Monday, May 18, 2015

Reflections on aging from two points of view.

I will start with a caveat. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am thin-skinned and take offense too easily. Well, thinking about that, it doesn't make me wrong.

I saw a physical therapist recently for an evaluation on my hands.

Actually, her measurements and tests were done meticulously. I am pretty sure they are accurate.

It is her conclusions I find fault with, and I do so because I think she is prejudiced against the old. At the least, she has preconceived convictions.

Well, you know, I am not so old. 71. I've already figured out my ownself that those a decade or two ahead of me--and I know people who are--have different expectations, habits, and behavior. Once upon a time, I didn't. Old was old, and I didn't differentiate much.

Most people I know my age and older are doing some pretty remarkable things. A couple have been stricken with dementia. A few have had extreme illnesses occur. But most are quite active, either still working, volunteering vigorously, or both. Some are amusing themselves with sports and active vacations.

I say I am in the youth of my old age, and so I am. I have learned that 71 is as different from 81 as 31 is from 41.I lived briefly in my sixties in a retirement village where most were in their eighties. It was like socializing with my parents' friends. They lived in a different lifetime, shared a different history. Maybe you just have to be here to know this.

So. My hands have been hurting. Especially my left hand, because I am left-handed and use it the most. I realized recently, to my surprise(this stuff creeps up on you), that I couldn't lay my palms flat on a table. They cupped. And muscle strength is really down, and it hurts when I lift heavy stuff. Like a 7-pound bag of bird seed.

I saw my doctor, and she wrote a prescription for physical therapy. I was seen and evaluated by a savvy woman who may be in her thirties. Maybe younger, but I can't tell.

And she evaluated me, and she told me the reason I don't write pages and pages by hand anymore is because of my disability. I protested. I've been typing since I was sixteen, I said. I was a professional writer. I've always typed everything. I haven't had occasion to write enough to find out what she's telling me. No, she said, you don't do it because it hurts and you can't.

She basically said, "Look, you are arguing. Do you want this evaluation or not?"

I shut up. And under my choked throat and stopped-up tears, I wanted to throw something. Preferably soft, at her. I didn't. Whatever her assumptions about my attitude and expectations, I did want her assessment. She was more vague than I would have liked. But I shut up and listened.

After all, she was a standin. She won't be the therapist. Which is good. Because I don't think she believes in any meaningful progress I can make. I may need a canvas splint thing--I kind of expected that. There are exercises to do, and I am killer on stuff like that. But even before that, she showed me a magazine full of devices and tools to help me do the things I find painful or difficult now. Actually, I have a couple already. I have a number of adaptive behaviors. And the more I think about it, the madder I get. To show me the tools before I get the exercises is NOT a good message. She didn't suggest I consider them while I do therapy to improve. She suggested I consider them as permanent aids.

She didn't expect much from me. As a former therapist in another field, I know how unhelpful that is.

I have high expectations for the therapist I actually will work with. I think I can change some of this. If I can't, then I'll do it anyway and grit my teeth. The evaluator said she knows a lot of people my age who can't do much. Duh. This is what she does for a living.
I think she thinks I should trot out to my pasture and chew the grass.

I doubt if this is her technique to get me to work harder. But I suspect the initial result is, I probably will.

Then I'll get on with the rest of my real life.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Memorial Day reflections

Today is Memorial Day. We are so much more solemn about it than we were 60 years ago. Even 50.

Everyone went to the cemetery in the 1940s and 1950s and cleaned up the plots and put out flowers grown in the garden. In Alamogordo, New Mexico, the mulberries in the cemetery were ripe then, and we kids would climb the trees and eat the berries and throw them at each other.

We didn't have a war veteran in our plot. I was in elementary school when I was hurt and astonished to find out that, though we went to the cemetery to clean the plot and visit with the other families, the day wasn't about my brother at all. He, who died fighting cancer before he was four, wasn't a part of the day. His war had not been about country.

We didn't call the Korean War a war at the time; it was a conflict. And then we practiced ducking under our desks in case of an atomic bomb (I always liked that, especially when it got me out of arithmetic). We had The Cold War.

So we were lighthearted, and tended our cemeteries to go home and eat steaks and hamburgers, potato salad, corn on the cob, the first tomatoes and sun tea. There were speeches in the park, which my dad, as a city leader, attended. Usually Mom stayed home with me and we cooked, snuck tastes, and laughed.
Maybe there was a parade. I think so; I think in the 40s, 50s, some WWI vets as well.

War was over, and we celebrated our vets by giving them good jobs and college educations. We built new housing for starter families while the vets worked on their college credits.

The war was paid for. The population invested in freedom. My dad never went to war, though he signed up to go. But he sold a LOT of war bonds. He bought them, too.

Maybe the solemnity today and flag waving is because there have been so many more wars in my lifetime, wars that sill continue, risk on our shores as never before. We honor our veterans. We don't, however, see that they get good civilian jobs when they come home anymore. We don't seem able. Do we make room for them? I read a lot of rhetoric, but I am not sure what really happens.

The VA benefits they are entitled to are still a scandal. Each war teaches us something about medical care. In Vietnam, for the first time, we saved so many paraplegics that would have died in WWII. Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us about prosthetics, partial blindness, closed head injuries and finally recognizing PTSD.

In every war, we lose some of our finest. We have always more quietly lost the women, too; the women who flew cargo planes as "non-combat", the nurses, the doctors the medics. We still lose the women along with the men. Men and women of color fought for freedom in this country and still do. Today, we honor them all. Once, we didn't so much....

We paid such a terrible price in the Civil War. I am told so many of our church hymns from that period touch on heaven and meeting in heaven because so few families were left intact. Almost everyone lost somebody. I think the damage from that war still resonates today.

We lost so many in WWII. And so many men came back from years of war forever changed. They shaped so much of our society, out world today.

Vietnam almost broke us in two again. It didn't. But. Rough years.

So many wars since those happy days as a child, when we finished a war we thought fixed things for a long time. The economy was booming. And everyone could celebrate! and we did.

I remember when the Vietnam war ended, President Nixon was reported to have asked his staff, "Why aren't people dancing in the streets?" After all, so many hadn't wanted it. It was over. But we were tired.

We have soldiers today who are risking their lives honorably and heroically. A lot of them can't tell you why.

We are tired. We are absolutely, bone-dead tired of war.

We are Americans. We ARE united in this. And we honor our vets with a great deal of ceremony and flags. We don't know if or when conflict will ever end.
We will last, our military will last, we will go on. Not a one of us expects a carefree future with war no more. Not yet.
We don't sell war bonds any more. We don't invest. We don't pay as we go along.

We do salute. All of us. Churches pray every Sunday for those in harm's way.

It is a military holiday. It is meant to be.

But the little girl in me, who was never old enough to remember him, still remembers on this day taking yellow flowers to the cemetery for Albert Edward. a little boy who tried so very hard to live and didn't make it.

If he had lived, he would have made a fine soldier.