly neighbor next door did for several years?

Honestly, I don’t obsessively worry about these things.  I think it’s smart to think about the future and consider options.  I also think it’s smart to be cautious about what I do at home when I’m alone.  You won’t catch me trying to climb up on the roof, that’s for sure.  If I go up on a step ladder, I make sure that the ladder is secure and that I brace myself, don’t over reach, and don’t take unnecessary chances.  I also always keep my cell phone within reach.  I figure that way if I do happen to trip and fall, I can always call for help.

Earlier this year when I had to replace my front door knob and lock, I picked a keypad.  At the time, I just thought it would be super convenient for those rare times when I can’t get home at a reasonable time and might need to call a friend to come over and let out the dogs.  I can just give them the code instead of having to leave a key outside.  It also means that I don’t need to carry my house key with me when I go out on the boat.  Now I realize that, if I have an in-home accident, the keypad means that rescuers will be able to get in the house to assist me without having to break down the door or crash through a window.

Getting older isn’t for sissies, I’ve decided.  I’m grateful that I’m heading toward 60 in much better shape than I was.  I’m stronger with improved balance.   If the worst case scenario happens and I do happen to fall in the shower, at least it won’t take two or three strapping men to lift me onto the stretcher.  I might not know what I’m going to do 15 0r 20 years from now, but at least I can think about options.  Most importantly, I need to keep taking good care of myself today.

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2 responses to “Alone and Becoming Older

  1. Susanne says:

    The best we can do is to plan ahead and have money to pay for things and help. We can’t rely on family, especially in our mobile society. We have to be aware of the “what ifs”. Skye, I love the “worry-muscle” term. Taking the best care of ourselves now, and being prepared is going to help tremendously. You two sound like you’ve got great friends.

    We don’t have children and know that we’ll be on our own. That’s okay. Yes, we have friends, but they’ll be old too 🙂 At some point we’ll all end up alone.

    And Mary, always have a robe or towel close by you, even on the floor so you can pull it toward you. We’re trying to get my mother (82 and living on her own, she’s a fire cracker) to keep a phone on the bathroom floor when she’s showering or bathing (having it on the counter won’t help if she falls). Does she? At first she did, but now? No. I don’t get it. But I respect her decision — sort of.

    Anyway, I’m babbling. We’re all heading down that old age path one way or another, and we’re lucky we’re alive. I’ve got dementia in my family and that sends quivers down my spine. Hugs to us all!

    I’d better rush to work.

  2. Skye says:

    I, too, sometimes obsess about being alone and getting older. For me, part of it has been not having kids, husband, extended family to help. But now that my concept of family has extended and I am living near my closest “family”, I think I will relax more. It’s good to have people in your life who will wonder where you are within 24 hours, rather than within a week. Living in a place where I didn’t have many friends and wasn’t employed, I worried a lot.

    Being in good health and condition is a very good thing as we get older, whether we choose retirement village or living more independently. What you are doing now is going to make such a huge difference for you! It must be a relief for your worry-muscle that there is so much less you have to worry about, now and in the future, because of this huge change you have made in your life!

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