WHAT I LEARNED

 

I am writing my memoir because of what I learned when I ran a clinic on the tenth floor of a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) high-rise twenty years ago. All my patients were over sixty years of age. I was an inexperienced nurse practitioner and new to working with older people.

I learned that older folks were generally accepting and forgiving.

old-man-drinking-whiskey-and-smokingI learned that a few drank too much, hired prostitutes, carried guns in their purses, and chewed tobacco.

I learned that some sold their medicine for street drugs or money and some were abusive and some were abused.

I learned that not all families wanted to care for their older members and that family members, who suddenly showed up when someone was dying, might not be family.

I learned that most of them enjoyed sex.

I learned that loneliness was the most pervasive condition among the group.

I learned how to plan a funeral, hand over firearms to the local police precinct, how to put folks in a nursing home, transfer them to an emergency room, and commit them to a psychiatric hospital.

I learned to listen to a person’s story before I examined her. And that making a home visit told me more than I could ever learn from an office visit.

I learned that I didn’t need the support from a highly educated and professional staff but from people who were caring and didn’t walk away from a problem.

I learned that a sense of humor was a requirement when working with the elderly.

And I learned that some of my patients were impossible to forget.

PF-Elderlybridge_1201447c

 

FEAR OF GETTING OLDER (FOGO)

 

FOGO

 

It isn’t often that I applaud a drug company. In fact, I can’t remember if I ever have.

Here’s to Pfizer for creating an initiative to stimulate dialogue about getting older, which was described in the New York Times business section this past Wednesday (Elliott, Stuart. Pfizer to Inject Youth Into the Aging Process. The New York Times, 16 July 2014: B9. Print).

Pfizer has set up a website, getold.com, with links to Facebook and Twitter. The main audience is those in their 20s and 30s. Topics revolve around the affirmative aspects of aging, like “Why sex can be better when you’re older” and a story of 90-year-old who runs marathons. Okay, I admit a bit sensational but the emphasis is on the positive.

I only hope Pfizer’s effort to portray the elderly in a flattering light will help diminish ageism which is so prevalent in our society.

Thank you Pfizer.

I challenge you to take the FOGO quiz.

Out of the Shadows by Marianna Crane

Wrote this for ElderChicks yesterday.

ElderChicks

Writing I love reading all the ElderChick posts by women my age. Such a varied, interesting and involved group. Many are writing memoirs as I am and if we all get published just think what an education we are giving the rest of society! No more “invisible” older women!

Ten years ago, right after I retired as a nurse practitioner, I began to take my “hobby” of writing seriously. I have been lucky to get some of my stories published. My memoir about my nursing career is almost completed. Now I am learning about the rapidly changing aspects of publication.

I am grateful for my energy, health and curiosity that permits me to enjoy this season of my life. (Feel free to visit my blog at https://nursingstories.org/).

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TIMING IN LIFE IS EVERYTHING

The policewoman at the Motor Vehicle Agency said she would make me look great. She must have read my mind. I was sick of having a drab face looking back at me whenever I took out my North Carolina Drivers License. Earlier that morning I had rummaged through a motley assortment of make-up supplies in my bathroom. After I applied blush, eye shadow, mascara and a bright pink lipstick, I left the house with a blue blouse and my best earrings. I was 70 years old, and I didn’t want to look it.

Government_DPMC-Motor-Vehicle-Agency_02_thumbThe motor vehicle agency near my home wasn’t busy. After I took the driver’s exam and vision test, the policewoman, short, thin and intense, lead me to a cubby in the corner of the room with a blue curtain covering the wall behind a chair. “Okay,” she said. “Sit up straight, shoulders back, big smile. I’m going to make you look great.” Had I wandered into a professional’s photography studio by mistake? She fussed at me like she had every intention of keeping her word.

I sat long minutes on a metal folding chair before the policewoman handed me my new driver’s license. In the picture my eyes were open and I had a sweet expression on my face. I did look great.

Like my husband, Ernie, always said, timing is life is everything. I wanted a good picture and here was a woman on duty that day just waiting for me to walk through the door.

“You did a wonderful job,” I told her.

As I ambled out, she called after me, “Keep all your drivers’ licenses so you can document the aging process.”

That did it. I would get older and my pictures would all be downhill from there. I decided to be proactive. Off I drove to the mall and marched into Macy’s cosmetic section where I balanced on a high stool while a pretty blond young lady slathered various cosmeticsliquids, pastes and powders on my cheeks, eyes and lips. Her enthusiasm and positive comments about my “good” skin soften me to buy a number of products that fit into a 3 by 5-inch cosmetic bag at a cost well over a $100. Not to worry, my husband would be appeased when he saw how beautiful I looked.

When I came home, Ernie was busy in the kitchen. He turned and looked at me. Nothing. Later we sat out on the screen-porch enjoying a glass of wine before dinner. His glance took me in. I was certain that my bright eyes, now lined with #10 dark chocolate eye liner and black lash doubling mascara would knock him off his wicker chair. Nothing. I put on the overhead light. “It’s a bit dim in here,” I said bending toward him, my face close to his. Nothing.

