We don’t give a rip what anybody thinks.

I talked to my friend Lois the other day. She was telling me how she is orchestrating a skit for Talent Night at her church. “It’s silly,” she said. “It’s a skit that I have done years ago with my family.” 

What caught my attention was the fact that Lois is selling this idea to a group of similar older folks by asking, “Who can get down on their knees?” Only two out of 10 said they could get down on their knees (and, I suppose could get up again). Well, that was all Lois needed because the skit calls for two folks to be animals. She also told her church group that she is not telling them what the skit is about because they have to be “spontaneous.” On top of that, Lois is working on what the “Choir” will sing. I have the inside scoop that Lois is writing alternative rhymes to common ditties, such as Old MacDonald had a Farm.  

Now think about this, here is a group of elder church members who are willing to participate in a skit when they have no idea what it is about, agree to be spontaneous, get down on their knees in order to be animals, and sing farcical words to familiar melodies in front of the church congregation! 

Lois made the point that at a certain age it no longer bothers us old timers to join in comical entertainment. Why should we care how we are perceived at this late stage of our lives? 

So, when I read Tim Hoyt’s, latest story, Playing with Young Minds, under his weekday missive, Story with Morning Coffee, I thought of Lois and her giddy church group. Tim’s story is silly, too, but underneath the seemingly simplistic premise is a profound lesson about growing older.  

 

Stories for Morning Coffee and No Eggs

 

by Tim Hoyt

~Playing with Young Minds~

“Age is just a number.”  I hear that all the time, mostly from men and women who are doing pretty well in spite of knees that don’t think about running a mile any longer and chests that keep on pumping in and out figuring, with proper attitude, they’ve got plenty more good days.  

“Yeah, and it’s a big number,” I say back to anyone who implies that being eighty-six is anything like being forty-six.  Sometimes, I devise devilish mind experiments with them in giant glass test tubes.   

I understand attitude. Attitude is everything when you’re eighty-six.

I’m Samuel if you want to call me something.  Samuel Perkins.  There are a number of things I like about being old.  I like the respect I get from most young people.  They call me “sir.”  That’s kinda sweet.  In my twisted mind, which is short on synapses and long on memories, “sir” translates to “Yikes-a-geezer.”  But they mean well.  They offer to carry my groceries.  I let them sometimes. Occasionally, when one of their tribe is particularly obsequious, like they’re trying to earn a merit badge or something, I’ll hand them five dollars and say, “Here’s five dollars.  Go turn it into ten dollars.”  Everyone my age got that story beat into them in Sunday School. Youngsters under forty haven’t a clue.  But they leave me alone.  “Yikes-a-geezer” is in a foul mood today, they think, and they walk quickly away, probably rethinking the merit inherent in Social Security and Medicare programs.  

So, what do I want to happen today?  Today, being typical of most days.  I want most days to be atypical.  I want life to jump up and smack my behind and surprise the daylights out of me.  

This past Easter, Patrick, my buddy for so long, we forget how we met (not really – that’s just something we tell the Yikes-a-Geezer crowd) and I walked down Central Street holding hands.  Patrick wore his bunny suit.  He skipped and carried a basket of candy which he passed out to gawking little kids.  I was his handler. Patrick-the-Easter-Bunny, obviously, didn’t talk.   I would say, “Now, now, Easter Bunny, we must visit all the children before midnight.  Dad’s laughed.  Mothers just stared at us with pity.  Kids were delighted. 

Why on earth do we do things like this?  Because we don’t give a rip what anybody thinks.  That’s not entirely true, but it is pretty true.  Patrick and I made our marks.  Each of us got an education, made a good living, married, raised a family, paid the mortgage, volunteered for fund-raisers, and a lot more.  We contributed.

At eighty-four and eighty-six,  Patrick and I are secure in who we are.  The self-doubt boat docks in a younger neighborhood now.  

Now, we can be Easter Bunnies (I wore the suit last year). A few months ago, I was roaming through a re-sale store and spotted an old guitar missing some strings, and a damaged ukulele. Patrick and I put on a street concert.  Our sign said, “Lessons Available, Cheap.”  Such fun.  And no self-consciousness whatsoever.  That ship sailed long ago, too.

Patrick asked me if I would like join him and ride our bicycles in the Naked Pride Parade this year. He’s making that up and he knows I know he’s making it up, but I say, “Sure, what should I not wear?” 

