BECOMING 91

BECOMING 91

This past year as I was approaching my 91st birthday, I didn’t think of it as being that important. “Don’t give me a party, “ I told my children. They had celebrated my 88th with a huge surprise party, because 88 in Japanese is a lucky number, the Japanese character for 88 being the same character for their staple, rice. “Hold off until I reach 95,” I added. (If I ever do!). Reading the recent obituaries in the New York Times, ( a daily activity) I’ve been cheered by seeing that more than half of those listed are only in their 70s or 80s,.  I’ve  surpassed them already! Being in one’s 90s is a much more honorable age at which to die.  Actually,  I started to think that while becoming 90 is not that important, you’re only turning a bend in the road, but when you reach 91 you’re now onto what is probably the last road of your life.  Anyway by the time I reached 91 which was Jan. I6, I had changed my point of view, but too late for a party. Besides, my son Chris and family were vacationing in New Zealand. My daughter Ingrid said she would be coming in from New Jersey to take me out to dinner the Sunday before, but I declined because we were in one of those deep freezes that precludes going outside. I suggested she come the following Sunday.

I didn’t know that I would start celebrating early, but my friend Ellie dropped in on Sunday bringing me a lovely lavender, silk scarf and a vial of a lavender essence that emits the most pleasing aroma. On my birthday I woke up to a beautiful and loving greeting from Susan, the leader of our writing workshop. Next, Besilla, the wonderful aide who helps me out twice a week, appeared bringing me exactly what I needed – a bouquet of pretty flowers, a purple and apple green (like the color of my kitchen walls) oven mitt and a microwave cover for my dinner plates. Then the front door bell rang; a delivery man arrived bringing with him a touch of Spring – the sweetest looking bouquet of yellow roses, black eyed susans, and white daisies,  a gift from my daughter and son-in-law. When Besilla was leaving she noticed a bag hanging on the the doorknob which contained a bouquet of dried lavender flowers and a small luscious looking chocolate mousse cake, but with no clue as to who had left them. Such a loving and thoughtful surprise made my heart leap with joy! That afternoon I went downstairs to MRHS, our social services center, to celebrate with the other residents who have birthdays in January.  The monthly event coincided this year with the very day of my birthday. The most delicious cake is always provided at these functions, and I returned with a huge slice of dark chocolate cake with vanilla butter icing which I enjoyed with a mug of loose green tea from Japan.

There were a myriad of “happy birthdays”on Facebook, and a phone visit with my daughter who said another present would be coming but giving no clues as to what it would be. I had emailed my children a couple of weeks before that if they were wondering what to give me for my birthday, I’d love to receive a lightweight lavender colored wool blanket. The one I have had for many years looks like an old rag and offends my aesthetic sensibilities! Several days later Ingrid told me she had no success finding a lavender one made of wool online. She  had turned the problem over to her brother, because with all those sheep in New Zealand, my requirements were bound to be fulfilled. That evening my son and family tried to call me but the phone line kept going dead after one sentence or phrase.  Judging by this lack of success, I decided that New Zealand must be at some other end of the world from Japan, because the calls  from there  sound as if they’re coming from next door.  I then received an email from my son saying that they had found a present for me, but it might take a while because they had to ship it.  I didn’t have the chutzpah to ask if it was lavender colored. Other emails showed the family enjoying one of the country’s highlights – wine tasting at the vineyards, adding that I would be receiving a shipment for my birthday from Craggy Range, their oldest and most prestigious winery. Added to the case that they sent me for Christmas, I’ll be celebrating my 91st birthday until I’m 92!  It was another wonderful bonus day!