Finally, after we discussed various topics of mutual interest without so much as a raised eyebrow from the man, I said, “Don’t you notice anything new about me?” I smiled with #303 crystal pink lips outlined with #105 plush pink. Ernie’s face paled. He knew the ultimate test of a husband’s true love for his wife was his ability to detect what was different about her. Ernie stopped short of breaking into a sweat as he scanned me: feet to the top of my head.

“New sandals,” he said.

“No, I’ve had these for years.” I could almost see his brain shift to high gear.

“You have a new top?”

“No.”

“Earrings?”

“No.”

I decided to put him out of his misery. “I had a full make-up application. Can’t you see how beautiful I am?”

Without missing a beat, this seasoned husband of 40 years said, “But you always look so beautiful.”

I smiled at his response. Then I told him how much I paid for the cosmetics.

THE BIASED EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

On Monday mornings I flip the pages of the New York Times past the international and national news to the New York City Metropolitan Diary. Here stories are written by New Yorkers about happenings in their daily life. The stories make me laugh, cry, or shake my head—only in New York.

This story, written on November 14 by Susan Heath entitled, Beauty on the Bus, delighted me. So I decided to refer to it on my next Post.

This is the story:

A few mornings ago, our 86-year-old neighbor, elegantly dressed and perfectly made up as usual, knocked on our apartment door. “This is for your wedding anniversary,” Ruth said, and gave me one of her wonderful light-up-the-day smiles, an enchanting orchid plant and a big kiss. (My partner and I got married a year ago after 23 years of living together, and that day Ruth gave us a bamboo plant in an elephant pot, signifying long-lasting happiness.)

We chatted for a minute and then, her bright blue eyes twinkling, she said: “May I tell you something? I’m just a bit embarrassed about this, but I have to tell someone.”

It had happened that weekend. Ruth was on the M104, going up Broadway, sitting in one of those front seats they keep for old people. A youngish man came forward and stopped right in front of her.

 “Can I ask you something?” he said. “Do you know how beautiful you are? Your hair is so gorgeous, and your outfit is magnificent. May I take your picture?”

 Although Ruth was a little disconcerted, she said yes and the stranger took her photograph and (somewhat to Ruth’s relief) got off the bus.

 Then a young woman a few seats away called out, “I agree, you’re perfectly dazzling,” and several people shouted from the back, “He’s right, you know.” And suddenly everyone in the almost-full bus was shouting agreement and clapping like mad!

 “I’ve never seen anything like it,” the bus conductor told Ruth as she got out at her stop.

 And I said to her: “They’re right, you know. You are stunningly beautiful. New Yorkers always know best.”

 

Then I searched for pictures that would represent older, well-clad women I could use for my post. Most were from Ari Seth Cohen’s book Advanced Style.olderwomaninblack (Maybe he was the youngish man on the bus?) I had written about him in a past post, Sob Sisters.  His book showcases extremely lovely older women.  But when I tapped into pictures of less stunning women, run-of-the-mill women and 5372301-very-old-woman-face-covere-with-wrinkles-closeup-photosome very wrinkled old women, I became uneasy.  Were these women not lovely in their own way, too?

Are we trapping women in a category? Women of means who buy up-scale clothes, apply make up perfectly and walk down 5th Avenue to be seen. A small cache of exceptional older women that the rest of us women of a certain age should emulate?

I remember the ‘50s.  All women clumped together as an entity.  Dress alike. Act alike. Accepting the direction by a paternalistic society: make babies, the harder a wife works_nbake bread, and not worry our pretty little heads about anything important—leave that to the men.

Thank goodness for women’s lib of the ‘60s. Women decided that the yardstick for success should be determined by the women themselves.

I think we need another round of consciousness raising.

Getting Older

I promptly lost my first Medicare card. When I opened the envelope and saw the red, white and blue border, I was reminded of the elderly I cared for over twenty years ago when I was a gerontological nurse practitioner. I ran a not-for-profit clinic in a converted one-bedroom apartment on the tenth floor of a senior citizen highrise in Chicago. How many times had I asked to see someone’s Medicare card? Most of my patients were poor, illiterate and had multiple health problems. So when I first looked at my card, I could only remember loneliness, despair and disability. This couldn’t be happening to me. And, poof, the card was gone.

Slowly other patients strolled into my memory. Mildred, blind and lived alone, always asked me to put her kitchen cabinets back in order after her daughter visited. Margie, ninety-something with an Irish brogue, came down to the clinic, laughing as she told us how she chased away the prostitutes with her broom. The prostitutes frequently slipped into the building to solicit and rob the older men.

But Helen was my favorite. She lived in an apartment next to the clinic. She dropped in when I wasn’t busy. She called me Kiddo.  She had one son who hardly visited but I rarely heard her complain—about anything. She was the one who taught me not to be uncomfortable talking about death.

Of course, I know older people live longer and are healthier than years ago. I now have the time to write, paint and play with grandchildren. I would like to go back in time and share my experiences of aging with Mildred, Margie and Helen. These resilient women would laugh when I tell them how I lost my first Medicare card.