Monday 16 November 2009

Oh Crap! I'm Not An 80-Year-Old Woman!

What is worse than realising you are an 80-year-old woman? Realising that you are not, and will never be, an 80-year-old woman. For the last couple of years now I've joked that I am only a blue rinse and a hip replacement away from becoming an 80-year-old woman. This is not without a basis in fact. I worked with the elderly for years. I can spot an oldie at 100 paces. I have tested my hypothesis. I have identified my variables and calculated the statistics and it is clear I have many of the features of an elderly woman.
  1. I wear compression hose. Sexy? No? When I went into my local pharmacy to purchase said compression hose, the woman behind the counter told me I needed to bring my grandma in to be measured. When I said it was for me she looked confused and slightly suspicious. Apparently I was the first under 80 who had purchased a pair for their own personal use. She did not seem to get the humour in my saying that they were what all the hookers wore to turn on their elderly clients. I personally thought I was hilarious.
  2. I forget what day it is. I also forget, names, if I've had my tablets, where the keys are, what I am at the grocers for, and have a fondness for repeating the same story over again and again.
  3. I live at the doctors. Go to the doctors during work hours, especially early in the morning and it's wall to wall elderly. Dressed in their Sunday best. The same faces time and again. This is the major social event for the week for many elderly people. They can always find a bunion or corn that needs the doctors attention along with the compulsory 1/2 hr explanation and chat. So frequent are their visits that even the counter staff know them by name. I too am on a first name basis with my doctors and their staff. My cardiologist and I even had a chat about our weights like old girlfriends. The only difference is that I detest going and given the choice I would rather spend the time scrubbing my loo than going to the doctor yet again.
  4. I have just given in to purchasing a dosette box for my many medications. I used to recommend these for my elderly patients with memory difficulties. Sunday through Saturday spelt out in nice big bold letters, with separate boxes for the am and pm. Lets face it a human maraca with memory problems is a recipe for disaster.
  5. I am now considering buying a shower chair. Sitting on the floor of my shower only serves to remind me about my poor cleaning skills and my spectacular mould farming enterprise.
However, like all good theories that should be tested again and again when new data becomes available, I have recently been forced to re-evaluate my conclusions. Upon review, I have begun to suspect that my level of patheticness is not worthy of 80-year-old status. I have come to understand that even Methuselah could kick my arse at this point.

When I first went into hospital for intensive rehab I was filled with hope. My doc said she had sent many patients before. Fool! The minute I walked in something felt very very wrong. There wasn't one young face in the corridor for the 30 minutes I sat waiting to be taken to my room. It was like walking into my Nan's nursing home, complete with hacking coughs and the faint odour of bleach and urine. I stumbled along the bland grey corridor on that first day, expecting to see my Nan come around the corner at any minute. In doorway after doorway I'd catch a glimpse of grey hair, a crocheted blanket and a wiff of Bengay. I was surrounded by room after room of Merles and Franks and Beryls and Alfreds with no hope of escape. I was to be stuck in the room between the neurology and cardiopulmonary patients. Apparently no one under the age of 80 suffers from these ailments. How stupid of me to get a disorder better suited to those who enjoy butterscotch and bingo. Night times I would drift off to sleep listening to the dulcet tones of old Stan in the next room coughing up his left lung. Morning would be heralded by the gentle rhythms of him coughing up his right, followed by the delightful sound of the nurses sucking the phlegm from his clogged and failing lungs. Sadly I was to later find that silver-haired Stan was the Lance Armstrong of the exercise bike, whilst I required training wheels.

It was particularly inspiring that first day when the physios did my baseline measurements. There is nothing more heartening than being lapped by an old chick on a zimmer frame. I'd wander up to the gym for my 3 sessions of patheticness a day, which my lovely physiotherapist was kind enough to call exercise. I'd sit in the waiting chairs surveying the large bland open space before me. One thing I learned early on sitting in those chairs was to avoid eye contact or fain death/sleep. If not you ended up with your new elderly best friend telling you her life story and complete medical history. You only make that mistake once. The gym was a site to behold. It was like some bizarre, overly elaborate hamster cage. It was filled with an army of bent grey-haired ladies in pearls and old men with pants up to their arm pits. They'd shuffle around weird wooden boxes, sit in a chair, stand up from a chair, sit down in a chair, stand up from a chair. I'd fall into a trance watching the hypnotic rise and fall of those frail grey-haired hamsters. Then the tea ladies would come and those same little old ladies and gentlemen would move with speed that bellied their age and infirmity, to be the first in line for a cup of tea coloured water and a slightly moist digestive biscuit. It was like seagulls on a hot chip. It must have been scary for those hair-netted, khaki-coloured, tea ladies as that grey-haired horde descended on mass on their cart. Maybe that's why they always looked like they had just sucked on a lemon, and had delightful personalities to match. Me in my patheticness had to be content to sit and wait for the tea ladies to bring the dregs to the smelly vinyl physio bed as I wasn't trusted not to go arse up after my oh so hectic routine of leg raises. In reality I had no desire to fight those old ladies for their cuppa. I still have a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn't win in that fight.