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  I WOULDN’T HAVE MISSED IT FOR THE WORLD!      At 89 ½ years of age (we’re counting half years again), except when I broke my kneecap many years ago, I had never suffered extreme physical pain.  Last August when I broke my right hip and shattered my right elbow, oh, my God, did that hurt, especially when I was transferred from the ambulance stretcher onto the hospital bed.  But that was nothing compared to the truly excruciating pain caused by a stage four open bed sore on my coccyx gotten from lying in the hospital bed day after day.  Fortunately, due to the pain medications oxycodone and oxycontin, I was able to stay sane, although not totally pain free, but spaced out mentally and physically.  In conversations, words and phrases eluded me.  For weeks, aside from one and a half hours daily of physical therapy, I would spend hours sitting in the wheelchair in my room at the nursing home, my head resting on a pillow on the tray table to lessen my coccyx’s contact with the seat.  Of course, I had to sleep on my side.   I couldn’t focus on reading anything.  My family showed me how to listen to Podcasts and how to read books on my Kindle, and to watch movies on my iPad, but to no avail.  My mind was not capable of dealing with anything except existence.   Plus the constipation due to the oxycodone was a continuing problem (the solution: warm prune juice).  And then came the pneumonia, the congestive heart failure, the A-fib and MRSA! Recovering, I was so weak I couldn’t even button my shirt; my fingers wouldn’t work and I needed help brushing my teeth.  I did marvel, however, at how I could eat soup with my left hand without ever spilling a drop.  Thank God for my pocket radio and for NPR!  They were my constant companion day and night.  I wonder how people with chronic pain can go on living. I know now what extreme pain is and have compassion for those who suffer. I wouldn’t have missed these experiences for the world!      My family members and the few friends whom I notified (I did not particularly want visitors, reminding myself of my cats who when ill hid under the living room couch) were wonderful to me. My granddaughter Sarah and her husband Chris came to see me practically every night after work.  Of friends, I single out Feli.  She, from the Philippines originally, has been with my son and his family ever since Sarah was born in Paris 33 years ago.  She has continued to live with them ever since, mostly in Japan.  During my stay at the nursing home, Sarah invited her for a month’s visit with them.  Every evening at 6:00 Feli would bring me dinner she had  prepared that afternoon.  She followed no recipes, concocting her own which were always delicious.  One evening, after I had returned to my own home, my left foot was swollen as it had been for days.  Feli warmed some olive  oil, got down on her hands and knees, and massaged the oil into my foot until it returned to normal.  This was her home remedy and it worked.  A  real live angel had come to help me.  I wouldn’t have missed these experiences for the world!      Election night I was very depressed, thinking this is no life, lying in the  nursing home with no future.  I still thought Hillary would win, but I began to have doubts when the nurse who came in to give me my sleep and pain  medications said despondently that Trump was winning in South Carolina.  I went to sleep but woke up at 2:00 am and with trepidation turned on my  trusted pocket radio.  Trump had won.  The outcome fitted so well with the despondency I had felt earlier.  I went back to sleep with gloom settling over me.  What would become of our country and what would become of me?  I wouldn’t have missed experiencing this despair for the world!      “Shit, shit, everywhere shit,” my aide exclaimed, first in Spanish I was guessing, and then in English.  It was the day after I had returned to the nursing home after surviving the pneumonia and other afflictions in the hospital.  The bedpan was overflowing as she cleaned up the mess on  the bed, the floor, and me.  “Yup, it’s all of that and more,” I said at which she chuckled.  Upon soiling everything again the following day, I meekly said,  “I couldn’t help it.” “I know,” she replied gently.  I grew to become quite fond of her.  The hardworking aides hurrying from one patient to another are the unsung heroines of these institutions.  At 5:00 am, the aides working the night shift change our diapers and wash our bottoms with soap and warm water.  In my half sleep I wonder how they feel or what they are thinking while doing this gross job.  There were two evening aides, Carmen and Mirla, whom I loved, because they treated me as if I were their beloved grandmother.   Another favorite of mine among the staff was Dr. Lansey, who oversaw the healing of the wound on my coccyx.  He said they take weeks or even months to heal.  In my case, it was the latter. However, he did cure a digestive problem that had plagued me for four years by prescribing Beano before meals, so I’ll always be grateful to him.  It was always a pleasure to see him, because he wore the most gorgeous ties, which he bought in Paris. I wouldn’t have missed these experiences for the world! My stay at the nursing home lasted until December 5th, the maximum Medicare would pay for  (100 days!).  