Thursday, October 24, 2019

On retiring

   I have mentioned in recent posts that the spinal surgery that I had two and a half years ago left me much more disabled and having to severely cut back on my activity.  I also mentioned that at least one friend has noted that it’s like I got older a lot faster.  They may have said something about retirement. 
   I have been thinking about retirement - what does it mean to retire? does it mean doing nothing? -    as I’ve been wrestling with how much to cut back on my activity, how much to do and how much not to do.  I recently wrote another column for the Courier – the very fact of my doing so is very much part of this wrestling and experimenting – about this which was published a couple weeks ago.  Some years ago, when I was writing a regular column and wondering what to write about, a friend advised that I write about my experience in a way that would help others, that would relate to and possibly benefit the community.  I like to think I do a pretty good job of doing that in the column, which is below. 

                     NOT A RETIRING COMMUNITY  
   “It’s insanely hot,” I heard as the pedestrian light came on and I took off to cross Indian Hill Boulevard in the Village. 
   It was the Saturday before Labor Day, and it was pretty darn hot.  Nothing unusual there. 
   After all, it was September, and the county fair was up and running.  Both have been long known for coming with some of the year’s hottest weather. 
   I don’t know if the guy who spoke was a student at the colleges, but it would make perfect sense if it was. The colleges were set to begin classes on Tuesday.  (Strangely enough, after years of holding or even starting classes on Labor Day, the colleges took the holiday off this year.)
   And there’s the old yarn here about the colleges interviewing new faculty and students from back east in February, when Claremont was at its loveliest with blessedly balmy weather and ripe oranges shining against the snow on Mt. Baldy.  Then, the new hires and students show up in September, with Claremont at it hottest and smoggiest, wondering what they had done, what they had gotten into. The orange groves are pretty much gone now, but so are, thankfully, the horribly smoggy days.   
   Yes, it may get “insanely hot” here in September, at least according to those joining us from the New England state as well as probably those of us who call Claremont home, but everyone can be happy that there aren’t nearly as many Summer and early-Fall smog alerts as when I was growing up here. (It appears that the tough rules and regulations that made this decline happen may now be in danger of being rolled back.)
   No doubt the students and new faculty from afar have various impressions of this small town that they’ve found themselves in, whether or not they are wrong. I often wonder what goes through their minds as they amble past our evergreen landscapes, featuring blooms all the year round, and in and out and pass our not-so-old famed historic buildings, especially as they walk around in tee-shirts, shorts and flip-flops on chilly, even wet January and February days. 
   Some years ago, I attended the commencement ceremony at Pomona College to hear the featured speaker.  I happened to arrive early enough to hear the student speaker.  The young man described finding himself in Claremont, which he referred to as a “nice retirement community.”
   I thought this was interesting, considering that he was in the midst – actually on the edge - of seven colleges and graduate institutions.  Never mind that thousands of young people were being feted that weekend, and there was another graduate institute across  town. 
   But, then again, there are months when the students aren’t here, and Claremont is left on its own.  And just as this town is home to an unusual number of colleges and graduate schools, Claremont has more than its fair share of prominent – yes – retirement homes – Claremont Manor, Mt. San Antonio Gardens, Pilgrim Place – with thousands of older adults calling Claremont home.
   For better or for worse – I’d say for the better – this is a community in which we are very aware of retirement, in which retirement is thought about a lot.  Claremont isn’t a retirement community – indeed, we’re known as a college town – but retirement is a big part of Claremont. 
   I have become even more aware of this.  As I wrote here a couple months ago, because of health problems that I have dealt with in the last two and a half years, I have had to cut back on how much I do.  I have had to retire, more or less.  As I wrote earlier, one friend pointed out that it is like I got older, closer to retirement age, fast. And now that I think about it, I’m old enough anyway so that it won’t be that long before I’ll reach the typical retirement age.  (Really?)
   What I find myself wrestling with, even as I’m doing now as I write this, is how much to do and how much not to do.  How do I find the time and energy to write this when I need the time to get the rest I now need and when I need the time and the energy to attend all the medical appointments and therapy sessions I now have?  And what if, as has not been unusual this year, I have a medical issue that lands me in the E.R for most of a day or in the hospital for a week or two, throwing off my intentions to get this done? 
   I imagine that many of the older adults, the retired people, in this community deal with such issues.  But I have also seen over the years that I have lived here, at least in the example of those living in “the Manor,” “the Gardens” and Pilgrim Place, that retirement definitely doesn’t mean doing nothing, doesn’t mean giving up.
   There’s the old joke about folks getting even busier once           they retire, what with volunteering, traveling, spending time with grandchildren and whatnot.  Well, it’s not a joke, at least not here in Claremont. 
   Look at the Joslyn Senior Center.  It’s abuzz with activity, not only providing help for those with lessening abilities, such as in finding assistance in daily living and in regularly calling those who can no longer get out easily.  It also hosts an array of classes, arranges for many day trips and tours, provides lunch and other special meals and parties.  Many of the services the center provides to those who are less able are provided with the help of retired people now volunteering. 
   And then there are the folks that live in Pilgrim Place.  These retired ministers and other church workers put the rest of us all to shame – and not just with the two-day festival they put on each November. They are often in the lead, often ahead of the college students, in organizing and attending protests, whether to urge action against climate change, the on-going, seemingly endless war in Afghanistan or whatever they see as the latest injustice.  When the Occupy protest was going on, the Pilgrim Place residents provided food and bathing facilities to those camping out at City Hall. 
   I have been learning to see the visits to the E.R and hospital stays, like all the doctor appointments and therapy sessions as just things that are now just part of my life, rather than things that ruin my life.  This has definitely been an on-going challenge, but it beats seeing life as I know it as constantly threatened, endangered.  In the same way, for those living in retirement here, the nearby care facilities provide peace of mind as they go on living their lives as they can. 
   As I have seen with the older, retired people living here, retirement doesn’t mean giving up and doing nothing. Far from it, retirement doesn’t mean retiring from life. It means living fully, with various adjustments and safeguards wisely made and in place, as one now can. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Curb cuts for all