A Long Overdue Thank You

I had finally decided to clean out my office closet. I started with the stuffed cardboard Unknownfile box. The first thing I reached for was a frayed manila envelope. The stack of typed pages spilled out onto the floor. After I read the first two sheets—an early attempt at documenting my nursing life—I knew I was doomed to sit on that floor by the open closet door until I had scrutinized every page. One story especially held a surprise.

In the early 70s, after my husband completed his degree at the University of Chicago, we moved to the far south suburbs where housing costs fit our tight budget. My first job was at a community hospital. Soon after I started, I found out that my salary was the same as a new graduate nurse who had never even done a simple urinary catherization. I, on the other hand, was an experienced ICU nurse. I wrote a letter of complaint and while the Director of Nursing of the hospital commiserated with me, I wasn’t offered a raise. I quit.

I decided to apply for a job at a close-by nursing home in spite of the fact that I thought I was overqualified and working at a nursing home felt demeaning to my young arrogant self. I eventually learned differently.

I wrote about this experience in my memoir:

 

. . .I had worked in a nursing home—a well-run home

with low staff turnover—for a short period of time, but long enough

to savor the slow pace after being an intensive-care nurse for years

before. The residents bestowed many hugs and an occasional slobbery

kiss as I passed out medications on the evening shift.

I had forgotten that experience the day my academic advisor and

I talked about a master’s thesis. In 1979, like most of my classmates, I

wanted to study women—women of child-bearing age. Why did she

think she had to ask me again: “What group do you REALLY enjoy

caring for?” That’s when I remembered the hugs in the nursing home.

At the end of the version of the story about working in a nursing home that had sat in the manila envelope for over 15 years, there was an added comment about Eva Harrison that I hadn’t remembered writing.

Eva Harrison, the nursing home DON, had offered me a salary higher than the one I received from the hospital. She ran a warm and caring facility, valuing her staff and residents alike. I know she felt sad when I left after only six months but a new clinic opened. At the time, I believed that this new job was more prestigious than that of pill pusher in a nursing home.

What I had written was that I wished I had gone back to tell Eva Harrison that my time at her nursing home had so influenced me that when I graduated as a nurse practitioner a few years later, I had declared geriatrics my specialty. Working in a nursing home, Eva Harrison’s nursing home, set me on a career path that would both challenge and reward me.

Thanks, Eva.

 Bedbugs and Friendships

My husband and I went to Charleston last week and came home with bed bugs—maybe. A lovely city, we have been there many times joining friends at the same hotel. This time, after a hiatus of a couple of years, the hotel was looking a bit rough around the edges. Our first room was quite dirty and we had 30 minutes of dumpster noise at 3:00 a.m. We asked for another room.

The next morning my husband came out of the shower complaining of a terrible itch.

“Stop taking daily showers,” I told him. Our usual battle over dry skin and aging.

The next two mornings, after his shower, he had the same rash and extreme itch. During the day both would subside. While driving home, he showed me the “hives.” What was he allergic to?

I had been too preoccupied with my friend’s behavior to be concerned about my husband’s “allergy.” Her short-term memory loss had side tracked my delight in sharing our mini-vacation with our two longtime friends. Sue, I will call her, and I met while working at the same hospital before either of us married. Over the years we shared family vacations, grew older and retired but continued seeing each other at least once a year. Infrequent phone conversations didn’t reveal her problem. However, at dinner that first night, after Sue asked me for the third time if I had heard from a mutual friend, and then forgot where we were going to dinner the following evening after she accompanied me to that restaurant to make the reservation, I became worried.

Conflicted as how to proceed, addressing or not addressing, Sue’s memory issues, my husband and I spent the late evening hours weighing appropriate responses. I had to call attention to my concerns. How could I ignore symptoms that maybe could be reversible?  Sue’s husband seemed untroubled. The last day, Sue didn’t join us to visit the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens due to the unseasonably cold weather. While walking with her husband past the flowering azaleas, I learned how worried he was about his wife. The short-term memory loss started just six months ago. Any concern expressed by him was met with denial and anger from Sue. Would I speak with her? He was grateful.

silhouette-two-elderly-women-who-450w-464229824That last night after dinner, I took Sue’s arm in mine and we navigated the narrow cobblestone sidewalk toward the hotel. “I’m concerned,” I said, pulling her close and looking into her eyes. How often had I had to discuss uncomfortable topics with my patients over the years; how to talk of hopeless scenarios while still giving hope? But this was not a patient-nurse interaction. Would Sue lash out at me for saying she had memory issues, deny any problems or sever our friendship? My words bypassed any resistance. Sue agreed to see her primary provider when she arrived home. If her primary dismissed her concerns, Sue would seek help from a geriatrician who knew to look for changes not necessarily related to aging.