My favourite memory of that hospital stay is lining up to vote. The corridor was filled with a long line of zimmer frames, walking sticks, wheelchairs and me. Woo Hoo inspiring! Eventually I did make my jail break. Luckily I was released so I didn't have to implement my Shawshank plan through the sewage pipe. One more day and I would have done it, turds be damned.

Then it was me and my grey haired homies at my outpatient physio. It's hard not feel conspicuous in a group when you are the only one not born during the Great Depression. I think I started to lose the plot during this period or at least developed a bad attitude. Maybe dementia is catching? Is it wrong to fantasise about tripping the 70-year-old guy with the quadruple bypass running on the treadmill, or sticking a walking stick in the wheels of the exercise bike occupied by the 80-year-old with the new stent. I would devise rather elaborate plans in my mind of what to do to the oldies who could walk faster and further than me. I'm a bad person I know, but at least it kept me entertained for all those months. One thing I do love is that the elderly turn up to physio in their Sunday best, whereas I'd rock up in my old gym gear, stained runners and my hair just barely held back in an old hair elastic. Maybe that's the secret? If I wore pearls and got my hair "set" I'd be able to walk for more than 5 minutes without wanting to pass out. I hung out with the gang for a year before I broke free. I did half expect I'd have to endure a gang beat down with their zimmer frames and walking sticks in retribution for leaving.

Now it's the Masters Games and I must truly face the fact that I am not worthy of being an octogenarian, nonagenarian or even centenarian. A news article about a 100-year-old freak of nature, who can not only pick up a shot put but also throw it 5 metres, is not a feel good story to a 36-year-old woman who is unable to open a can of tomatoes thanks to her pathetically weak arms. Damn it grandma go home sit in your rocker and complain about your arthritis, your sluggish bowel and those kids with their evil devil music. Serve up curdled cream, pickled ox-tongue and year-old lamingtons like a normal Nanna (or was that just my gastronomically challenged Nanna?). That's what 100 year-old ladies should be doing, not playing with large metal balls and wearing short shorts. This spunky old Nanna and her hipster peeps may be more husk than flesh, have skin flaps that flutter in the wind, and arses that have completely disappeared, but they still wouldn't want me in their group. No matter how much prune juice I drink or how many tubes of liniment I have on my bathroom shelf, I will never be allowed in with the cool grey-haired kids. I will remain Nigel-no-friends with my abnormal disorder.

I must face facts. As much as I may wish it I am not an 80-year-old woman. Crap!

The unfortunately young Michelle :)

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Lest We Forget

Without fail The Last Post makes me tear up every time I hear it played. Something about those notes, heard since earliest childhood, touch the soul. Stillness. A pure silence enveloping the crowd as everyone is united by each note. Pausing to remember those who have lost there lives in wars on foreign soils. Far from their homes and the embrace of the ones they love. For those who remain lost, missing on the field of battle in lands far removed from the dreams of youth.

As a child that silence seemed to go on for hours. I would read the long list of names on the shrine in the centre of town. So many names, so many places. Never reaching the end. Surnames I recognised as belonging to people I knew around town. Surnames that were long forgotten. Those little brass letters seemed to glow in the sunshine, almost bursting with the unimaginable loss and pain they struggled to contain. So young. Not much older than my brother at the time. I'd look at him and try to imagine him in a slouch hat, riding with Lighthorsemen, leaping the walls of Bathsheba in a hail of bullets. Would he have been able to overcome the fear screaming in his mind as his horse took that first step towards those walls? When the first bullet rang out? Would he have come home? Would he still have been the laughing boy I knew and loved? I hoped I'd never have to find out.