   I noticed that there was a talk last week at Claremont Mckenna College on disability and innovation.  It turned out when I went that the speaker was a woman who is deaf and blind (“deafblind” – I like to think I know a lot about disability, but I didn’t know this is a word, let alone a designation or a disability) and who attended Harvard Law School. 
   Her name is Haban Girma.  President Obama named her a White House Champion of Change. She received the Helen Keller Achievement Award, and a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. She also has a book out – Haban: The Deafblind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law – and has been featured on the Today Show, the BBC and NPR and in the Financial Times and the Washington Post. 
   Like I said, wow.  
   As remarkable as all this is, what really struck me, what I liked more, was what she said.  (By the way, she was able to speak, and a young man assisted her in walking up to the stage, changing slides, knowing how the audience was reacting – “He tells me when you’re clapping…or yawning” - etc., and, during the Q and A, those who had questions typed them so that she could presumably read them in Braille, which she did aloud.) 
   Ms. Girma’s message – one that I heartily agree with and have, in fact, held for a long time - was that the disabled must have accommodations, such as the man and whatever devices enabled her to give her presentation.  Not only that, but, more importantly, these accommodations shouldn’t be seen as special, a favor, as if the disabled are second-class, other, being allowed, let alone enabled, to come along, be a part of society. 
   No.  And as Ms.  Girma pointed out, these accommodations end up making life richer and easier for everyone.  After all, we wouldn’t have been able to hear Ms. Girma talk without the accommodations that enabled her to give the talk. It’s a phenomenon called the “curb-cut effect.” Curb cuts were originally designed to help us people in wheelchairs, but they were soon used by mothers with strollers,  skateboarders, people with luggage, etc. 
   Indeed, as Ms.  Girma argued, disabled people drive innovation. As she did when she was in college, and what led her to pursue a law degree, disabled people often have to fight for, to advocate for ways to make it easier or possible to be included in society.  Coming up with ways to help the disabled helps everyone. In finding ways to enable them and make life easier for them, we not only make society richer by including the disabled, life is improved and made easier for everyone. 
   That’s something to really wow about.

Friday, October 18, 2019

One step back, two steps forward - a progress report

   Last month, I was in the hospital two times.  The first time, I ended up staying up for a week. I went in with a fever that kept returning, and, after two days, I was told there was an infection in a pressure sore on my butt (although my wound doctor said this was unlikely – “I don’t buy it,” he said – and, by the way, the sore is much better).
   The second time I went to the hospital, it was just a few days later, and my g-tube was leaking and was replaced.  It had been leaking while I was in the hospital the week before, and I was repeatedly told it was okay, that it was the way I was laying (pretty much the way I always lay). Could it be that it was actually my g-tube site that was infected?  Mmmm. 
   And – oh, yeah, I forgot – I was in the E.R a bit over a week ago with a leaky catheter that had to be replaced.    
   At this rate, I’ve been going to the hospital once a month – or at least once a month – this year.  I’ve lost count.  Three of these visits ended up with my staying in the hospital. As I think I said before, the E.R should reserve a bed, preferably in one of those private rooms, for me! 
   On the other hand, even as I’ve had these setbacks (which I’m trying to see as just another thing I now deal with rather than crises), I’ve been making some real progress with the new speech device that I got two years ago.  (For various reasons, mainly involving funding, it has taken this long to get the device set up so that I can use it.)
   With help from a speech therapist and another therapist specializing in assistive technology, I’m learning how to use the device for actions other than speaking. (I can also again play my iTunes on the device!)  For example, I can now, in conjunction with a cell phone that I recently got for this purpose, text people from the device. This is most handy when I’m out on my own and need help, including just getting a ride home, from one of my attendants.  I wish I had known about this years ago, way before I had the spinal surgery and when I had my old device and went much farther on my own and was trying to find ways to get assistance.  I should also soon be able to turn on (and off) lights and the television with and perhaps read books on the device. 
   One snag, though: now that Fall is here and there are some days that are cooler, there are times now when it’s too cold for me and my arm locks up and I can’t drive and go out on my own.  With the neuropathy that I now have, when I’m not hot, I’m cold.  I find myself wearing long sleeves when it’s in the 80’s, not to mention the 70’s, and everyone is in t-shirts.  Before my spinal surgery, when I would go to the gym at the hospital where I now see the therapists, there was often a guy there working out who would be bundled up even when it was hot and I’d be in shortalls with no shirt.  I no longer think the guy was crazy, and I fear that my new practice of going out on my own, which I treasure, will be sharply curtailed and probably stopped when it gets cold later.  I don’t know if sweaters and jackets will help, and I can’t put them on anyway with the harness that keeps me in my chair.  I may try wearing pullovers as shirts and hope I don’t get too warm when inside.  (All this makes me particularly sad, because I find Claremont especially beautiful now and in the coming chilly months.) 
   Then again – again on the other hand – I recently got switches attached to my joystick box which enable me to more easily turn my chair on and off and put it in tilt mode. I continue to be amazed at how little things or little decisions or little changes in my mindset – like realizing one day that I wasn’t sick and didn’t have to spend most of my time in bed and perhaps go out on my own – allow me to progress, even as there are setbacks now and then.