With hugs and tears, we said our good-byes at the end of the evening after I repeated my suggestions to both Sue and her husband. They had to leave earlier than we did the following morning.

After congratulating myself on my successful intervention, I slept soundly.

My daughter came to visit the day we came home. After she listened to her father’s story of his “allergies” and “rash,” she said, “Sounds like bed bugs.”

Yippes. We immediately went into action: suitcases packed in plastic bags and put it the garage, clothes washed in hot water, emailing a friend who I knew had a recent exposure to bed bugs.

I found out that a dirty environment does not always have to be part of the bed bug scenario. They are bugs of opportunity and settle in upholstery like beds and sofas and rugs and chairs.

And the “rash” that still pops up on my husband’s arms and legs can be residual of the first exposure. It can take up to a week for the sites to subside. In the meantime, I have been spared. I am on the lookout for telltale signs of infestation: blood droplets and brown spots on the bed sheets.

I texted Sue to alert her of the bedbugs. When she didn’t respond, I called her. Her voice flat, and her words curt, she cut me off before I was finished with my story.

I sat for a long time with the silent phone in my hand.

From Disengagement to Balance: The Journey to Positive Aging

 

Many of you reading this are not old enough to remember the disengagement theory. When I started out in gerontology in the 80s this was one of three theories of aging I learned about, and the most depressing.

The disengagement theory of aging states that “aging is an inevitable, mutual withdrawal or disengagement, resulting in decreased interaction between the aging person and others in the social system he belongs to”.[1]The theory claims that it is natural and acceptable for older adults to withdraw from society.[2]. . .

Disengagement theory was formulated by Cumming and Henry in 1961 in the book Growing Old, and it was the first theory of aging that social scientists developed.[5]Thus, this theory has historical significance in gerontology. Since then, it has faced strong criticism since the theory was proposed as innate, universal, and unidirectional.[6](Wikipedia)

Thank goodness there were two other theories that challenged disengagement theory: the activity theory and the continuity theory.

I mention the disengagement theory to show how negative attitudes surrounded the elderly from the inception of geriatrics as a medical specialty and how far we have come in understanding the aging process, which, of course, is not a-one-size-fits-all.

It’s been over 50 years since the disengagement theory first described aging. I am witness to the evolution of a more realistic description of the multifaceted components of growing old. I try to blog about uplifting examples of the latter stages of our lives.

Two weeks ago, I spoke about one of my favorite TV shows, Grace and Frankie,women in their 70s (at least when the show started), who are depicted in a positive light. Both are strong, independent, smart, creative and refuse to wear the stereotypical label of “old woman.” The show’s popularity delights me because I can envision an audience that not only enjoys the antics of the women but perhaps is learning that the inevitable losses of growing older are intertwined with pleasurable gains.

Then last week I re-blogged my friend Lois’ post about turning 77 after her husband’s recent death. Another positive take on aging even in the face of loss and grief. She closes her post with this observation: “I thank God for the countless blessings I experienced during this first birthday week of my solo life; there’s more fun to share . . .”

With this week’s post, I’m including a New York Times article about women in their 70s. Is it just me or have you also noticed that older women are getting more positive exposure?

Mary Pipher writes, “We (women in their 70s) can be kinder to ourselves as well as more honest and authentic. Our people-pleasing selves soften their voices and our true selves speak more loudly and more often. We don’t need to pretend to ourselves and others that we don’t have needs. We can say no to anything we don’t want to do. We can listen to our hearts and act in our own best interest. We are less angst-filled and more content, less driven and more able to live in the moment with all its lovely possibilities.” Mary Pipher, “The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s,”New York Times, 13 January. 2019: 10.

Pipher’s book, “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.” is now out in print. I intended to buy a copy.

 

 

 

Growing Older – On Turning 77

My friend, Lois, turns 77 and shares her thoughts on celebrating her birthday without her husband, Marv, and cooking a dinner for her family.

Write Along with Me

“Can I help you?“ a butcher yelled from a packaged meat display.

A few feet away, I was standing, clueless, in front of an impressive array of glass-encased chunks of red meat. “Yes, I guess,” I bellowed back. When he was situated across from me, I asked, “How many pounds of a chuck roast do I need to serve six adults?”

