My Mom is 90, lives independently with her close friend Jerry, and has more energy than I ever had or could hope to have if I live that long. They’re out every day and most evenings doing things that keep them engaged and focused on tomorrow. Unfortunately she fell coming out of a movie last week and that’s where this story begins.
Like an athlete she jumped right up after her fall and tried to ‘walk it off’. Of course the movie operators called the paramedics right away – no sense letting any ambiguity or increased liability into what they hoped was a simple slip and fall. When the dust cleared later that night in the emergency room it was confirmed that she’d broken her femur just below the hip – and it was at this point that the story could have gone one way or another.
The hospital’s admissions staff saw a 90 year old woman who was a bit disoriented and confused, and assumed she was an Alzheimer’s patient; that’s what they told the orthopedic team, and from that they preliminarily prescribed 8 weeks of bed rest, which to a 90 year old might be a real problem. Forget that this might have led to pneumonia, bed sores or worse, Mom wouldn’t have stayed in bed any more than a youngster would, and not only would the break not have healed, it most likely would have gotten worse. And the consequences of that would have been dire indeed.
I’m told that’s how these things can go – unless, of course, the patient has an advocate. An advocate can be a friend or family member, or a doctor or nurse who knows the patient and also their way around the medical world. Somebody who’ll ask and answer questions, take charge and generally pay attention to what’s going on. Advocates watch out for things like misdiagnoses, late medications or treatments, and other various mistakes (or oversights) – stuff the patient is either unaware of or finds difficult to fully understand. In this case the advocate was my brother; he’s a doctor, and he let the other attending professionals know that my Mom lives independently, is out gallivanting 5 nights a week, goes to school 4 days a week and is the poster girl for 90 being the new 70. Hell, my Mom Skypes me – what were they thinking?
So fast forward through that first 24 hours and she’s back in her room after a successful surgery and already starting to ask when she can get out to have her hair done. My daughter and niece were with her nearly non-stop for these first five days – ostensibly keeping an eye out or ear open, but mostly taking the brunt of Mom’s demands – she was like the kids in the backseat constantly asking “are we there yet”. Aren’t mothers supposed to be the ones telling us to take it easy, slow down, don’t be so anxious, and everything takes time? After three days she was transferred to a rehab hospital for physical therapy, and again she complained that it was not going fast enough. What’s the matter with her – I mean, where’s she gotta go?? But I guess at 90 you don’t want to waste one day lying around, and frankly I’m thrilled she’s still rarin’ to go.
Life is funny – there are role reversals all around us and learning to navigate them is the challenge of our times. Medical science, when it’s working right, let’s us all live longer, combats ailments better and creates this kind of situation where old children are dealing longer with older parents. Since we were all children once, child care comes more or less naturally – but we’re seemingly unprepared for all the elder care issues and challenges that arise as everyone lives longer. Fortunately, we experienced first-hand the value of effective and objective medical patient advocacy – I am so thankful for all that my brother, my daughter and my niece did to help straighten out some of the nasty curves in this road. And just as fortunately, Mom and her friend Jerry are the kinds of people who are constantly looking towards the horizon for what’s next. I give them credit, and now that the shock of this past week is wearing off I guess that’s a lesson I need to take away from this. Yeah, she’ll slow down some, but not enough to miss any of the life she loves and looks forward to each day. And maybe that’s part of the lesson too – don’t quit, don’t get bummed out by what life throws at you and don’t stop pushing yourself into all that life has in store today. Because you just never know what tomorrow may bring.
My message this week is about innovation and the need to continually grow and learn new things:
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” -C.S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis (1898 – 1963), commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a British novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Ireland.
Got any new dreams today? Not just the kind you try to remember and think about when you wake, but the kind that have you excited to try something really new. Everyone can dream, but not everyone has the curiosity, energy, courage and stamina to try to achieve their dreams. Most want things to be smooth and easy, with no surprises or challenges that can potentially make you look silly. Fact is, without those challenges or knowing how to recover from looking silly you’ll never get to experience what it is to learn from trying something new. And you can tell the ones who are into this – the twinkle in their eyes, the bounce in their step, the way they carry themselves. If that’s you, and you’ll know if it is, then set another goal today, dream another dream today and make a pledge to be creative and innovative today. Go ahead – you’re never too old!
Saturday, August 6, 2011
at 8:09 AM