| Musings |

One Step at a Time

     “I already see the kind of old lady you’re going to be!” she told me

MY friend Esther, who’d come to visit me as I recovered from ankle surgery, sat back in the rocking chair, while I maneuvered my knee scooter to the kitchen to get a stack of plastic clear cups. Back in the room, I reached for a pitcher to pour Esther some water.

“Here, I’ll pour the water myself. Thanks,” she said, taking the pitcher and sitting back down.

“Wait,” I said, as I scooted toward the kitchen again for napkins. Heading back into the bedroom, one wheel bumped against the doorpost’s wood trim.

“Don’t you think you’re overdoing things with that scooter? Stay in bed and ask for help!” Esther said.

Her characteristic frankness startled me. I cringed at the thought that she might be right (she usually is) and I was asking for trouble by scooting around the house like a kid riding a Razor. Doctor’s number-one rule for post-ankle-surgery is “Don’t you dare bear weight or put your foot down. Ever.”

Now, to be clear, I wasn’t actually in violation of the rules. My knee was staying on the cushioned scooter seat, not the floor. And even if I was using that scooter with what some might call reckless abandon, I wasn’t hurting myself.

“I’m fine, Esther,” I said again.

She told me she didn’t think I was fine. While she admired my bravery, she thought multitasking was dangerous and that it was ridiculous that I insisted on doing things that could be done by others. “I already see the kind of old lady you’re going to be!” she told me.

“Ya?” I countered. “What kind?”

“The type who tries to do lots at a time, and refuses help from neighbors and friends.”

“Look,” I said. “Just because you saw me bending to pick something up from the floor while holding on to the scooter handle doesn’t mean I’m reckless!” I willed myself to calm down, but had to have the last word. “And for your information, I do ask for help. My friends do my food shopping all the time.

“I can do this,” I said, grabbing a broom from the side of the room. “I can quite easily — with caution of course — sweep the floor with one hand, and keep the other hand on the scooter. Okay?” I pleaded, as I edged closer to my bed with the scooter while sweeping with the other hand.

“And I’m careful,” I said. “See?”

Then I plopped down onto my bed and took a deep breath.

“One. Thing. At. A. Time,” Esther was almost shouting now. Wow, she felt really strongly about this.

“Whatever. I’m exhausted,” I said, beginning to feel as if I were being cornered into someone else’s version of reality. I conceded. “One thing at a time. I got it. Okay?”

“Great,” she said, adding, “Turn it into an acronym. OTAT. You know how we still think we can do ten things at once? Well, multitasking was always impractical, but at our age it’s also dangerous. You can chas v’shalom fall and break a bone. Think of OTAT to remind you to—”

“Fine. I agree,” I interrupted. “I do need to slow down and be more mindful. And come to think of it, I need to ask for assistance, too.”

I noticed the pile of laundry on the other bed and wondered about this. Are we really getting old? Are we less capable and productive than before? I may be 63 and post-surgery, but I don’t feel old and frail. Still, I guess it’s not a crime to ask for help, whether post-op or not. It’s part of life.

When I was younger, I could accomplish so much. I could fold laundry, return the clothes to the drawers, and hang up the dresses and shirts. Then I’d grab my jacket and keys, run a few errands, and return home to spend time grading papers for my teaching job. Now, I tire after being on my feet for long and need naps that I don’t always take. I push myself to entertain and end up ordering takeout or serving food prepared by my kids. Then I feel guilty.

Maybe I was showing early signs of that stubborn woman who wouldn’t accept help if my life depended on it. I pictured myself in 30 years as someone who argues with her adult kids and resists getting a caregiver.

For weeks I’d been hearing these reminders from my husband about taking it easy, especially when I do too many things at once. And then I misplace things like my cell phone, watch, or that piece of paper with my to-do list.

Maybe I just needed a one-word reminder to myself to do things one at a time, especially now. I’d been warned that if I bore weight on my ankle, I’d ruin the surgery. My husband translated these instructions as, “Don’t do anything on your own besides take the scooter to the bathroom and back.” If I needed to go down the ramp in front of our house, I’d have to wait till he was available to stand behind me like a parent running behind a child learning to ride a bicycle.

My family’s urgings were encapsulated in fun acronyms, and I did want to take good care of myself.  One thing at a time. Ask for assistance. Yet something was causing me to resist self-care.

Was it the Peter Pan in me who never wanted to grow up? Was it my sensing that time was running out as I aged, and I need to do everything at the same time, because how else would I accomplish my potential in my time left on this planet?

These thoughts played arpeggios in my mind as I eased into a rhythm of non-weight-bearing status. The Yamim Tovim came and my daughters-in-law helped out with serving, cleaning up, and cooking. I took care of myself by excusing myself and going into the bedroom to rest. And it felt pretty good.

Then, a few days after Yom Tov, while riding my scooter and thinking about my to-do list, I felt off balance. My right knee had jerked off of the horizontal cushioned bench, and before I knew it my casted foot landed firmly on the floor with an audible thud. It was clear that my foot, the one forbidden from making contact with the floor, was now firmly (and painfully) hugging the hardwood floor.  Unsure whether to call for help or try to reposition my knee back on the bench, I hesitated, then froze as a sharp bolt of pain shot up my ankle.

I cowered in bed with my achy ankle, terrified I’d ruined the doctor’s hard work. But when the pain persisted, I called my doctor’s office.

“The cast is well-padded and protected, and if Tylenol brings down the pain, then you’re probably fine,” the nurse reassured me. “Oh, and don’t rely on this, Miriam, but you’re not the first, nor the last, to slip.” I breathed easier.

Still, I worried. To my relief, the next appointment’s X-ray showed that the bones were healing properly.

I’ve since graduated to weight-bearing status, as my cast was removed several months ago. But I still keep “One thing at a time” in mind.

Maybe I won’t become that argumentative matriarch after all. I might even listen when my kids suggest I use a wheelchair at the airport (I actually used one recently!) and use a walker when ambulating to prevent falls.

Rather than fight the natural progression of things, I’m easing into my reality, one day at a time.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 872)

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