“About three and a half.”

“How long would I have to bake it in the oven?”

After he outlined exact hours and temperatures, I gushed my thanks. “It will be the first roast I’ve made in forty-seven years; I want to impress my family.” After no response, I added, “I’ll take about four pounds; I’ll want left overs.”

As excited as I was to purchase this $25.00 piece of thick, marbled and bladed meat, his bland facial expression told me he was not interested in why it was the…

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Netflix Show Gets Aging Right

I am reblogging this post because Grace and Frankie are coming back this Friday on Netflix with the fifth season. You can bet I will be sitting on my sofa in the TV room ready to laugh, cry and thoroughly enjoy these two older women breaking down the stereotypes of aging. My only problem is how to make Season Five last a really long time.

Nursing Stories

I am thrilled that the third season of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie is finally here. As one of the first gerontological nurse practitioners to be certified by the ANA back in the 60s and now a 70-something woman, I am depressed that the very same stereotyping and dismissal of the aged I first encountered is still happening.

I came across this article by Ann Brenoff who says, “Season 3 of the Netflix series gets a lot right—and it’s funny.”

Read what Brenoff says about the series and how Grace and Frankie attack the entrenched biases that are reflected by laws, business opportunities and interpersonal relationships in our social networks, including family.

Grace and Frankie

LIFESTYLE 

03/30/2017 03:37 pm ET

‘Grace And Frankie’ Totally Nails What It Means To Be Getting Older

Season 3 of the Netflix series gets a lot right — and it’s funny.

By Ann Brenoff

The Netflix

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Nursing Truths for a New Era: Author Interview with Marianna Crane

A serendipitous meeting with Michele Berger reminded me of the long road I traveled conceptualizing, creating, and finally completing my book. Many folks that I met along the way inspired and supported my efforts. Most I never had the chance to thank. Fortunately, now I can tell Michele that her creativity workshop and follow-up coaching encouraged me to stay on track.

Thank you, Michele.

Below is Michele Berger’s recent post spotlighting me and my book.

The Practice of Creativity

Happy new year, everyone! It feels especially poignant to begin the first post of the year with a special Author Q&A. More than a decade ago, before I formally began my coaching practice, I taught creativity workshops at UNC-Chapel Hill’s The Friday Center. They had a thriving adult enrichment program. My classes were popular and I met and coached people from all backgrounds. It is always a delight to run into people many years later and hear about their creative adventures.

Two months ago at the North Carolina Writers’ Conference, out the corner of my I saw a distinguished-looking woman. Her face looked familiar, but I only caught a glimpse before moving on to my next panel. To my great delight and surprise, this same woman came up to me at the reception. We immediately recognized each other. She had taken one of my classes at the Friday Center and…

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SOB SISTERS

Originally posted on April 4, 2012.

Nursing Stories

Thanks to my friend Lois Roelofs and her post “Growing Older In “Style,” I found Ari Seth Cohen, a twenty-eight-year-old who is spotlighting “stylish senior citizens.” Love it. Older women—and men—who ignore the old adage: “dress your age.”

looking good

How come a twenty-eight-year-old man finds older people so fascinating? Well, I was sure there had to be an older role model in his life. And indeed there was—a grandmother. Aha!

Back in the 80s at my first job as a gernotological nurse practitioner, Betty, a social worker, and I conducted monthly orientation sessions about geriatrics for new nursing staff. Geriatrics was a new medical specialty at the time and Betty and I wanted to sensitize the group to aging issues.

Betty had the nurses imagine themselves at different stages of life. Invariably, someone would object to the exercise, not surprisingly, when Betty had them imagine looking at themselves…

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THE CHOICE

This was published in September 2018 in The Olli Writers Group Anthology

anthology 

On our first night in a hotel room in Estoril, Portugal, the thumping in my chest jolted me awake. Still groggy from jet lag, I tried to go back to sleep but the pounding demanded attention. I pressed my hand over my heart, feeling what seemed like a bird batting its wings to escape my ribcage.

Besides a touch of anxiety, I felt fine. No chest pain, no shortness of breath, no dizziness, no nausea. Then my bladder chimed in, upstaging my clinical observations.

Slowly, I rose and sat on the side of the bed, careful not to disturb my husband who was asleep beside me. Thinking I might pass out, I sat quietly waiting to topple. When that didn’t happen, I shuffled in the dark, feeling my way along the wall, to the tiny bathroom.

