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Don't Laugh At My Shoes

Story ID:6285
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family History
Location:Butte Montana USA
Year:1994
Person:The Campbells
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Don't Laugh At My Shoes

Don't Laugh At My Shoes
by Kathe Campbell

"Oh dear God, Pops, not a nursing home - how depressing!" a pitiless remark tossed at my poor husband after his surgery.

"Don't be that way, Pinks. Doc likes the Convalescent Center's physical therapy program. It will save us trekking back and forth from the ranch," he tossed right back with a disheartened frown. Yet, behind Pop's eternal optimism, his tender look said forgiveness, and I felt like such an idiot.

When we promised in sickness and in health, little did we anticipate what might befall us in our autumn years. We had rarely known a sick day throughout a long marriage until suddenly the rheumatoid arthritis boom was lowered. For Pops, the wretched disease seemed almost inevitable, his father and paternal aunts languishing elderly rheumatic years in nursing homes. I was adopted in the depression years and knew nothing of family health history, suddenly my own arthritic ancestor.

The turn of events so bizarre, both of us were diagnosed only weeks apart with nagging foot pain. Was it something we ate, or what? For me, unholy degrees of hurt and swelling hung on while waiting for drugs to kick in. I scoured the town for comfortable footwear, had my rings resized and worked at beating down the miseries. For Pops, his surgery had interacted badly with it all, playing havoc with crippling feet that knew no bounds.

"I don't care what you put on your feet, but you two need to exercise. All your paths will have pebbles, and they're going to hurt like hell. So keep it moving kids, keep it moving," our rheumatologist urged at the very outset.

Anti-inflammatories and pain reducers were plied quickly and aggressively. We two old crows became walking drugstores, meeting twice daily at our pill drawers, swigging down his and her sizes, numbers, and colors. The buddy system should have made our plight easier, but we nearly came to blows over exercising and healthy eating. Donning my wifely nagging hat, we managed to lose a few pounds, despite Pop's whimsies.

While I walked and winced during simple aerobics, Pops embraced lethargy in his big recliner. There was no moving him until, alas, his toes began turning up and under, eventually residing atop one another, challenging even short jaunts. So, off we went to a foot surgeon who broke down his metatarsal joints and pinned each toe, one foot at a time. 'Twas a liberating lift - for awhile.

Battling our woes, RA's viciousness played brutal tricks on feet and hands that slowly lost their identity as pairs. Drifting hither and yon like fickle winds, bones and joints contorted and relaxed in their own sweet time. Our days began with oversized tennis shoes or loafers, and by noon we dove into the closet for the tired old mukluks and moccasins. Hikers, oxfords, and cowboy boots were out. Togetherness, pride, sloppy and soft were in - even in a snowstorm.

Taking a chance falling off weak ankles, Pops yearned to drive his truck and return back to work. Balancing himself on a favorite cane, he looked distinguished rather than decrepit. Distinguished, that is, until one looked down to contemplate trendy, lopsided, super wide, unmatched sneakers laying in sharp contrast to fancy canes and business attire. Even the endless parade of custom tailored insoles doing their gellin' thing was short-lived. Sliding back into further days of swollen and hurting joints in front of the TV, he reveled in hours of hydrotherapy - soothing, but fleeting.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The long circular driveway and entry to the sprawling adobe and brick multi-winged Convalescent Center is charming. I had passed the place a thousand times, trying to shove aside it's purpose, it's residents, it's supreme care and ... God forbid ... we should end up there.

Still apprehensive, I pulled open the heavy security doors to a mix of bodily functions, institutional disinfectants, and kitchen aromas drifting up the elevator shaft. Standing there momentarily sickened and stunned, worrisome questions grabbed at me again . . .

"How can I leave my man in this god-awful place, even for a few weeks?"

Clueless, I needed reassurance. I had to see for myself.

Feeble greetings in the pleasant foyer by a few oldsters emerged as forlorn stares. I wondered what those dear souls were thinking as they followed my gimpy gait, ogling me through fading eyes that probably recalled little. Bustling aides wrestled with charts, meds, and the ever persistent ringing of impatient patients while the wheelchair brigade and I exchanged hellos.

