This is a lovely essay submitted by one of our PEN readers, a reflection on what an older gentleman in our community has learned... and wishes to share with younger people.
By Richard Hiteshew
I am 75 years old and have severe hemophilia B. I infuse twice weekly, 5,000 IU. When I was growing up I thought that I would not be able to walk in my later years due to the hundreds of leg injuries I sustained as a child. I still walk but have had other difficulties. Frankly, I was not prepared for advanced age. In the interest of helping others avoid some of the pit falls, I would like to give some advice.
First and foremost, you must own yourself. You have a disorder. I remember my mother telling me when I was six or seven years old, "Richard, you were dealt a bad hand, make the most of it." Hemophilia has been referred to as the "royal disease." It was in the German, Spanish, English and Russian royal families in the 1800-1900s. I believe it is called the royal disease because it is a royal pain! Hemophilia is a chronic disorder that can, in 15 minutes of sustaining an injury, become critical. You must personally own it and learn how to work with it.
Proverbs 16:18 says pride goes before a fall. Get handicapped tags for your car. Buy a four-prong cane. Get rid of your pride. You may be in a wheelchair, crutches, braces, or have a terrible limp. So what? Hold your head high and remember that there are people who have it a lot worse than you. Purchase a fold up chair that has side arms. The arms will help you get out of the chair. Keep the foldable chair in your car. Purchase a lift chair to help you get up for home use. They are very expensive, but you can buy them for a deep discount on Craigslist.
I have all of my original joints except for my right shoulder. Several years ago I had to undergo total reverse shoulder replacement. The reason for the replacement was a loss of cartilage in my shoulders. That loss was caused primarily by lifting myself from a sitting position using my arms instead of my legs. I also had to lift myself from my many sports cars. The sports cars are fun but sit low to the ground, and we unknowingly injure ourselves getting in and out. So lose the sports cars and get a minivan. It is my experience that the best minivans for impaired people are the midsized like the Ford Escape, Cadillac SRX, and BMW X3. A good test is that you want the seat to be butt level. You also want the vehicle to have wide doors to allow easy entry and exit.
Prevent falls. When walking, even for a short distance, never try to carry something in both hands. You need a free hand for balance or to steady yourself. Put handrails on all steps, even if it is only two or three. Additionally, put grab bars anywhere you may need them. I have nine grab bars in my bathroom. I also have them at every step down in my home, both inside and outdoors. Make your home handicapped accessible.
When walking, never, ever step out of someone's way. Side stepping is dangerous. Stand still and let the other person walk around you. Never walk backwards for any reason. You cannot see what is behind you. Learn to fall down. It's called tuck and roll. If you feel yourself falling, tuck your arms close to your body with one hand over the other and turn your body so you will land on your shoulder. Your shoulder will take a hit better than your hip. Don't try to catch yourself. That is how elderly people break their arms or worse yet, their wrists. If you are walking on grassy surfaces, either use your cane or hold onto someone's arm. Divots in grass can drop you in a flash.
Finally, be your own advocate. Don't listen to other people who say “It’s going to be ok.” If it’s not ok, there is only one person in the world that will suffer the consequences: you. If you are not comfortable with anything, assert yourself and say no. If you are mistaken you can always have a do over. Learn as much as you can about your disorder so that you know more than anyone… maybe even your doctors!