Successfully back in bed without tripping, falling, or fainting, I couldn’t help but let the jet lag overtake any further analysis.

The next morning, I awoke to the same sensation in my chest. More alert than the night before, I diagnosed the uneven heartbeat as atrial fibrillation. A geriatric nurse practitioner until my retirement three years ago, I had treated many patients with this condition—its occurrence increases with age. A fact I couldn’t ignore. A-Fib, as it’s called, isn’t life threatening and often stops on its own.

I remembered that the day before, as my husband and I explored the neighborhood around the hotel, we had walked past a medical clinic. Through the large glass window, I saw several people sitting in a waiting room, some reading magazines, not unlike our clinics back home. I had no desire to seek help there. I didn’t speak the language, and who knew about medical practice in Portugal? Besides, I was counting on this event ending soon.

Getting ready for the day’s adventure, my husband slipped a sweater over his head as I laced my shoes. “By the way,” I said, trying to sound causal, “I’m having a little irregular heart beat. It’s nothing serious and I suspect it’ll end on its own. I just want you to know, that if by chance I pass out, get the tour director to call an ambulance and tell the medical folks what’s wrong with me—A-Fib.” Before my husband could become worried, I added, “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

My husband of forty years trusted me, the knowledgeable nurse, to accurately assess my situation, and nodded. I figured he would be happy to be spared an interruption in our itinerary.

We rode the elevator down to the lobby, queued up with our tour group, and boarded the bus to Cabo de Roca. I grabbed a window seat. The vibrant, coastal city gave way to dry grasses clinging to rocky cliffs. I slid down in my seat and discretely put my fingers to my neck, checking my carotid pulse. The irregular rhythm ticked off around one hundred beats per minute. Not too rapid to worry me—yet.

After a couple of hours, the light blue sky became cloudless as we ascended into the thinning mountain air. Would the high altitude affect the rhythm of my heart? Would my pulse become so erratic that my blood stagnated, forming a clot that would migrate to my brain and spawn a stroke? My husband remained deep in his book. Or was he consciously ignoring me? The medical clinic near the hotel began to seem inviting, but very far away.

The bus turned into an empty parking lot. We arrived before other tourists. My husband was the only one who headed over to the one-story building that stood at the far end of the lot where one could obtain, for five euros, a certificate validating that one had stood at the westernmost point of continental Europe. The others headed to the bathrooms or the gift shop.

I stepped off the bus last. I felt something strange. Or, rather, I felt nothing. Had my heart stopped? No, it just felt that way with the fluttering finally gone. My chest was silent. My pulse was regular. The air smelled cool and crisp. Released from potential calamity, I dashed off to find my husband. No further health alarms marred the remainder of the trip.

When we returned to the States, my internist insisted I wear an Event Monitor: electrodes attached to my chest at one end, and at the other end to a plastic box that would hang around my neck for a month. When I noted any flip-flops from my heart, I was to depress the start button and the monitor would record the “event.”

One night during the first week, after I wrestled with the monitor to find a comfortable position in bed, I settled into sleep. My heart, booming loudly in my ears, jarred me awake. I pressed the record button. The monitor gave off a high-pitched sound and began taping. As instructed, I lay still. When the whining stopped, I stumbled into the kitchen to call the toll-free phone number.

The nurse talked me though the process of sending the recording across the phone lines. I hung up, relieved that she hadn’t told me to go directly to the hospital, as had happened with my friend, Norm, after his first submittal. “Get to the emergency room, NOW,” the nurse told him. The next day, a cardiologist installed a pacemaker in his chest.

I reassured my husband, who woke up during the taping and rushed after me, concern covering his face. We ambled back to bed—him to sleep and me to await any further malfunctioning of my heart.

Three weeks later, I mailed the monitor, wire, attachments, and unused batteries back to the company. I wouldn’t miss the nightly struggle to sleep with a rigid box digging into my ribs. Or the monitor’s beeping at inappropriate times during the day. Or most of all, the constant surveillance for any twitch in my chest.

The only two episodes I had during the month were not atrial fibrillation but sinus tachycardia: a regular, rapid heart rate, usually benign. Wearing the monitor for a month seemed too much of an inconvenience for such a paltry yield.

No doubt there will be other assaults to my aging body, mildly annoying or life threatening. The trick is to know the difference: whether to stay back and seek medical care or take a chance and get on the bus.

 

The Building as Character