Those little brass letters held a thousand stories. Stories fading to the pages of history. Time slowly taking those who fought by their sides or remembered the little things that made them them. The way they held their head when they were listening or their carefree smiles as they talked with friends, before the call of war drew them to enlist. Stories that would blur and merge, to lose that which made each man unique, that made them special. Young men dead defending their country and loved ones in wars far removed from their own hearths. Young men who had never gone further than maybe a day or twos walk form their homes, agreeing to be transported to foreign lands they'd only read of in books. Drawn by the call of King and country. I often wonder what those young men thought when they first set eyes on the pyramids or walked through the poppy lined fields of France. I wonder if they could have foreseen the horrors that lay before them. I wonder what it must have felt like in that moment when the excitement of the unknown was replaced by the reality of the battlefield.

Then that never ending silence would be broken by the mournful notes from the lone bugler somewhere in the crowd. It always felt like the world stopped for the length of that song. Holding its breath in grief as it mourned it's lost sons. Even as a small child I felt the solemnity of that moment in my soul.

Today is Remembrance Day once more. A day to remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice in too many wars past and present. My grandfather fought in WWI on the battlefields of the Somme. He, like so many young men of his time, lived through the horror of war to return home heroes. Little was spoken of the true horrors they faced. They were celebrated for their heroism and sacrifice. Good and Evil were black and white. Clear for all to see. Victory easy to identify. A nation united to celebrate bravery and create heroes to be honoured for all time.

Today's wars are different. Good and Evil are no longer clear. Victory often intangible. We see the face of war on our TV screens each night. We see the human tragedy, the women and children crying in the streets over the bodies of the dead, and it all becomes grey. War is condemned and nations are no longer united is their resolve to defeat an easily identifiable Evil. We see the fluidity of war, the blurring or right and wrong, the aim of the conflict becomes lost in complex politics. War no longer has a spectacular ending where everyone can mark the day with ticker tape parades, like Victory in Europe or Victory in the Pacific. War and hatred persist and we become desensitised to the carnage we see on the news. Death of solider and civilian alike become mere numbers flashed on a screen.

Many things are different between 1915 and 2009. But regardless of whether you agree or disagree with war. Regardless of why it started or why it continues, one thing never changes. The soldiers who chose to serve their country either on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan or on Peace Keeping missions in various nations around the globe, the faces are the same as those captured in photos of the Great War, WWII, Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam.....the list goes on. Different places, different times but the faces are interchangable.

They are mothers and fathers, son and daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters. They are your next door neighbour or the guy or girl you went to school with. They have families that love them and pray every night for their safe return. They look like you. They are you. These men and women see unimaginable horrors which they must live with for the rest of their lives. Some come home with horrific injuries, both physical and mental. Even those that get to come home frequently live with the uncertainty of being recalled for another tour, and another and another.

So often these soldiers are barely out of their teens. Not considered responsible enough to buy alcohol, but deemed able to hold a gun and dance with death on a foreign shore. I look at my 15 year old son and I can't imagine how I would be able to watch him leave to go to war or live with the unbearable fear until he was home safe once more. To see the look of lost innocence on the faces of the returning soldiers, young faces yet so old. I look at the picture of my grandfather in his uniform, more a child than a man, and it's hard to fathom that same young face on the battlefield, facing death and destruction everyday. Killing another human being in the name of war and watching his friends killed around him. Knowing the fragility and complexity of life too soon.

It's hard to equate the disappearing lines of old men that march on Remembrance and ANZAC Day, to the young men who set off each day to the deserts of the Middleast or to a multitude of other conflicts around the world. But look in their eyes and they are united young and old. United by that knowing look in their eyes of horrors seen and friends lost, of a constant battle to understand what they did and what they saw.

You don't have to agree with war, no one in their right mind does. War brings forth the worst of humanity, but it can also bring forth the best. What is important is to remember that those endless oceans of soldiers we see on the nightly news are people. People with their own unique histories and memories. People who hurt and bleed. People who love and ache. People who show bravery and courage. People who struggle with what they see and do. People who have families and friends. People who like pizza and football and going to the pub with friends. People with parents and children. They are people who sometimes don't get the chance to return home, who don't get to say good bye to the ones they love. People who can come back so changed by their experiences that the person they were may be lost forever. The numbers of dead and injured reported on the news do not reflect the beauty of a life lost to soon, or of one changed forever.

Remembrance Day is not a celebration of war. It is not a day to debate political ideologies. It is a chance to remember the human face of war, of the men and women who risk their lives day after day, and of those who make the ultimate sacrifice.

Lest We Forget

Michelle :)