“Hondo, respond to San Sebastian Road, 85-year-old female, possible fractured hip.” We arrived to find an elderly woman lying on the floor of her garage covered with blankets, being clucked over by her husband and her adult children. Our patient, although in obvious pain, had a sparkle in her eyes and was not about to be bossed around by her family much less a couple of firefighters.
I asked what happened. She replied that she had fallen through the roof. “Huh,” I said. We all looked up and yep, there was a large hole in the tin roof. Next question, “What were you doing on the roof?”
She looked at her husband defiantly and then back at us with a toss of her head. “I was chasing our peacock across the roof and I tripped and fell through it . . .”
We all looked at each other. The kids and the husband just shrugged their shoulders as if to say there is nothing we can do; mom is a force of nature.
With that settled, she directed us in our splinting and packaging. Her final words to her husband before we closed the med unit doors were to “find the damn peacock.”
As we rolled her into the ER, the admitting nurse whispered to me, “TABs.”
I must have looked puzzled.
“Temporarily Able-Bodied,” she said, “That’s what we all are.”
She smiled that knowing-nurse smile, took my report and closed the curtain. As I turned to write our report, I could hear our Peacock Lady giving the nurse instructions.
It makes no difference if we are eighteen or eighty, we are all “Temporarily Able-Bodied.” Like our Peacock Lady, we are a hip fracture away from losing our temporary status of “good health,” and joining the large group of the disabled. If you are lucky enough to pass through adulthood and become a senior citizen, this becomes readily apparent. Systems fail: sight, smell, sex drive, knees, hips, hearts, lungs. Humans did not evolve to be permanent. This is an important fact to remember.
I should add that besides being Temporarily Able-Bodied, we are also Temporarily Able-Minded. That quick decisive self falls prey to the entropic-ness of the universe, and at fifty-five, we stand in our home wondering “where are my glasses?” (Of course your glasses are on top of your head.)
We can see this as sad, or tragic, or think of it the same way we think of winter. It’s coming, it’s inevitable, we’ll have to deal with it.
Paying the Price to be Alive
In Minnesota where I grew up this knowledge was in our bones. We would lust after those last days of summer. Get up early, play hard, stay up as late as we could until the sun waned in the evening and the mothers—exasperated—called us in one last time.
And we were prepared for winter, we could see it coming. The trees bare, the darkness of November, the storms piling up over the Dakotas.
It’s the same for all of us. Our summers are temporary: get up early, play hard and stay up late. Winter will be here sooner than you think. But winter is not death, it’s just something we need to live through. To our Peacock Lady, a hip fracture was just one more storm, nothing to shake her sense that problems were meant to be solved, and pain was part of the price we pay for being alive. Most importantly, she just wanted to find that damned peacock.