Actually I think it was time for me to come home, although I had misgivings as to how I would fare.  In the nursing home all my needs were met, but my daughter Ingrid thought that made me too dependent (the main concern of nursing homes is that the patient not fall so they’re overly protective).  She had arranged for furniture to be moved or discarded so I could get around the apartment more easily and making room for a hospital bed.  She arranged to have more bars installed in the bathroom, bought doughnut cushions for the chairs, and all the gadgets that would help me cope with my new life: a cordless phone in every room, a lamp over my bed which can be turned on and off by a remote control, and a paging mechanism hanging from the bed railing which, when I press the button, plays Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Flowers” very loudly from the speaker in the other bedroom.  For the first few weeks, my daught stayed most nights (on other nights a lovely woman covered for her), taking me to doctors’ appointments, arranging her lawyering schedule and working on her cases on the computer.   My darling son Christopher came from Japan when Ingrid went on a hiking tour in Europe, a trip arranged months before.  He made my life even easier by getting a remote control for all the lights in the living room.             However, Ingrid was determined to make me independent.  I didn’t know at the time that her husband, who is a doctor, told her that if I were not to walk and do things for myself, I would die.  It was an effort to dress myself, especially pulling up the pant’s leg up my right leg, which was still stiff from the operation.  It would take me two hours to get ready for bed.  For weeks Ingrid had been my spokesperson for calls to doctors and agencies.  I remember the day she told me that I should do the calling to one of the doctors myself.   Please, you call.  No, you call.   It seemed like an effort, but once I did it, I felt empowered as I began reasserting my independence. I soon came to value her approach, which she later termed bullying.  But she always applauded my accomplishments, thereby encouraging me to continue making strides.  I am now able to do almost everything for myself except take a bath, and I credit my daughter for my progress.  And I have loved her stays with me; she brings good cheer, optimism and stability into my life.  I wouldn’t have missed the greater closeness that has developed between us for the world! Fast forward to early evening on Easter Sunday.  My granddaughter Sarah and I arrive at Columbus Circle and Central Park headed for Rotisserie Georgette on 60th and Fifth Avenue.  Sarah thinks I need to get some fresh air (I haven’t been outdoors for a week) and exercise. “But that’s all the way to the East side”, I whine, “I could never make it that far even holding on to my walker with both hands.”  Two blocks to my neighborhood Starbucks has been my limit up till now. “Well, when you get tired, Granny Lydia, we’ll exit Central Park and take a taxi to the restaurant.”   You’d think I’d be onto Sarah’s ruses by now.   We keep moving along slowly while Sarah keeps up the conversation, even resorting to knotty family problems.  I look up and ahead.  “Fifth Avenue is so far away,” I say.  “We’re half way there.   Do you want to rest on the seat of the walker?  Shall we take a taxi?”   “No, let’s see if I can make it a little further.”  “Chris has been wanting to take you to this restaurant for Easter.  It has the best chicken.”  I still can’t believe there’s a rotisserie on Fifth Avenue, but maybe by adding the French name “Georgette” it was deemed acceptable. “ Well, it’s a little off 5th.”  “How far off?” The park is overflowing with picnickers and with people now heading home, all dressed in casual attire, the Easter Paraders having left long ago.  Sarah and I must be a sight to behold, dressed in our finery; she, young and beautiful in a long black dress with flared skirt, flowing black hair and dangling green earrings, steering my walker through the crowds. I, old, gray haired and stooped over, but in my best silk chiffon jacket over black, trying to avoid the cracks in the pathways as I keep plodding along.  I can’t believe we’ve rounded the corner at Fifth Avenue, but now I can’t take another step.  Sarah gets me a bottle of water from a food vendor.   “Only two more blocks to go.”  We get to 60th Street, but no Georgette sign.  I thought so. “It’s just a little further east.”  Which turns out to be almost to Madison Avenue!  Chris comes out to help me up the stairs of the restaurant, which are a piece of cake now.   Sarah is jubilant that I have made it so far.  As always, she gives me the credit, but I know by now that it is due to her encouragement  (and psychological manipulation).  Still, I am in awe of having walked over a mile.  Seven months ago the medical team said I would be confined to a wheelchair 24/7 for the rest of my life.      For months, I wondered why I had to endure all that I went through, especially all the pain and the adjustment to starting life all over again at the age of 90.  Now I know the reasons why.  Looking back on all I have learned and experienced, all the wonderful, caring people I have met, and spending precious time with my family, I wouldn’t have missed it all for the world!

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