Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Aunt Aggie Ruins Christmas, or Nearly Dies in the Attempt

Not My Aunt

For several years now, I spend Christmas Day with friends, rather than family. Christmas Eve has always been the night of the big celebration in my family anyway, and the parents are just as glad not to have company two days running (although you might have to put my mother on the rack to get her to admit it).

So, for the last few years, I go to the Cleaver's house on Christmas Day, invited by Mrs. Cleaver, Joan. Joan is one of a group of women I have dinner with throughout the year -- I am the youngest in the group at 48; most have grandchildren. Come to think of it, I am the only one who is unattached and has no children.

Christmas at the Cleavers consists of grown children, their significant others, grandchildren (until recently, only one), and my other good friend, Susan, and her boyfriend. Susan has recently been forced to bring her aged aunt, Aggie, as Aggie's husband died, and Aggie's relatives are in Texas.

I say "forced" not because Susan isn't absolutely gracious -- as is Joan -- about inviting Aggie. Graciousness abounds to such an extent that you can hardly hear anyone grinding their teeth.

Aggie in Decline

Aggie is a Southern Belle in decline. Her age is a state secret, but I'm guessing late-eighties, early-nineties. Until the last three or four years, Aggie could literally "walk the legs" off Susan, 25-30 years younger. Now, however, Aggie has age-related disabilities, and she's not handling them well.

She deigns to use a fancy-looking gold-handled cane, when what she needs is a wheelchair.

Someone bought her a walker with a fold-down seat, which she says she "can't" use; now, having seen her in action, I am inclined to believe she can't use it. When she walks with the cane, she also needs to lean on someone on the other side. Progress is slow and painful, both to experience and to watch.

No Pain Control

The doctor has told Aggie that she can't take ibuprofen because her kidneys won't take it, so she is only taking Tylenol, which seems to be helping little if at all. Considering she seems to have degenerative arthritis in her hip(s) and spine, this hardly seems surprising.

She is terribly, terribly afraid of falling, and who can blame her? So am I, when it comes to that. And I don't expect multiple fractures from a fall.

Like I said, A Wheelchair...

I believe that Susan said that Aggie gets around her house by using the cane, and holding on to walls & furniture. Can you say hip fracture?

The lack of a wheelchair is not Susan's fault. It may not even be the doctor's fault, although since he holds sway over Aggie to some extent, I do hold him partially responsible.

No, my friends, it is the stupid stigma of using a wheelchair, combined with the inappropriate application of the "use it or lose it" homily.

Did you know that the Rehab Experts are now touting "conserve it to preserve it", instead of "use it or lose it"? This after they found out, among other things, that the paraplegics that had all been told to push themselves in manual chairs for the last 25 years are now coming up with blown out or frozen shoulders -- in addition to whatever disabilities they started out with.

For years, I didn't get prescribed a wheelchair -- actually, I ended up demanding one, in my mid-30s -- because the doctors and PTs, in their infinite wisdom thought that if I had a wheelchair I would stop walking entirely. Funny, it's been 10 years now and that hasn't happened. What has happened is that because I use a wheelchair when I'm out and about, I can stand to walk around my house and often be pain free. Pre-wheelchair, my feet often would be painful by mid-morning, and every step was one too many. I personally don't think that is any way to live, if there are any ways to avoid it.

Time Lapse Stupidity

I want to be clear, just in case Susan reads this, I don't think any of this is her fault. I can tell that Aggie wouldn't cotton to getting a wheelchair -- would fight it, even -- whether Susan attempted to suggest it or not.

What drives me insane is that Joan, my hostess with the mostess, doesn't get it either.

After it took nearly ten minutes for Aggie to walk -- with human and cane assistance -- from the living room to the driveway of a fairly small house, I said to Joan, "for $150 she could get a good transport wheelchair that would get her from the car into the house."

Joan -- Mrs. Cleaver and mother-knows-best -- says, "she doesn't need it." "Use it or lose it," Joan says to me. "When she can't go out anymore, then she'll get one."

I wanted to slap her. Really.

Big Picture, Folks

  1. By not getting the proper pain management, Aggie's doctor and Aggie are ensuring that her last stage of life will be dominated by chronic medium to severe pain.
  2. By refusing to get adequate mobility assistance, Aggie is not only putting herself through the tortures of hell in both pain, and the constant anxiety of falling, she is also;
  3. Making every social interaction with her friends and relatives an ordeal -- not only can they not assist her properly, but they can't even discuss it rationally with her.

If you have older friends or relatives with whom you can rationally discuss these things, start now. Try to get them to see that rather than a harbinger of death, a wheelchair can be a very liberating tool for aged-related mobility issues.

As cheesy as they are, the late-night scooter commercials do say it right when they show a senior saying, "it gave me back my freedom". Aggie never even drove a car, as far as I know, so I wouldn't advocate for a power chair of any kind for her. But, if she would consent to a travel chair -- she loves to go out -- she could make her own life and that of her remaining, steadfast (I won't say saintly) friends and relatives immeasurably and simply easier.

So much so that they wouldn't be overwhelmed by guilty relief when she does take that Big Fall of which she is so afraid.


Anonymous said...

All to familiar. Many people have a great deal of trouble differentiating between mobility and therapy. Mobility gets you from here to there safely and efficiently. Therapy helps to condition and train your body and mind. Ambulating to exhaustion, past pain thresholds, or unsafely, qualifies as none of the above. There is a big difference between the two. Many people realize this and use a wheelchair while at the same time getting controlled, monitored and properly prescribed and administered therapy. Others, well, it's use it or lose it or no pain no gain. I have been there many times with many clients. It's a tough sell.

Rebecca said...

Amen. My mother was disabled after a hip replacement operation gone horribly wrong. She refused to acknowledge that she couldn't cope with the house she lived in or her lack of mobility. As a result of her "bravery" (I'm sure that's how she saw it), she narrowed her own horizons without realizing it and made life that much more difficult for herself and those around her who wanted to see her enjoying herself.

Along with the so-called bravery was a kind of martyrdom, too, which I think can be a factor with women of a certain age.