Well, that’s it then. Just a few days ago, on Dec. 27th, I rolled quietly and gently through my 98th birthday and started work on my 99th year. In past years, I have penned my birthday musings a few days before the event. This year, too nervous to tempt fate, I thought it wiser to wait until the 98th was actually posted and the first careful steps of the 99th taken.
They have been truly momentous years, and I have written many times that my glass of life was always more half full than half empty. However, it is a metaphor for a good life that I have tripped and fallen three times in 2021; the first hilarious, the second and third warnings that legs that had always obeyed automatic commands were no longer prepared to respond as they had since my first steps in the 1920s.
Still standing, I have a duty to offer a little advice to others now old enough to fear falling.
My first fall came as I was walking past the open office counter where fellow guests of Berwick Royal Oak Retirement Centre register for various in-house activities. Two elderly ladies had just completed a successful attempt to get seats together for a theatre or bus tour event. Laughing and smiling, arm-in-arm, they turned from the counter and, in lockstep, neatly detached me from my walker with a robust tackle.
The apologies were voluminous. My embarrassment was acute as I sat in a circle of solicitous faces, unable to move my legs into a lever-able position. Staff quickly assumed command. A check for bone or muscle damage and then, to modest applause from onlookers, I was lifted to my feet and on my way.
My second and third calls were scarier. I was alone and had ignored the advice of Nic, my paramedic son, to always wear a wrist-strapped button that, when pressed in an emergency, alerted staff to my precise location in the Berwick facility. I had been on a long walk that late summer day. I got back to my apartment feeling a little tired and, with shaky legs, collapsed as I took two or three steps into my room.
My wrist band emergency button was in my bedroom, unreachable from where I sat on my living room floor. On a small table behind me, my landline phone sat also beyond reach. My mobile phone was on a small table beside my TV-watching chair. Unreachable.
I was learning the hard way that my paramedic son was preaching serious survival gospel when he said: “Strap your button on and leave it on except when you wash or shower. And even then, make sure it will be within reach if you fall.”
So, as trained in old air raid drill lessons, I stayed calm and managed to struggle myself a little closer to my mobile, kick it with a favourable bounce toward me, grab it like a drowning man’s life ring, and call for paramedic aid. Before they left, one of the paras suggested I keep the mobile a little closer. “It could have bounced away from you and…..” I just grunted my thanks.
My third fall was a gentle collapse as I prepared for bed one evening. As I disrobed, one pant leg at a time, my left leg just folded. No pain, no warning, just total collapse. I bounced face-first off the bedroom wall. I twisted as I fell and finished up sitting with my back against the wall, a trickle of blood ambling down my face, knuckles scraped. This time, I proudly pressed the magic button – since fall two, I had never taken it off except in the shower.
My pride was fleeting. My mobile phone placed earlier on a bedside table and well beyond my reach, beeped. The front desk had obviously received my emergency alert and was calling to know if the button had been pressed by accident or did I actually need help.
Once again, I reached into my old air raid drill box and tapped out the Morse code SOS – three dots, three dashes and three dots. I have no idea if the sequence was being received as Morse, but within seconds, I heard a key unlock my room door, and a bright voice asked: “Where are you?”
The cavalry had arrived, and in double-quick time, I was checked for broken bones. Scratches and scrapes were cleaned up, and with what seemed like no effort at all, a young lady had me standing up. I never did figure out how she did it. It was quite remarkable, and “thank you” seemed inadequate.
It’s quite possible readers will think this 98th birthday offering is inadequate for a day that should be celebrated. But I felt, maybe I’m not alone – moving so close to what was once that distant 100th star – in processing the signals my ageing body and mind are sending me. It took me a long time to accept and get used to; first, a walking stick, then ski poles and then the embarrassment of a walker that is a damned nuisance but an essential, dependable aid.
I thought maybe there are readers out there who, as they move into their late 80s and later 90s, are equally reluctant to admit they need a little help. And so, my 98th birthday message: You are not alone; you are not the first to feel this way.
And “thank you” to readers kind enough to wish me well. May the year now beginning bring us all that we need for happiness.
My birthday wish for those who have read his far: Take care; don’t be shy. Use every available aid. Keep that safety call button on your wrist. Remember, your portable phone, your cell or the latest magic electronic marvel are only helpful if within reach when your need is greatest.