Get a Grip!

Several years ago, I had a knee replaced. Like most people I guess, I was a bit apprehensive before the operation not knowing quite what to expect. Actually, the operation went very smoothly and I was surprised at how soon I was able to walk on the new knee. The only downside was I took too much painkiller (a self-administered intra-venous injection whenever the fancy took me!) Consequently I didn’t suffer much pain but the painkiller bound me up, resulting in a very incapacitating constipation and an extra day in the recovery ward. But constipation is not the reason for writing today’s article.

Something else happened at that time which resulted in a great benefit that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. As I was leaving the hospital, or shortly thereafter, I was approached by a couple who offered to install hand rails in the house to help me get around easier after the operation. I accepted the offer and two strong hand-rails were installed outside the front door. They proved to be a godsend, not just for my initial arrival from the hospital but on many occasions thereafter. As I got older, I found myself using those hand rails more and more. Many a fall down the front steps was averted because I was able to grab one of the rails. They’re made of stainless steel and are bolted or screwed right into the wall of the house on either side of the door. It was a small but very important modification.

The same couple installed inexpensive, but functional, wooden hand-rails on the staircase to the second floor. Each flight already had a rail on one side or the other, but the couple added an extra rail to the side opposite. They also added a rail across the back of the landing. Well, of course, all of that was very helpful during my recovery from surgery, but those hand-rails came in useful far beyond their original raison d’etre. They continue to pay off, and more and more so every day. Both my wife and I find them increasingly useful as we get older and our balance becomes a little more unsteady. (For some strange reason, the wooden hill seems a little steeper now than it did when we moved in thirty years ago.)

In a similar vein, one other alteration made years earlier when we had the bathroom remodeled proved to be very useful. The fellow doing the tiling installed a stainless steel grab rail in the shower itself. It was another one of those modifications that didn’t seem too important to either of us at the time, but one which we came to appreciate more and more as the years passed. We did away with the conventional bath tub and make do with the shower. I had a small seat added on the wall opposite, which can be used for seating, but I have to admit thus far it has been home to the many bottles of shampoo and other beauty aids. Of which I know very little. By the way, speaking of the bathroom, at the same time we installed a more expensive toilet bowl because it was quieter than the standard type. The former one was also lower. Being quieter was great, but being lower became a problem as the years progressed and the muscles in our legs deteriorated. There were times, especially if you were feeling under the weather for one reason or another, that you were glad of a grab rail to you get back on your feet. Something to laugh about when you’re young, but something to make life easier as you got older. It had become another potential “fall” area; another opportunity to hit the hard floor with a thud.

There is one area at our house that is still not completely satisfactory as far as having a good grip is concerned, and that it the short walk from the front door to the driveway. Because of tree roots, it was difficult to install a step on the downward slope from the house when the brick path was installed. Consequently there is a spot, perhaps two meters long, where the path slopes just enough to make it slippery on icy days. At the time the path was built it didn’t strike us as an important issue, but as we get older that little slope becomes more and more of a threat to staying upright. I always have to make sure it is cleared of snow or well salted on slippery winter days.

As a sailor, somewhere along the way I learned the rule, “One hand for yourself, and one hand for the ship!” It was a rule that made sense at sea, but it makes sense on land too, especially as we age. It’s no longer wise to go up the stairs with a plate in one hand and a cup of very hot tea or coffee in the other. Now I always keep one hand for the grab-rail. Along the same lines, I now try to use (in a controlled way) gravity to my advantage wherever possible on the downward trip. Nowadays, we toss the soiled bed linen down the stairs in a bundle rather than try to carry it down. Before we started doing that, I had already had one fall when a heavy foot stepped on a trailing sheet. The result was a nosedive down the rest of the flight of stairs, resulting in bruises, aches and pains that lasted a week or more.

Tall glasses, full of some delectable drink, can be reduced to a messy mixture of broken glass and cocktail spread the length of the kitchen if you try to carry them to the table balanced on a slippery plate or tray. I know! That old song, “Slip sliding away!” comes to mind again. The glass starts to slide, but our reactions may be too slow nowadays to save the glass. Let’s face it, none of us are a match for a tray-balancing fast food waitress anymore, nor are we up to the speed of those girls that can carry half a dozen beer steins in each hand at the Bavarian Biergarten; maybe at one time, but not now. Today, the downside can be a nasty fall etc. You and I have to be aware of our limitations! That’s not to say wrap yourself in cotton wool, but you do have to be more careful as you age. So, take a look around your home and consider where and whether a grab-rail could be useful. The earlier you make your home a safe environment the better.

The annoying truth of the matter is, the young are able to learn comfortably from their mistakes. They fall, pick themselves up, dust themselves off as the saying goes, and are ready to go again – having perhaps learned a little lesson in the process. For us, it’s different. Our bones are a bit more brittle, and we’re not always quick enough to avoid trouble these days. Besides we know it all already, right? Well, maybe the brain thinks it does, but the body is having a job keeping up! Many a senior’s future has been changed abruptly for the worse by a fall. At our age, all falls are a serious matter, so get a grip and remember “One hand for yourself and one hand for the boat”, or house if you happen to live ashore! Leave the balancing acts to a younger generation.

Get those rails installed before you find yourself de-railed; there may not be anyone around to help you get back on your feet! A friend of mine in England suffering from Motor Neuron Disease was pottering around in her garage getting out bulbs for planting. She slipped down between a freezer chest and a cupboard. Because she had already lost the ability to talk, as well as having weak muscles in her limbs, she lay there twenty minutes before her absence was noticed. That may be an extreme case which we won’t face, but even opening jars with tight caps can be beyond the strength of a senior’s hands. Arthritis can be a real pain in the …………well, you name it! For me, it’s in my back and for my wife it’s in her hands. Get a grip on life while you’re still able. Yes, that’s it, that’s the moral of the story, I guess. Get a grip!

Gerry Wood, Feb 12, 2015