Waiting to speak to Pop's nurse, I sat down to take the load off. Across the hall high-backed, cushiony chairs sat in a semi-circle occupied by an assortment of dozers in front of the big screen TV. One old gent insisted on the news while a cute and gritty little piece of fluff was demanding her soaps. Recognizing a long time neighbor, I rushed to greet him, but he only stared at me vacantly, and I died a little inside.

The heartrending encounter jolted something inside me, and suddenly I couldn't wait to hug and kiss my guy - with a little more zing than usual. It felt so good seeing him looking better, even in his sweltering room in that strange place. Striding along haltingly on his walker, he took me to lunch and introduced me to his new compatriots, and the sweet caged bird that greeted all with shrill chirps. Nothing caused more ruckus than being late for meals as ravenous oldsters wheeled and tottered toward nicely appointed round tables. Fom that day on, Pops and I lived for his afternoon therapy sessions.

The consummate thinker wiling away sleepless nights, it wasn't long before one of Pop's idea lights flashed on, sending him straight into the arms of genius.

"Hi, Pinks, gotta run this one past you," came the wee hour cell call.

"What's wrong, Pops - it's the middle of the night," I groaned. "Don't tell me the little old lady down the hall tried climbing in your bed again?"

"No, not tonight," Pops laughed, sounding half disappointed. "The only thing crawling in my bed lately is the resident calico kitty."

"Okay, Pops, this better be good."

"You're gona love this, Pinks. I want you to round up that cockamamie stash of soft leathers and sneakers and take them to the ski shop to be stretched."

"My physical therapy is about to rock!" he trumpets.

What a brilliant idea, and even nicer, the Ski Haus offered an extra stretcher the very day Pops came home from therapy. No more hollowing out knobby joint peepholes in the sides of latitudinous gunboats, or flip-flopping around in gigantic old man slippers, lest a perilous fall. Parting with high heels just waiting for grief, my jazzy new flats were stretched to the limit before fancy dos, though defiant leather crept back forcing me to drive home barefoot.
Summer months were easier. Pops worshipped his ranch socks and lightweight barn boots, and I went crazy for men's leather sandals worn with chick socks to hide knurly toes. And did I mention all those boy's and men's extra wides with just a wee stretch solving my tenny runner dilemmas?

Ambling along without flinching and squinching makes for pure joy as we rediscover the land, playing Granny and Papa to a brood, and surrogate parents to injured wildlife. Time to give the log home we built so long ago the attention she deserves while wrapping ourselves in our mountain's gifts through the seasons. Pondering often what a great place this is to keep love abloom, I've even learned to keep my cool when my darlin' treks corral gifts across my kitchen floor.

Putting a new spin on our dotage, we're as reinvented as the next workout, or closet full of funny shoes while wandering out to do chores beneath the hundred-year-old firs. We might greet a moose and her newborn ogling us across the fence, or watch a flock of mallards take wing, each day more content as keepers of our ranch flame. It's fun schmoozing thoughts and energizing our souls, for whatever our souls are made of, Pops and mine are the same.

At nightfall we give thanks for another simple day after fifty-three years, and the spirit of everything that's alive, and comfortable. A little weathered and not so full of sap, we bless the Great Mother for salving our dry spells as nothing else can while preparing another rest. Long ago we decided to stay planted here, to care for the land, the creatures, and one another. I adore the idea, because we'll bloom again - just maybe not quite as dazzling.

Kathe Campbell lives her dream on a Montana mountain with her mammoth donkeys, a Keeshond, and a few kitties. Three children, eleven grands and four greats round out her herd. She is a prolific writer on Alzheimer's, and her stories are found on many ezines. Kathe is a contributing author to the Chicken Soup For The Soul series, and Cup of Comfort series, numerous anthologies, RX for Writers, OurEcho.com, magazines and medical journals. kathe@wildblue.net